Shifting Sands – an update on latest developments across the Middle East

The Middle East market has been a story of growth for so many recent years as the development strategies from the likes of Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways has firmly placed the Gulf region on global route maps. But things have got more challenging. Political interference has become a norm, airline strategies have been called to attention and flights have actually been banned between some neighbouring nations across the region.

Our regular round-up delivers some of the latest key aviation and travel news stories from across the Middle East region.

Emirates orders 40 A330-900 and 30 A350-900 aircraft

Emirates Airline has ordered 40 A330-900 and 30 A350-900 aircraft from Airbus in a deal valued at USD21.4 billion. The A330neo and A350 aircraft are scheduled for delivery from 2021 and 2024 respectively.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrier and Airbus also reached an agreement on outstanding A380 deliveries, in which the airline will receive 14 more A380s from 2019 until the end of 2021, taking its total A380 order to 123 units.

Emirates Airline and Group chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said the new A330neo and A350 aircraft will “complement Emirates’ fleet mix”, support its “network growth” and grant it “more flexibility to better serve seasonal or opportunistic demand”. The airline plans to deploy the A330neo on regional destinations while the A350 will serve the carrier’s long haul operations.

On the carrier’s reduction of its A380 aircraft order and Airbus’ decision to cease A380 orders from 2021, Mr Al Maktoum said he was “disappointed” the “programme could not be sustained”. He added the A380 will “remain a pillar” in the Emirates’ fleet “well into the 2030s” and the carrier will continue to invest in the aircraft’s “onboard product and services”.

Qatar Airways calls on global airlines to support Doha Declaration

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has offered his backing to the ‘Doha Declaration’, which was announced at the CAPA – Centre for Aviation Qatar Aviation, Aeropolitical and Regulatory Summit, stating: “Qatar Airways wholeheartedly endorses the Doha Declaration and calls on airlines all over the world to join us in supporting it”.

The Doha Declaration calls for a global review of the Chicago Convention and the convention’s relevance in the 21st century. Recommendations published in the Doha Declaration include less restrictive airliner ownership and control rules, an increased effort to encourage plurilateral liberalisation, enhanced sustainability in the aviation sector and active encouragement of aeropolitical discussion.

Egypt and Oman sign agreement to expand air transport services

Oman Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA) signed a MoU with the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority to expand air transport services. Under the new agreement, 13 weekly frequencies will operate between the two countries.

Egypt Air regional director Mohsen Ramadhan said the agreement will “strengthen the economic ties between the two countries” and “increase the number of visitors from Oman to Egypt”.

Air Arabia records net profit of USD7m in 4Q2018

Air Arabia released its 4Q2018 financial results, reporting a net profit of AED26 million (USD7 million). Revenue for the period was AED1 billion (USD272 million), a 20% increase year-on-year. Air Arabia chairman Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammad Al Thani attributed these results to the “carrier’s network expansion strategy, cost control measures” and passenger demand for services.

Turnover for the full year 2018 was AED 4.12 billion, 10% higher than the figure recorded in 2017. More than 8.7 million passengers flew with Air Arabia in 2018, an increase of 2% compared to 2017 while the average seat load factor for the year stood at an impressive 81%.

Air Arabia added 26 new routes to its global network in 2018 from its operating hubs in the UAE, Morocco and Egypt. The carrier took delivery of 3 new aircraft and ended the year with a fleet of 53 Airbus A320 aircraft operating to over 155 routes across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.

India and Saudi Arabia to sign agreement to expand cooperation in tourism sector

India’s Cabinet has approved the signature of an agreement between India and Saudi Arabia to expand bilateral cooperation in the tourism sector.

The agreement includes provisions for investment in the tourism and hospitality sectors, exchange of information relating to tourism and promotion of participation in travel fairs and exhibitions. It is expected to help increase international tourist arrivals from Saudi Arabia to India.

India and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed a strong diplomatic and long economic relationship. Saudi Arabia is one of the potential tourist generating market for India from Middle East and the signing of Memorandum of Understanding has been described as being “instrumental” in seeking to increase arrivals from this source market.

News Briefs

  • Petrofac has appointed GlobalStar Travel Management as one of two new travel partners to service its global travel requirements. They will support travel requirements for the 12,750 employee company which have projects and operations in 29 countries across the world. While Airlink will provide travel management services for employees in the UAE and Bahrain, GlobalStar will service the rest of the world.
  • Amadeus will transition its local customers to a new distributor entity under the name of Amadeus Bahrain. The company will exclusively distribute Amadeus solutions.
  • Etihad Airways recently celebrated 10 years of direct flights between Abu Dhabi and China, the capital-capital airlink was launched in 2008, a period it has carried over four and a half million passengers between Abu Dhabi and China.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 18-Feb-2019)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG (NOTE: *These values are at least partly predictive up to 6 months ahead and may be subject to change)

Fleet Development

  • EgyptAir is set to receive its first Boeing 787 in Mar-2019. Boeing is scheduled to deliver five more 787 aircraft to the airline in 2019 and 2020.
  • Air Arabia CEO Adel Ali has stated the airline is considering placing an order for 100 aircraft in 2Q2019 Mr Ali said the airline is talking to “both Boeing and Airbus” to see “what fits” and reach “the best commercial deal”.
  • Gulf Air received one Boeing 787-9 (A9C-FF, MSN 39985), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates six 787-9 aircraft.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 18-Feb-2019)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG (NOTE: *These values are at least partly predictive up to 6 months ahead and may be subject to change)

Route Update

  • Royal Jordanian plans to launch Amman-Male service, effective 27-Sep-2019 to 16-Oct-2019 using Boeing 787-8 equipment.
  • Gulf Air plans to launch Bahrain-Salalah service, effective 15-Jun-2019 to 14-Sep-2019.
  • Emirates Airline plans to suspend seven times weekly Dubai-Yangon-Phnom Penh service and commence four times weekly Dubai-Yangon terminating service, effective 01-Jun-2019. The carrier will continue to serve PhnomPenh via Bangkok.
  • Qatar Airways plans to increase the frequency of Doha-Vienna service from 14 to 17 times weekly, effective 01-Jul-2019, reports AirlineRoute. The carrier plans to operate the service with a mix of A320 and A350-900 XWB equipment.
  • SpiceJet plans to commence daily Kozhikode-Jeddah service on 20-Apr-2019. The LCC will operate the service with 189 seat Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Saudia also operates the route, according to OAG.
  • Etihad Airways will modify the aircraft used on two of its Chinese services. A Boeing 787-9 will replace A330-200 equipment on daily Abu Dhabi-Chengdu service, effective 01-Jul-2019; while a 787-10 will replace smaller 787-9 equipment on daily Abu Dhabi-Shanghai service from the same date.