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.

Gulf Air reports ‘best February results in five years’ and ‘record numbers’ in Mar-2019

Gulf Air reported it handled 478,959 passengers and recorded a load factor of 75.7% in Feb-2019, marking its “best February results in five years”. The airline said the results reflect its strategic expansion, including “the growth of capacity and the increase of destinations, frequencies and fleet”. The carrier also reported “record numbers that beat all March results since 2012” for passenger numbers and load factor in the first 20 days of Mar-2019, based on preliminary results. Gulf Air CEO Krešimir Kučko said: “Our passengers are proving to becoming more loyal and we see returning customers since the launch of our new fleet products the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and the Airbus 320neo”.

IATA: Africa/Middle East profit margin improves in 4Q2018, yield results mixed in Jan-2019

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), in its Mar-2019 Africa and Middle East regional briefing, reported that regional profit margin increased 7ppts year-on-year to 10.2% of revenues in 4Q2018. Passenger yield results in key regional international markets was mixed. Middle East-Asia yields increased 5.4% in Jan-2019, but Middle East-Europe yields decreased 5.5% and Africa-Europe yields decreased 5.3%. Middle East airlines recorded the “softest outcome” for FTK growth out of all regions in Jan-2019, with a 4.5% year-on-year decrease. The result marked the region’s first negative growth since “the period immediately following the global financial crisis”.

Oman Air launches revamped mobile app

Oman Air has launched its revamped mobile app for iOS and Android smartphone devices. The new app enables passengers to book services, check in, pre select seats and monitor their flight status. The app also allows passengers to check their Sindbad miles balance, claim missing miles, request for redemptions and keep track of tier progress.

Etihad enters partnership with Elenium to develop passenger and freight processing solutions

Etihad Airways has signed a MoU with automation technology solutions provider Elenium to cooperate in the development of solutions for passenger and freight processing. The parties will develop a long term relationship to identify potential opportunities to develop travel solutions. Areas of cooperation include sharing technology between Etihad, Elenium and Amazon Web Services to demonstrate platforms and solutions using digitalisation to simplify passenger services. As previously reported, Etihad, Elenium and AWS are already partnering on voice activated self service kiosk, bag drop and boarding gate facilities at Abu Dhabi International airport.

Saudi Arabia and China sign MoU to expand bilateral air services agreement

China’s aviation regulator CAAC has confirmed it has recently held bilateral air service discussions with Saudi Arabia and signed a MoU to expand their existing air services arrangements. Passenger air service between China and Saudi Arabia is focused around on Guangzhou-Riyadh/Jeddah while freight services is focused on Shanghai-Riyadh and Guangzhou-Riyadh.

Etihad Guest and Arab National Bank launch cobranded credit card in Saudi Arabia

Etihad Guest and Arab National Bank have launched a cobranded Visa Signature credit card in Saudi Arabia. Cardholders will receive a welcome bonus of 17,000 Etihad Guest miles and will be able to earn two miles per SAR15 (USD4) spent on domestic purchases and four miles per SAR20 (USD5.33) spent on international purchases. Cardholders will also receive fast track entry to Etihad Guest silver membership and free inflight WiFi vouchers.

News Briefs

  • Etihad Airways has enhanced its upgrade system to enable customers to use Etihad Guest Miles as a form of payment to bid for a premium seat in a higher cabin. Under the new function, customers will be able to view real time notifications of their bid displayed on their screen, allowing two or more individual bids at the same time.
  • Saudia has begun the second phase of the transfer of domestic services to the new terminal at Jeddah King Abdulaziz International airport, with the transfer of Jazan and Taif services on 31-Mar-2019. The move is expected to be completed in the coming weeks. The airline now serves 14 domestic destinations from the new terminal.
  • Kuwait Airways reported passenger numbers increased 8% year-on-year and revenue increased 5% in 1Q2019. The airline aims to increase passenger numbers from 4.5 million in 2018 to 4.7 million in 2019.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 01-Apr-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

  • Royal Jordanian received one A319 aircraft (JY-AYY, MSN 2913) on operating lease from GECAS, effective 26-Mar-2019, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline also operates two A319s owned by KDAC Aviation Finance.
  • Ariana Afghan Airlines has issued a request for tenders to charter aircraft on an ACMI basis for the 2019 Hajj season, from Jul-2019 to Sep-2019. The airline is seeking A310, A330, A340, Boeing 747 or 767 aircraft to operate return services from Kabul, Mazar I-Sharif, Herat and Kandahar to Jeddah and Madinah.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 01-Apr-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

  • Oman Air closed reservations for Muscat-Khartoum service, previously scheduled to commence on 30-May-2019, and Muscat-Baku service, previously scheduled to commence on 02-Aug-2019. The decision is thought to be linked to the 737MAX grounding.
  • Saudia plans to operate twice weekly Riyadh-Malaga-Casablanca-Riyadh service from 06-Jun-2019 to 17-Aug-2019 and twice weekly Riyadh-Casablanca-Malaga-Riyadh service from 22-Aug-2019 to 05-Sep-2019, using Boeing 787-9 equipment.
  • Etihad Airways has delayed the operation of Boeing 777-300ER equipment on Abu Dhabi-Amsterdam service from 15-May-2019 to 14-Jun-2019, according to Routes Online.
  • SalamAir plans to commence four times weekly Muscat-Chittagong service on 02-May-2019. The LCC will operate the service with A320 aircraft and plans to increase frequency to daily, effective 09-Sep-2019.
  • Ural Airlines plans to operate all Dubai services to and from Dubai World Central from 16-Apr-2019 to 20-Jul-2019, due to runway reconstruction work at Dubai International airport.
  • Onur Air plans to launch six times weekly Istanbul-Kuwait service from 04-Jun-2019, decreasing to three times weekly from 18-Sep-2019 and then twice weekly from 03-Oct-2019.