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.

Qatar Airways Group CEO: Governments using aviation to ‘line their coffers’

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker, speaking at the 2019 IATA AGM and World Air Transport summit, stated “Aviation is contributing its fair share of expenditure, but what governments do, especially in the pretext of environmental tax or aviation tax; they are just using it to line their coffers”. He added that the environmental agenda against airlines and their emissions is part of “misinformation for their political means to get elected”. He urged governments to support airlines’ own ambitions to meet their sustainability goals. “Governments are keen to talk emissions and CO2, but there has been little investment in improving air traffic management on their part. We still operating airspace as if we are quite frankly three decades behind. People shouldn’t blame airlines but blame governments for not making airspace more efficient”, he said. Mr Al Baker called on governments to invest in the future sustainability of the aviation industry. “The governments are not supporting it as they should. It is an investment in the future generations. They shouldn’t just collect from aviation they should invest back”, he said.

Royal Jordanian hoping to resume service to Syria later in 2019

Royal Jordanian hopes to resume service to Syria later in 2019. Its CEO Stefan Pichler said the carrier is focusing on regional connectivity within the Levant, as it looks to grow sixth freedom traffic. While instability in the Levant remains a challenge, Royal Jordanian the region has relatively limited competition and high yields. Royal Jordanian cannot rely too heavily on local or point to point traffic due to the intense competition from LCCs in Jordan, according to Mr Pichler.

Dubai – Muscat becomes the world’s shortest A380 route

Emirates Airline plans to operate its Dubai-Muscat route with Airbus A380 equipment operating twice daily effective 01-Jul-2019. The route will become the airline’s shortest scheduled A380 service, with a distance of 340km each way. The launch of the A380 flights will come exactly one year after the first deployment of a scheduled one-off A380 service that marked 25 years of operations to Oman. Emirates has been flying to Oman since 1993, and today operates three daily services utilising the 777-300ER. It will use its 519-seat version of the A380 with capacity for 429 in economy on the lower deck, as well as 76 in business class and 14 first class private suites on the upper deck.

Oman Air signs MoU with MCI to increase MICE traffic to Oman

Oman Air has signed a MoU with MCI to increase meetings, incentive, conference and events (MICE) traffic to Oman. Oman Air Holidays SVP Richard Bodin said the carrier is committed to “growing this critically important business segment” and promoting Oman as “an excellent venue for MICE activities”. Worth in excess of USD90 billion across the world, MICE is a highly lucrative segment of the travel industry and one that Oman is actively targeting.

Etihad Airways economy class cabin retrofit to be complete by Aug-2019

Etihad Airways stated its economy class retrofit programme will be complete by Aug-2019. As part of the programme, 23 A320 and A321 aircraft will be upgraded to include new ergonomic seats by Acro Aircraft Seating and a new personalised wireless streaming inflight entertainment system.

Qatar Airways Group CEO calls value of airport privatisation into doubt

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker, speaking at the 2019 IATA AGM and World Air Transport summit, called into doubt the value of airport privatisation. “After privatisation they immediately hike the charges with not equal investment in improving the infrastructure”, he explained. Mr Al Baker highlighted that any investment should be done “in a cohesive way making sure there are proper caps on what an operator can charge airlines and its passengers”.

News Briefs

  • Emirates Airline has partnered with Uber to offer UAE travellers with Emirates Economy Class Flex Plus and Economy Class Flex tickets free or discounted rides to and from Dubai International Airport. The offer is available from 02-Jun-2019 to 31-Jul-2019, for travel until 31-Aug-2019.
  • Dubai Airports Company confirmed the completion of Dubai International Airport’s southern runway refurbishment. Emirates Airline landed a Boeing 777 at 17:54 local time on 31-May-2019 for the first official movement on the runway and the airport has subsequently resumed operating at full capacity after the 45 day runway works.
  • Iran Airports & Air Navigation Company announced Tehran Mehrabad Airport will cease flight operations on 14-Jun-2019 from 16:00 to 21:00 local time. The shutdown is due to the anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s pilgrimage.
  • Bhutan’s National Council has reportedly finally approved the immediate implementation of the bilateral air services agreement (BASA) between Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The BASA was initially signed in Feb-2017.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 03-Jun-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

  • Salam Air received one A320neo aircraft (A4O-OVE, MSN 8926) as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The carrier now operates two aircraft of the type.
  • Royal Jordanian plans to decide on narrowbody replacement in the next one to two months. Royal Jordanian is looking at acquiring around 22 narrowbody aircraft which would allow a modest amount of growth in fleet replacement. CEO Stefan Pichler, confirmed to CAPA TV the airline is talking to Airbus, Boeing and Embraer.
  • Etihad Airways replaced Boeing 787-9 with A330-200 equipment on daily Abu Dhabi-Dusseldorf,  between 26-May-2019 and 30-Jun-2019, according to Routes Online.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 03-Jun-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

  • Cham Wings Airlines launched twice weekly Damascus-Muscat service, effective 27-May-2019.
  • Varesh Airlines plans to launch weekly Tehran-Dushanbe service in mid-Jun 2019.
  • IndiGo plans to commence daily Delhi-Abu Dhabi service on 05-Jun-2019. The LCC will operate the service with A320 aircraft.
  • Mahan Air plans to launch twice weekly Tehran-Banja Luka service, effective 21-Jul-2019. The carrier will operate the route with A310 equipment.
  • Georgian Airways plans to launch twice weekly Batumi-Amman service from 04-Jun-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. The service is to operate with Boeing 737 equipment.
  • Uzbekistan Airways reportedly plans to launch twice weekly London-Tashkent-Kabul and Frankfurt-Tashkent-Kabul services.