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.

Qatar Airways to decide if it will leave oneworld ‘in a month or two’

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker stated the carrier plans to announce “in a month or two” whether it will remain a member of the oneworld alliance. According to Mr Al-Baker, Qatar Airways is the second largest contributor to oneworld when measured by ASKs, and if the carrier were to leave the alliance it would “create a big hole for them in their entire connectivity”. Meanwhile, the carrier is expected report a second annual financial loss for FY2018/19. Mr Al-Baker attributed this loss to “additional operating costs”, the loss of foreign exchange and “rising fuel prices”. Mr Al-Baker added that this loss “doesn’t mean that Qatar Airways is not going to expand or invest”.

Abu Dhabi Airports CEO expects ‘return to growth’ once Etihad Airways ‘has reset itself’

Abu Dhabi Airports CEO Bryan Thompson said the company does not expect “huge growth” over the next 12 months but forecast a “return to growth” once Etihad Airways “has reset itself”. Mr Thompson said: “The market has been slightly different for the past two years because of the changes predominantly the home carriers, both Etihad and its partner airlines, have gone through a time where they have to structurally reset. So our growth as an industry within Abu Dhabi has been fairly challenged because of the structural reset within the industry”. He also commented: “We think 2019 will be no higher than what we’ve done in 2018. It’s a fairly flat year for us in terms of the consolidation of the market”. The new Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport will provide “excess capacity which will allow us to attract demand and grow the UAE’s aviation sector more broadly and very rapidly,” according to Mr Thompson. He confirmed the Midfield Terminal’s baggage handling system has been commissioned and operational readiness testing has commenced in some areas of the terminal.

CARC grants Jordanian airlines access to Syrian airspace

Jordan’s Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission (CARC) has granted Jordanian airlines permission to once again traverse Syrian airspace. Jordanian airlines were suspended from using Syrian airspace in 2012. Any airlines wishing to operate via Syrian airspace must submit an assessment of air safety risks in addition to using a specific route and set altitude.

Etihad Airways partners with Avis Budget Group

Etihad Airways announced it partnered with rental car provider Avis Budget Group. Under the partnership, the Avis, Budget, Maggiore and Zipcar brands will be offered across Etihad’s booking channels. Etihad Guest members will also benefit from the Avis Preferred programme and an improved earning proposition.

Saudi GACA reports increase in passenger satisfaction across four major airports in Feb-2019

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) reported passenger satisfaction across Dammam King Fahd International Airport, Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport, Madinah Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport and Riyadh King Khaled International Airport increased 1ppt year-on-year to 74% in Feb-2019. The satisfaction rates were 76% at Dammam Airport, 59% at Jeddah Airport, 78% at Madinah Airport and 76% at Riyadh Airport. The passenger satisfaction survey involved more than 400,000 passengers.

Mahan Air gets green light for Kazakhstan return

Kazakhstan’s Civil Aviation Committee has authorised Mahan Air to once again operate flights into the country. The carrier resumed weekly Tehran-Almaty service from 04-Mar-2019 and will increase frequency to twice weekly between 01-Apr-2019 and 23-Apr-2019. Mahan Air suspended the service in Mar-2017.

News Briefs

  • Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport opened the ‘Ahlein’ premium lounge for first and business class passengers in its departures area on 05-Mar-2019.
  • El Al has launched a new business class menu designed by chef Shahaf Shabtay, as part of a strategy to inflight improve services and products.
  • India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) reportedly plans to increase the number of seats per week permitted between India and Saudi Arabia by 40%, effective 01-Apr-2019, according to local media reports.
  • Iran ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Jalal Firouznia has met with Lebanese Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian to discuss enhancing the economic collaboration between the two countries, particularly in the tourism sector.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 11-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)

Fleet Development

  • Etihad Airways announced plans to deploy Boeing 787-10 equipment on daily Abu Dhabi-Rome service (also served by 777-300ER), effective 01-Jun-2019 and twice daily Abu Dhabi-Frankfurt, effective 01-Jul-2019.
  • Qatar Airways plans to operate its last service with A340-600 equipment on 01-May-2019. The airline currently deploys the four-engined jet on flights between Doha and Bangkok, Colombo and Kuala Lumpur.
  • Gulf Air received another A320neo aircraft. This is the second of 12 A320neo on order with the carrier.
  • Turkish Airlines plans to deploy A330-200 aircraft on six of 14 weekly Ataturk-Doha frequencies instead of A321 equipment from 27-May-2019. The carrier’s fleet includes 18 A330-200 aircraft, according to the CAPA Fleet Database.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 11-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

  • Kuwait Airways plans to increase the frequency of Kuwait-London Heathrow service from 10 to 12 times weekly, effective 01-Apr-2019, reports Routes Online. The carrier plans to increase the frequency to 13 times weekly, effective 25-May-2019.
  • Himalaya Airlines plans to commence three times weekly Kathmandu-Abu Dhabi service on 31-Mar-2019. The airline will operate the service with A320 aircraft.
  • Air Arabia announced plans to launch daily Sharjah-Kuala Lumpur service, effective 01-Jul-2019.
  • El Al plans to increase Tel Aviv-Bangkok Suvarnabhumi frequency from eight to 11 times weekly, effective 16-Nov-2019. The airline will operate the service with Boeing 747-400 equipment until 31-Oct-2019 and a combination of 777-200ER and 787-9 aircraft from 16-Nov-2019.