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.

Etihad Airways submits bid on Jet Airways stake purchase tender

Etihad Airways confirmed it submitted a bid on State Bank of India’s tender for the purchase of an up to 75% stake in financially troubled Indian carrier Jet Airways. A spokesperson stated the airline is interested “to reinvest in a minority stake in India’s Jet Airways, subject to conditions”. He added: “Etihad reemphasises that it cannot be expected to be the sole investor, and that, among other requirements, additional suitable investors would need to provide the majority of Jet Airways’ required recapitalisation”. Etihad was the sole qualified bidder to submit a bid on the tender by the 10-May-2019 deadline.

Emirates sees revenue up 6% in FY2018/19 despite ‘cutthroat competition’

Emirates Airline reported revenue increased by 6% year-on-year to AED97.9 billion (USD26.7 billion) in FY2018/19. The carrier recorded AED95,260 million (USD25,931 million) in total operating costs, up 8% year-on-year. Emirates president Tim Clark stated the carrier saw an increase in revenue “despite cutthroat competition” in FY2018/19. Sir Tim stated total operating costs increased mainly due to the sharp 22% upswing in jet fuel prices on top of the 15% surge in 2018. Meanwhile, the airline handled 58.6 million passengers in FY2018/19, up 0.2% year-on-year. The carrier recorded RTKM growth of 2.6%. The carrier attributed this increase in passenger traffic and RTKM growth to the introduction of new London Stansted, Edinburgh and Santiago destinations and higher frequencies and larger aircraft added to existing services.

Qatar Airways to replace all A330s in next three years, add around 20 aircraft by end of 2019

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker reported the airline intends to replace all its A330s with A350s and Boeing 787s in the next three years and the airline has already commenced the phase out of its A340 fleet. The carrier also plans to phase out A319 and A320 aircraft. Mr Al Baker said: “From 2024, our fleet will consist of Boeing 777s and 787s and Airbus A350s and A321s. At that time, there will not be any more Airbus A320s and A319s in our fleet” and by the end of the 2019 the carrier “will add around 20 passenger aircraft”. Mr Al Baker added: “It will be mostly Airbus, except maybe for one or two Boeing”.

Partnership for Open & Fair Skies believes new Air Italy routes are a loophole into the US carved out by Qatar

Lobbying group Partnership for Open & Fair Skies says reports that Air Italy plans to launch additional flights to North America in 2020 are “just the latest in a string of trade violations by the government of Qatar designed to damage US businesses and hurt American workers”. The group said the Trump Administration “successfully negotiated” an agreement in 2019 which was “designed to end Qatar’s Open Skies violations”, but Qatar rapidly “began to carve out a loophole”. Partnership for Open & Fair Skies said there is “bipartisan concern that Qatar Airways is using its government-subsidised investment in Air Italy to launch proxy routes into the United States, breaking the terms of last year’s deal”.

News Briefs

  • Royal Jordanian reported it has signed a deal with the Jordanian Government for the state to increase its share in the airline to 82.03%.
  • Acro Aircraft announced it was been selected by Etihad Airways to supply its ‘Series 6’ economy class seat. The seats will be retrofitted on 23 of the carrier’s A320 and A321 aircraft and are expected to enter service in May-2019.
  • Qatar Airways and Qatar Duty Free reportedly plan to suspend publication of their inflight duty free programme, effective 01-Jun-2019.
  • Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation reported Nepal’s Government plans to sign a revised air services agreement (ASA) with the UAE in Jul-2019 (Aviation Nepal, 08-May-2019). The revised ASA is expected to increase the number of frequencies per week permitted to operate between the two countries.
  • Qatar National Tourism Council plans to launch a ‘Summer in Qatar’ programme, offering travel, retail and hospitality offers and events from 04-Jun-2019 to 16-Aug-2019. As part of the programme, airfare discounts and travel packages will be available through Qatar Airways.
  • Oman has entered into contracts for 10 new tourism projects in the country. OMR4.5 million (USD11.7 million) will be invested, including works to establish hotels and hotel apartments, resorts and tourist camps to increase tourism and national income.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 13-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

  • Emirates Airline president Tim Clark stated in 2019/2020 the carrier plans to take delivery of six A380 and retire eight Boeing 777 aircraft to keep the fleet “strong and young”.
  • UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) says it is still seeking technical information from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the safety improvements proposed for the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
  • Qatar Airways received one new A350-1000 (A7-ANH, MSN 229), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The carrier now operates eight A350-1000s. It also received one A350-900 (A7-AMJ, MSN 237), boosting its fleet to 35 of the type.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 13-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 plans to operate daily Al Ain-Jeddah service from 26-May-2019 to 04-Jun-2019. The carrier will operate the service with A330 equipment to support Al Ain residents wanting to attend Umrah during the last 10 days of the Holy Month.
  • Air Arabia plans to launch three times weekly Sharjah-Tunis service, effective 04-Jul-2019.
  • Turkish Airlines plans to launch daily Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen-Erbil service from 28-Jun-2019, operating with A320 aircraft. The carrier also operates services from Diyarbakir, Gaziantep and Istanbul to Erbil, according to OAG.
  • Qatar Airways confirmed plans to increase Doha-Cardiff to daily frequency, effective 30-May-2019. The airline’s country manager UK & Ireland Gary Kershaw said demand for UK destinations has “never been stronger”.
  • SunExpress Germany plans to launch weekly Hannover-Beirut seasonal service effective 28-Jun-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. The city pair is currently unserved, according to OAG.
  • Jazeera Airways commenced a three times weekly Kuwait-Bodrum service on 09-May-2019 and plans to launch three times weekly Kuwait-Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen service on 15-Jun-2019.
  • Etihad Cargo commenced weekly Abu Dhabi-Singapore-Ho Chi Minh City service on 09-May-2019. The service complements Etihad Airways’ daily Abu Dhabi-Singapore passenger service.