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.

LCC growth in the Middle East and Africa seems inevitable, but significant challenges remain

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, in a report entitled: ‘Middle East and Africa LCCs: huge growth opportunities, but challenges’, stated while the LCC sector has expanded in the Middle East and Africa, it has hardly proliferated in the same way as other regions. The 14 LCCs based in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa currently operate only 200 aircraft, representing 3% of the global LCC fleet. Most of these airlines are small and the main players are concentrated in Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the UAE. These three countries account for 80% of the LCC fleet in the Middle East and Africa. While LCC growth seems inevitable, overcoming challenges will not be easy, particularly in Africa’s highly protectionist aviation market.

Air Arabia takes delivery of first Airbus A321LR

Air Arabia has received its first A321LR aircraft (A6-ATA, MSN 8714) as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The aircraft is leased from Air Lease Corporation and is powered by CFM LEAP-1A engines. Air Arabia is scheduled to receive five more A321LR aircraft from Air Lease Corporation in 2019. Air Arabia CEO Adel Al Ali said the new A321LR aircraft will enable the carrier to expand its service to “farther and newer destinations while remaining loyal” to its “low cost business model”.

Emirates completes refresh of 777-200LR fleet

Emirates Airline has completed the reconfiguration of its fleet of Boeing 777-200LR aircraft in Apr-2019. The airline invested USD150 million in converting 10 777-200LR aircraft from three to two classes, featuring wider business class seats and a fully refreshed economy class cabin. The 777-200LR aircraft will be deployed to destinations including Fort Lauderdale, Santiago, Sao Paulo and Adelaide.

Jazeera Airways to launch Global Onboard Partners’ GDE on A320 aircraft

Jazeera Airways plans to launch Global Onboard Partners’ inflight ancillary revenue system, Global Destination Explorer (GDE), on its fleet of A320 aircraft in Apr-2019. Jazeera Airways CEO Rohit Ramachandran said the GDE will “enhance the customer experience while using Jazeera Screens” to “drive additional ancillary revenue”.

Emirates announces interline agreement with Africa World Airlines

Emirates Airline announced a new interline agreement with Africa World Airlines (AWA), which will enable passengers to connect onto selected AWA services from May-2019. The new agreement will further extend Emirates’ connectivity from Accra with up to ten daily services to Kumasi, four daily services to Tamale and Takoradi and six weekly services to Monrovia and Freetown. Emirates SVP commercial operations, Africa Orhan Abbas said the agreement will grant Emirates “greater connectivity across West Africa”.

Gulf Air and Export Bahrain to support exports by SMEs in Bahrain

Gulf Air Falcon Cargo and Export Bahrain signed a partnership agreement to provide small and medium sized enterprises (SME) in Bahrain with a 40% discount on export shipments of 100kg or above. “Our most important strategy pillar is to contribute to the economy of the Kingdom of Bahrain, we are facilitating export services for SMEs in Bahrain at preferential rates,” confirmed Krešimir Kučko, CEO, Gulf Air. “We want to support the small and medium-sized enterprises to export their goods to the outer world and show pride in the Kingdom’s manufactured products. This is the start of a good potential for Gulf Air, Export Bahrain and SMEs in Bahrain”.

Jazeera Airways calls for increase in cap on seats available between India and Kuwait

Jazeera Airways plans to seek permission from Indian and Kuwaiti regulators to increase the number of seats available between the countries, currently limited to 12,000 weekly as per a 2007 agreement. Jazeera Airways CEO Rohit Ramachandran commented: “The last time seat revision was done in 2007, and there is a need to increase the allocation. Even if it is tripled it will not be enough”. Jazeera Airways commenced India services in late 2017 and now operates to Ahmedabad, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi and Mumbai.

News Briefs

  • Etihad Airways has pledged to reduce usage of single use plastic items by 80% across the entire organisation by the end of 2022. The carrier was due to operate its first single use plastic free service on 21-Apr-2019.
  • Bulgaria‘s Ministry of Transport, Information Technology and Communications announced plans to negotiate an amendment to the current air transport agreement with Iran‘s aeronautical authorities, as well as discuss the possibility of launching a nonstop air service.
  • Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) approved Etihad Airways‘ request to codeshare on scheduled international services with Royal Jordanian on licensed routes between Canada and Jordan, effective from 12-Apr-2019 to 26-Oct-2019.


  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 22-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

  • Emirates Airline has deployed A380 equipment on Dubai-Riyadh service, effective 21-Apr-2019. The carrier will operate A380 equipment on the route five times weekly to meet “growing passenger demand” and complement the Boeing 777-300ER equipment, which currently operates the route.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 22-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

  • Jazeera Airways plans to launch Kuwait-London Gatwick service in 2019. The carrier plans to operate the route with A320neo equipment.
  • SalamAir plans to launch four times weekly Muscat-Riyadh service, effective 01-Jun-2019. The carrier also plans to operate four seasonal return Muscat-Medina frequencies on 09-May-2019, the 16-May-2019, 23-May-2019 and 28-May-2019 to cater to Umrah pilgrims during Ramadan.
  • Azerbaijan Airlines partnered with PASHA Travel for the operation of charter services to Saudi Arabia in summer 2019. The carrier plans to operate the following weekly services from Baku to Dammam (from 07-Jun-2019), Riyadh (from 10-Jun-2019), Al Ahsa (from 09-Jun-2019), Jeddah (from 08-Apr-2019), Madinah (from 05-Jun-2019) and Qassim.
  • FlyBosnia plans to launch three times weekly Sarajevo-Kuwait service from 04-Jun-2019, operating with A319 aircraft.