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.

Saudia VP sales: An innovation free-for-all means ‘nothing gets delivered’ long term
Saudia VP sales Richard Nuttall, speaking at the CAPA Airline Leader Summit last week, said: “We need to move into a different mindset for innovation. Everything you do costs money”. He argued a “free-for-all for innovation” and “innovation for innovation’s sake” creates chaos and ultimately “nothing gets delivered”.

Dubai Airports CEO confirms intent to phase out physical check in desks
Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths confirmed the company is aiming to phase out physical check in desks at Dubai International Airport and Dubai World Central in favour of home check in options. Mr Griffiths said: “We just need to find a way of dealing with baggage and I think technology is moving towards that area too”.

flyadeal CEO ‘absolutely convinced’ there will be long haul LCC operations in the Middle East
flyadeal CEO Con Korfiatis, speaking at last week’s CAPA Middle East & Africa Aviation Summit in Dubai, stated he is “absolutely convinced” that there will be long haul LCC operations from the Middle East. He highlighted the LCC is considering further cooperation with Saudia and he expects “very interesting opportunities” to appear as flyadeal grows in scale. In the local market he expects Saudi Arabia to introduce tourist visas in 2019 and also noted significant infrastructure in investment in Saudi Arabia to facilitate tourism. This includes the new terminal at Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport, which he describes as “stunning” and will cater for “a lot” of growth. Mr Korfiatis expects Saudia to commence full domestic and international operations at the terminal by the end of 2019, with other airlines, including flyadeal, to follow in late 2019 or 2020. Mr Korfiatis said the terminal will help create more transit opportunities, which will become “a very interesting proposition”.

Air Arabia launched five new routes in 1Q2019; delivers strong financial performance
Air Arabia reported it launched new routes to Lisbon, Tunis, Amman, Luxor and Riyadh in 1Q2019. Air Arabia chairman Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohamed Al Thani stated the carrier continued with its network expansion strategy in 1Q2019, “adding new routes and new frequencies across all operating hubs while driving cost margins lower”. The airline reported 1Q2019 revenues of AED1020 million (USD280 million), +17% year-on-year; and net profits of AED128 million (USD34.8 million), +16% year-on-year. It handled more than 2.8 million passengers in 1Q2019, an 8% increase year-on-year, and recorded an average seat load factor of 84%, up 3% year-on-year.

flydubai may not have launched Naples service without Emirates partnership: CEO
flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith, speaking at last week’s CAPA Middle East & Africa Aviation Summit in Dubai, stated the airline probably would not have launched Dubai-Naples service, scheduled to commence in Jun-2019, without its partnership with Emirates. Mr Al Ghaith said the airlines do not coordinate across their whole networks, but work together to identify areas where they can build their relationship.

CAPA chairman: A ‘revolution in the Middle East’ is coming in terms of LCC growth
CAPA – Centre for Aviation chairman emeritus Peter Harbison, speaking at the CAPA Airline Leader Summit in the Republic of Ireland last week  highlighted that 20% of flydubai’s flights are over five hours and will increase as its planned 250 737 MAXs enter into service, with another 230 on order. The MAX gives flydubai “massive range” to operate right across the market he continued. “Growth of LCCs has been very limited in the Middle East”, he said, noting however the emergence of long haul narrowbody aircraft is creating a “revolution in the Middle East” in terms of LCC growth. Mr Harbison noted 737 MAXs and A320neos narrobodies can reach “any point in Europe and India and almost any in Africa” from the Middle East.

Sharjah Airport to raise annual passenger capacity to 20 million by 2025
Sharjah Airport reported works and other development projects are underway that will raise airport handling capacity to approximately 20 million passengers by 2025. As a result of attracting new airlines and the expansion of operations by existing airlines, Sharjah Airport recorded a growth of 9.56% in passenger movement with more than 3.156 million passengers during the first quarter of 2019 as compared to 2.880 million passengers in the first quarter of 2018. January was the best month in terms of passenger numbers with 1.122 million passengers, while the highest growth rate – 10.59% – was recorded in March, when there were 1.079 million passengers. In February, there were 954 thousand passengers.

News Briefs

  • Emirates Airline has launched a range of co branded credit cards for customers in Malaysia with Hong Leong Bank Berhad. The Emirates HLB card portfolio includes the Emirates HLB World Elite, the Emirates HLB World and the Emirates HLB Platinum card. Owners will be entitled to up to 10,000 Skywards Miles after their first spend and can earn Miles at a higher rate when purchasing air tickets directly with the airline.
  • Jazeera Airways CEO Rohit Ramachandran called on Indian aviation regulators to revise its bilateral agreement, which limits a carrier’s capacity to 12,000 seats per week (The Hindu, 02-May-2019). Mr Ramachandran stated “12,000 seats is an unacceptably small number” and even if it was “tripled to 36,000 seats it won’t be enough”.
  • Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) has commenced discussions with Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) representatives, with the aim of revising the terms of the bilateral air services agreement (ASA) between the countries to reflect Pakistan’s 2019 National Aviation Policy.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 06-May-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

  • Air Arabia CEO Adel Abdullah Ali stated the carrier plans to place an order for 100 narrowbody aircraft within the next three to four months. The carrier plans to commence discussions with Airbus and Boeing in early May-2019. Air Arabia currently operates an all Airbus A320 family fleet.
  • flynas CEO Bandar Abdulrahman Al-Mohanna stated the carrier expects to close negotiations with Airbus and Boeing by the end of 2019 on the purchase of 10 widebody aircraft, reports Arabian Business.
  • flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith stated the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX is “a reflection of how seriously the aviation industry takes safety”.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 06-May-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

  • Etihad Airways confirmed plans to increase Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow frequency from three to four times daily, operating between 26-May-2019 and 22-Jun-2019, and to five time daily from 23-Jun-2019 to 28-Sep-2019. The carrier will operate the route with Boeing 787-9 equipment.
  • Iraqi Airways plans to launch weekly Sulaymaniyah-Baku service, effective 06-May-2019, with Bombardier CRJ900 equipment.
  • flynas plans to launch five times weekly Riyadh-New Delhi service, effective 01-Jul-2019.
  • Pegasus Airlines plans to launch twice weekly Istanbul Ras Al Khaimah – Sabiha Gökçen service from 28-Oct-2019.
  • SunExpress Germany reportedly plans to resume weekly Duesseldorf-Erbil service from 07-Jun-2019. It suspended flights on the route in Dec-2012, according to OAG.
  • FlyBosnia has reportedly launched operations with one off Sarajevo-Kuwait service. The carrier plans to operate a second Sarajevo-Kuwait service in May-2019 and launch scheduled operations from 04-Jun-2019.