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.

Oman Air receives green light from US regulator

The US Department of Transportation (DoT) has approved Oman Air’s application for a foreign air carrier permit and exemption to engage in scheduled passenger and cargo service from any point or points behind Oman, via any point or points in Oman and any intermediate points, to any points or points in the US and beyond. The approval is subject to a wet lease or codeshare arrangement with a duly authorised and properly supervised US or foreign air carrier.

flyadeal aims to commence international operations by end of 2019

flyadeal CEO Con Korfiatis, speaking at the recent CAPA Global LCC Summit in Singapore, has revealed the airline aims to commence international services by the end of 2019, facilitated by the delivery of new aircraft in 2H2019. The LCC has “created immediate and very significant brand recognition” in Saudi Arabia, according to the executive, using its humorous ‘Cargo Passenger Class’ campaign in 2016. Mr Korfiatis said the campaign was picked up by 245 news outlets worldwide and was the most searched topic in Saudi Arabia in Dec-2016. He added that the campaign inspired people and other brands to “join in, make memes and laugh with us” and resulted in a dramatic increase in visits on booking websites. Mr Korfiatis said thanks to the campaign “everyone knew who flyadeal was and what we had to offer”.

UK politicians push for resumption of direct UK-Kurdistan air link

UK’s Labour MP Mary Glindon, supported by MPs Bob Blackman and Jim Shannon, introduced a motion in the country’s parliament calling for direct air connectivity between the UK and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region. The motion states: “This House believes that direct flights between the UK and the Kurdistan Region in Iraq would encourage more commercial, cultural, and educational connections with Kurdistan, whose capital city has been deemed the fifth safest in the world”. The motion also calls on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to revise its travel advice for the Kurdistan region. Kurdistan Region is currently served by two international airports, Erbil International Airport and Sulaymaniyah International Airport.

Etihad partners with Plug and Play to launch travel and hospitality programme

Plug and Play and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) are new partners of Etihad Airways and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi in an aim to launch a new travel and hospitality accelerator programme. Startups participating in the programme will be able to benefit from Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company’s partnership by attending their regular workshops, private events and networking sessions. These partners will also be able to leverage Plug and Play’s 25 global travel and hospitality companies. The programme is expected to commence in 3Q2019.

IATA: Middle East passenger demand growth ‘largely unchanged’ in Dec-2018, but freight sector continues to slow

IATA, in its Feb-2019 Africa and Middle East regional briefing, reported passenger demand in the region increased 2.1% year-on-year in Dec-2018, which was “largely unchanged” compared to Nov-2018. Middle East airlines delivered “a flat growth outcome” in Dec-2018, which IATA said was “consistent with seasonally adjusted RPKs trending broadly sideways over recent months”. Passenger volumes “remained subdued” for the Middle East-North America market, with an 8.7% decrease in RPKs. Meanwhile, FTK growth for Middle East carriers slowed for the third consecutive month, with a 0.1% year-on-year increase in Dec-2018. Freight volumes decreased across all the region’s key international markets in Dec-2018, with the exception of the largest market, Middle East-Asia, which achieved “modest” growth of 2.4% (a 1.5ppt slow down from Nov-2018). Freight load factor of 48.8% for the Middle East was “in line with the industry wide outcome”.

News Briefs

  • Air Seychelles will suspend flights to Abu Dhabi effective 11-May-2019, as part of its business transformation plan. CEO Remco Althuis says in the past year the route has “delivered low passenger numbers” and “weaker travel demand from the UAE, Europe or Asia connecting with the route” meaning it is “not a viable ongoing commercial operation”.
  • Portugal’s regulator ANAC announced the air services agreement being drafted between Portugal and Saudi Arabia will allow “designated carriers” to handle passenger, cargo and mail between both countries through intermediary points and beyond.
  • Emirates Airline sees strong growth potential for its Dubai-Taipei route. According to its VP for Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Taiwan, Fernando Suarez de Gongora, Emirates has handled an accumulated 1.3 million passengers on the route since its launch in Feb-2014, with 2018 passengers up 65% compared to 2014. Mr de Gongora also noted 80% of local passengers on the route travel beyond Dubai and on to cities in Europe.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 25-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

  • Qatar Airways received one A350-1000 (A7-ANG, MSN 215) as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates 39 A350 aircraft with a further 39 on order.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 04-Mar-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

  • GoAir launched a four times weekly Kannur-Abu Dhabi service, effective 01-Mar-2019, its first service to the Middle East.
  • Etihad Airways will add new four times weekly seasonal routes linking Abu Dhabi to Alexandria and Salalah. Both routes will be flown using A320 equipment for a two month period from 02-Jul-2019 to 31-Aug-2019.
  • Iraqi Airways plans to launch Baghdad-Munich service, effective 17-Mar-2019. The carrier also plans to Erbil-Munich service, effective the same date.
  • flydubai plans to launch four times weekly Dubai-Hofuf service, effective 17-Mar-2019 with Boeing 737-800 equipment.
  • Kuwait Airways plans to increase Kuwait-London Heathrow frequency from 10 to 11 times weekly, effective 25-May-2019, reports RoutesOnline. The carrier plans to operate the route with Boeing 777-300ER equipment.