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.


US and UAE reaffirm support for open skies; Emirates commends Trump Administration

The US Department of State announced the US and UAE held their sixth economic policy dialogue on 20-Jun-2019, during which delegations from the countries discussed civil aviation matters. Both governments reaffirmed their support for the US-UAE air transport agreement (ATA) of 11-Mar-2012 and the understandings in the record of discussion between the governments of 11-May-2018. According to the Department of State, the record of discussion “reinforced the principle of a fair and equal opportunity to compete in providing international air transportation governed by the ATA” and the parties “underscored the shared and ongoing commitment of the United States and the United Arab Emirates to fully maintain all aspects of their Open Skies relationship”. Emirates, in a statement to CAPA, commended the Trump Administration for reaffirming its commitment to the ATA and commented: “This should end an unfortunate chapter in the mutually beneficial US-UAE aviation relationship that provides the US with a significant trade surplus, and supports hundreds of thousands of US jobs”. The airline added: “For over four years, the three largest US carriers have waged a fictitious, unrelenting and malicious multi-million dollar protectionist lobbying campaign against US Open Skies policy and consumer choice. Over this time, these US carriers have taken their eye off the ball wasting tens of millions of shareholder dollars that could have been better directed towards the historic opportunity to reform the US air traffic control system or spent on improving their customers’ travel experience. Emirates looks forward to continuing to ensure passengers travelling to and from the United States can fly better”.


Wizz Air considers serving the busy London – Dubai corridor with new A321XLR

Wizz Air will consider launching London-Dubai and central Europe to India services with new A321XLR aircraft, according to its CEO József Váradi. He said: “We’ll connect the dots of our existing network but we’ll be looking at new opportunities, too. The XLR will be delivered in four years so we have plenty of time to work it out”. Wizz Air signed a MoU relating to exercising a part of existing options for the purchase 20 A321XLR aircraft at the recent Paris Air Show.


Etihad Guest and Al Hilal Bank launch new Visa credit card in UAE

Etihad Airways has announced Etihad Guest and Al Hilal Bank launched a new Visa credit card in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Al Hilal Bank Etihad Guest Visa Credit Cards are available in Platinum, Signature and Infinite variants and offer customers a range of benefits, including a sign up bonus of up to 60,000 Etihad Guest Miles. Under the programme, visa cardholders will receive up to 8.25 Etihad Guest Miles per AED10 spent internationally or on etihad.com, with up to 5.75 Etihad Guest Miles earned for every AED10 spent on transactions within the UAE. Cardholders will also receive access to selected premium airport lounges worldwide, discounts at select hotels, dining and retail options and on bookings through agoda.com and booking.com.


Airways New Zealand opens Lebanon training facility as it looks to further Middle East expansion

Airways New Zealand opened an advanced air traffic control (ATC) training facility opened in Lebanon. The facility includes an ATC tower and TotalControl surveillance training simulators developed by Airways for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation Lebanon at Beirut Rafic Hariri International airport. Airways International CEO Sharon Cooke commented: “The Middle East is a key target market and our work in Lebanon further cements our reputation in the region as a high quality training technology and services provider”.


Etihad sees uplift in aircraft training needs

Etihad Aviation Training managing director Paolo La Cava stated that in 1H2019 there was a 30% increase in retraining pilots to operate new aircraft types such as A320 family and Boeing 737 aircraft. According to Mr La Cava, demand for these services is growing as “many operators simply don’t have the facilities or capacity to retrain the number of pilots required for these planes”.


News Briefs

  • Oman Air and Saudia have received IATA Level 4 New Distribution Capability (NDC) certification. They are the first airlines from the Middle East to receive such certification.
  • Hadrami Airlines has signed a training agreement with EgyptAir in anticipation of the arrival of new aircraft. The proposed Yemeni charter provider will be based in the port city of Mukalla and serve the Hadramout Province. It plans to launch operations in Oct-2019 using a fleet of A330 and A320 aircraft.
  • Oman’s General Authority of Civil Aviation confirms that a second round of air transport negotiations between Oman and the European Union have now been concluded.
  • Etihad Airways is reportedly exploring plans to establish a consortium to bid with Hinduja Group to acquire a 75% stake in the Jet Airways under the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process initiated by India’s National Company Law Tribunal in late Jun-2019.
  • Qatar Airways has become the first airline in the Middle East to inaugurate the LinkedIn Talent Solutions Enterprise Programme (TSEP), which provides users with economic insights and machine learning algorithms, enabling them to make informed hiring and business decisions.
  • Saudi Arabia General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) reduced its ‘economic air services’ licence issue period from 60 to 15 days. This was facilitated by its electronic platform ‘Maras’.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 01-Jul-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

  • Etihad Airways received a new Boeing 787-9 (MSN 42369), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The carrier now operates 26 aircraft of the type.
  • flynas received one A320neo aircraft (HZ-NS24, MSN 9040), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates three aircraft of this type.
  • Qatar Airways received one A350-900 aircraft (A7-AMK, MSN 249), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates 45 A350 aircraft with a further 35 on order.
  • SalamAir has acquired a new Airbus A320neo from ALAFCO, the third since Dec-2018.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 01-Jul-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

  • Air Arabia plans to launch four times weekly Sharjah-Vienna service, effective 15-Sep-2019. The carrier plans to increase the frequency to daily during Dec-2019.
  • Iraqi Airways commenced weekly Baghdad-Sulaymaniyah-Copenhagen service on 17-Jun-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. The airline also operates Baghdad-Copenhagen, Baghdad-Al Najaf-Copenhagen and Baghdad-Erbil-Copenhagen services, according to OAG.
  • SpiceJet plans to commence daily Delhi-Jeddah service on 31-Jul-2019. The LCC will deploy 168 seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft on the service. Saudia and Air India also operate the route, according to OAG.
  • Nepal Airlines plans to commence three times weekly Kathmandu-Riyadh service in Oct-2019, pending approval from Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation. The service will be primarily aimed at young people travelling from Nepal to Saudi Arabia for employment opportunities.
  • Air India reportedly plans to commence three times weekly Indore-Dubai service and four times weekly Kolkata-Dubai service on 15-Jul-2019, according to Routes Online. The airline will deploy A321 aircraft on both services.