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.


Middle East Airlines expects to be among launch customers for Airbus A321XLR

Middle East Airlines chairman Mohamad El Hout reported the carrier will be one of the first launch customers of the A321XLR, with plans to acquire four of the long range narrowbodies. Mr El Hout said he is “90%” certain Airbus will formally launch the programme, a range enhanced version of the A321LR, and MEA has “agreed with Airbus [to purchase] the 321XLR depending if they launch it. And we will take deliveries in 2023”. According to Mr El Hout, the A321XLR acquisitions will be conversion of existing orders for A320neo family aircraft. The aircraft will be used by MEA to expand its network footprint in Africa, adding routes such as Kinshasa or Abuja, in additional to expanding frequencies to existing African destination. The aircraft could also potentially be used to add routes to India.


Boeing 737 MAX grounding ‘had major financial impact on Oman Air’ and airline may now seek Airbus talks

Oman Air CEO Abdulaziz Al Raisi stated the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft “had a major financial impact on Oman Air” and significantly curtailed its expansion plans for 2019, resulting in revenue losses and market share declines. According to Mr Al Raisi: “Boeing promised a recovery and support plan for Oman Air that would be submitted to the airline before the upcoming Paris Airshow”. Mr Al Raisi added if he does not hear back from Boeing then he will enter into planned discussions with Airbus at the Paris Airshow.


Abu Dhabi Airports, Etihad Airways and government entities sign MoC for better air travel procedures

Abu Dhabi Airports, Etihad Airways, General Administration of Customs, Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship and Abu Dhabi Police have signed a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) to facilitate efficient air travel procedures and reduce the time required to complete traveling transactions. The MoC also aims to offer high quality services to the passengers upon arriving to the airport, customs declaration, baggage, smart gates and other services prior to boarding aircraft.


Sharjah Airport Authority issues airport expansion project tenders

Sharjah Airport Authority issued major tenders for the main works for Sharjah Airport’s expansion. The project is being managed by Parsons International with a budget of AED1.5 billion (USD408 million) and includes the expansion of the terminal building and increasing the airport’s capacity to 20 million passengers by 2025. The project also includes two departure halls and two passport control areas to maintain the flow of passengers and a new VIP lounge with a separate entrance and exit.


Oman Air partners with the Grand Millennium Muscat for stopover opportunity

After the success of the recently extended business and first class stopover offer, Oman Air is now partnering with the Grand Millennium Muscat, to enable all passengers travelling through Oman to enjoy a free night’s accommodation in this luxurious hotel in the centre of Muscat. Whether passengers are travelling from the Far East on their way to Europe, or indeed the other way, they can now leave the airport in Muscat, enjoy a complimentary 5-star night in the capital, get to know the city and its highlights and return to their travels the next day.


News Briefs

  • The Ministry of Interior of the State of Qatar and Qatar National Tourism Council have launched an electronic visitor authorisation system. The new system enables visitors from around the world to apply for a free visa on arrival as part of the ‘Summer of Qatar’ programme.
  • Dubai Airports has pledged to ban single use plastics from consumer spaces at Dubai International airport, effective 01-Jan-2020. Over the past six months alone, Dubai Airports says it collected and disposed of 16 tonnes of single use plastic bottles and bottle caps.
  • Iran Airports & Air Navigation Company, Civil Aviation Organization of Iran and Iran’s Technology Headquarters signed an MoU regarding the aims to assist the development of aviation in the country. The MoU has led to the issuing of an up to 30% discount on navigation and airport services for the public aviation community.
  • Etihad Aviation Group CEO Tony Douglas stated “Germany is a key destination” in Etihad Airways’ global network with the carrier serving “more destinations in Germany than any other country in Europe”. Mr Douglas added: “Germany is a major contributor to both the growth of Etihad and the growth in Abu Dhabi”.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 17-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

  • Emirates Airline president Tim Clark has stated the UAE carrier is in discussions with Boeing for a combination of 150 777X aircraft and 40 787.
  • Middle East Airlines chairman Mohamad El Hout reported the carrier plans to take delivery of nine A321neo aircraft in 2020 and a further two in 2021. In addition the carrier plans to take delivery of four A330-900neos in 2021.
  • DAE Capital plans to move into new generation narrowbody aircraft “when the risk-return trade-off has improved,” says CEO Firoz Tarapore.The lessor has not made “speculative commitments” to these narrowbody aircraft as the “risk-return profile continues to be in imbalance,” he explains.
  • Etihad Airways has deployed Boeing 787-10 equipment on one of two daily Abu Dhabi-Rome frequencies. The carrier also plans to deploy 787-9 equipment on Abu Dhabi-Milan Malpensa service, effective 01-Sep-2019.
  • British Airways plans to operate Boeing 777-200ER aircraft on daily London Heathrow-Abu Dhabi service between 27-Oct-2019 to 31-Dec-2019, replacing 787-9 aircraft.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 17-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

  • flydubai has launched a five times weekly Dubai-Naples service. It is the first UAE carrier to offer a nonstop Dubai-Naples service. Emirates Airline will codeshare on the new route.
  • Salam Air plans to launch Sohar-Salalah service, effective 01-Jul-2019.
  • Gulf Air launched twice weekly Bahrain-Malaga service, effective 14-Jun-2019. The carrier operates the route with Boeing 787-9 equipment.
  • LOT Polish Airlines has resumed a four times weekly Warsaw-Beirut service, operating with Embraer E195 aircraft. The service will operate five times weekly in Jul-2019 and Aug-2019.