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.

Travelport: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco fastest growing regional markets for the UAE

Travelport reported Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco were the countries in the Middle East and North Africa that experienced the greatest increases in flight bookings from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the 12 months to 31-Mar-2019. Saudi Arabia saw an increase of just over 18,000 (+6% year-on-year), while Egypt and Morocco both recorded rises of nearly 5,000 (+3% and +10% respectively). Outside of the MENA region, Pakistan witnessed the largest increase by more than 130,000 bookings via the GDS, up 31% on the previous 12 months. Bookings to second placed Nepal rose by over 25,000, up 37% (this follows an increase of 15,000 flight bookings to the country the previous year – 01-Apr-2016 to 31-Mar-2017). Third placed Bangladesh saw flight bookings increase by just over 18,000, up 7%.

Jazeera Airways records USD4.9m in net profit for 1Q2019; plans routes to India and London

Jazeera Airways chairman Marwan Boodai attributed the carrier’s positive performance in 1Q2019 to a “customer centric approach” and investing in services that not only add value to the customers experience, “but also create new ancillary sources of revenue” that support its “strong balance sheet”. The carrier recorded a KWD1.5 million (USD4.9 million) 1Q2019 net profit, compared to a net loss of KWD321,900 in 1Q2018. He describes 2019 as “another milestone year” for the airline as it plans to launch new routes to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and London. Mr Boodai stated the carrier is scheduled to take delivery of three new A320neo aircraft in 2019 while it continues to expand its product offer from the Jazeera Terminal at Kuwait International Airport.

Royal Jordanian Airlines to increase economy class seating, reduce business class

Royal Jordanian Airlines CEO Stefan Pichler stated that by Apr-2019, the carrier will have “increased the density on board” of “aircraft in economy class” and “reduced business class by one row”, which will increase the earning capacity on board of the carrier’s short haul and medium haul fleet, reports trade publication Arabian Aerospace. He also stated that stated he hopes Syrian airspace will open up again as the carrier currently serves Beirut, but “is not allowed to overfly Syria”, which makes the route “much longer”. Mr Pichler added the carrier would “immediately” resume Syrian services to Damascus, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor, “if given the green light by regulators”.

Etihad Airways launches economy class transformation programme

Etihad Airways plans for a major economy class transformation programme. Under the refurbishment programme, 23 A320 and A321 aircraft will be upgraded with refreshed modern cabins featuring seats with “more space for passengers”. The changes will also see the introduction of smart device powered high speed wireless streaming inflight entertainment via the new E-BOX STREAM app or browser and an enhanced complimentary dining concept. The carrier has also launched a new advertising campaign, ‘Go Your Own Way’, which enables passengers to customise their economy class experience and empower passengers with “more control of their travel experiences, through onboard digital transformation, improved choice and redesigned cabins and products”. The retrofit programme is scheduled for completion in Aug-2019.

Oman Aviation Group planning dedicated logistics corridor in Oman

Oman Aviation Group plans to establish a dedicated logistics corridor to connect airports, sea ports, land ports and free trade zones in Oman. According to CEO, Mustafa Al Hinai, it is working to attract new aviation companies and investors to Oman, including “global logistics companies and internationally renowned hospitality, food, healthcare and freight specialists”.

IATA and ACAO sign sustainable development agreement

IATA and the Arab Civil Aviation Organization (ACAO) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to cooperate on the sustainable development of air transport in the Middle East and North Africa region. Under the MoU, IATA and ACAO will exchange information and capabilities to enhance safety and flight operations; regulatory harmonisation; infrastructure, capacity building and training; environment; treaties and ICAO standards; and the value of aviation and future trends in air transport. ACAO director general Abdennebi Manar said the MoU is a “key partnership for the advancement of civil aviation and the promotion of universal standards” and will “strengthen the cooperation between states and the aviation industry”.

News Briefs

  • Etihad Cargo has reported 14.4% of total cargo bookings have been made online since the launch of ‘iCargo’ in Oct-2018 with Mar-2019 the carrier’s most successful month since its implementation with 16.4% of bookings being placed online. The carrier has made “great strides in implementing the first phase of its digital ambitions over the past 18 months” says head of technology and innovation Rory Fidler.
  • Gulf Air and Oman Air have expanded their codeshare agreement to include Gulf Air’s services from Bahrain to Tbilisi, Baku, Gassim and Beirut. Gulf Air will also place its code on Oman Air services from Muscat to Salalah, Khasab, Nairobi, Zanzibar, Goa, Lucknow, Kathmandu and Jakarta.
  • Sabre Corporation and Bahwan Travel Group have renewed their technology agreement. Under the new agreement, Bahwan Travel Group will continue to access Sabre’s technology and solutions including its Sabre Red 360 agency solution and the latest data analytics, personalisation and automation capabilities.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 29-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

  • flyadeal’s CEO Con Korfiatis stated its decision on whether it will move forward with an order for 30 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is “imminent”. The airline has been considering its options following the grounding of the short-haul variant.
  • Emirates Airline plans to deploy Boeing 777-300ER aircraft configured with six private first class suites on Dubai-Male service, commencing 01-Jun-2019. The airline will deploy the aircraft on one of three daily Dubai-Male frequencies.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 29-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

  • flydubai plans to launch twice weekly Dubai-Sochi service, effective 07-Jun-2019. The carrier will be the first to operate nonstop to Sochi from the UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Emirates Airline will codeshare on the service.
  • Salam Air has confirmed plans to launch Muscat-Tehran Imam Khomeini (three times weekly, effective 09-Jun-2019), Muscat-Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen (twice weekly, effective 03-Jul-2019) and Muscat-Trabzon (twice weekly, effective 01-Jul-2019) services.
  • Mahan Air plans to launch twice weekly Tehran Imam Khomeini-St Petersburg service, effective 03-May-2019, operated with A310 equipment.
  • Kuwait Airways plans to resume Kuwait-Beirut-Larnaca-Kuwait service, operating between 03-Jun-2019 and 12-Sep-2019 with A330-200 equipment.
  • Armenia Airlines plans to launch weekly Yerevan-Baghdad service from 01-Jun-2019 and Yerevan-Sulaymaniyah service from 31-May-2019, operating with Boeing 737-500 aircraft, reports Routes Online.
  • Air France plans to increase Paris CDG-Dubai frequency from 10 to 13 times weekly in winter 2019/2020. Emirates Airline also operates on the route, according to OAG.