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.

Abu Dhabi Airports conducts operational trial at midfield terminal

Abu Dhabi Airports has conducted a full operational trial of the Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC) at Abu Dhabi International airport. The trial involved more than 800 volunteers and two Etihad Aviation Group aircraft to simulate the MTC’s operation. The trial was part of the development of the MTC and the ongoing Operational Readiness and Airport Transfer process. Over an almost six hour period on 30-Jun-2019, the 800 volunteers acted as passengers using the terminal building, while an Etihad Airways Airbus A330-200 and A330-300 simulated the process of performing a full 80 minute turnaround on the aircraft, including the loading of catering, refueling the aircraft, and conducting checks on the aircraft ahead of take-off.

Trump Talks – US president meets with Middle East, US airline CEOs to discuss subsidisation

US President Donald Trump reportedly met with the CEOs of American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, FedEx, Atlas Air and Qatar Airways to discuss the alleged subsidies provided to national airlines by the governments of Qatar and the UAE. Partnership for Open & Fair Skies managing partner Scott Reed stated the “productive” meeting was held to discuss the “importance of American jobs and not letting foreign governments break their agreements with the United States”. He noted Mr Trump “shares our concerns and instructed us to keep working with the US Department of Transportation, which we plan to do”.

UAE carriers request improved air access into Pakistan

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan has discussed improving aviation sector bilateral relations with the UAE, during a call with UAE Ambassador to Pakistan Hamad Obaid Ibrahim Salim Al-Zaabi. During the call, it was noted that UAE designated carriers expressed a wish to commence operations between Dubai and Turbat, Gwadar and Panjgur, with unrestricted fifth freedom traffic rights through any intermediate points and to any beyond points. In addition, flydubai requested four additional frequencies to operate to Multan, which were previously operated by Emirates. The request is under process in consultation with the Pakistan Civil Aviation Administration and Pakistan International Airlines, while Emirates Airline requested “enhanced A380 aircraft operation” from Islamabad International airport.

Royal Jordanian and Private Hospitals Association sign cooperation agreement

Royal Jordanian signed a cooperation agreement with the Private Hospitals Association (PHA) to promote medical tourism and strengthen Jordan’s position as a destination for treatment and hospitalisation for citizens from various countries in the region. Royal Jordanian will provide discounted tickets on business and economy classes to Arab and international patients who come to receive medical treatment at a PHA medical centre or hospital.

Sharjah Airport traffic results ‘positive’ 1H2019, supported by partnerships

Sharjah Airport chairman Ali Salim Al Midfa stated (16-Jul-2019) the airport handled 6.6 million passengers in 1H2019, with traffic being “positive” due to partnerships helping position it as “one of the region’s best airports both regionally and globally”. Mr Al Midfa added Sharjah “has also won the confidence of the many international and regional airlines that have adopted it as the hub for their operations in the region”.

Oman Air concludes IATA NDC workshops for travel agents

Oman Air completed workshops on the IATA New Distribution Capability (NDC) system for its travel agents in Muscat and Salalah. The new NDC platform will enable the travel agents to engage directly with the airline and increase their earning power as the NDC direct platform opens up new fare products and offers, including ancillary services provided by Oman Air, which are free of cost for its travel agents to sell.

News Briefs

  • Qatar Civil Aviation Authority confirmed the governments of Qatar and East Timor entered a MoU and signed an air services agreement with aims to further discuss transport rights and areas of common concern in the field of air transport.
  • Oman Air SVP of ground operations Saleem Amanulla stated the carrier plans to introduce an iPad check in facility for economy class passengers at Muscat International Airport in early Sep-2019. The service will be available to passengers who do not have baggage.
  • Amman Queen Alia International airport has announced the introduction of 12 visa processing and purchasing counters. The counters are expected to reduce waiting times.
  • Oman’s Ministry of Tourism recorded 1.4 million tourist arrivals between Jan-2019 and May-2019, a 48% year-on-year increase.
  • Automation Anywhere says the company is in discussions with a number of UAE based airlines to provide software powered digital workers or ‘bots’.
  • Sabre has signed a long term agreement with Al Murshed Travel and Tourism to provide continued access to Sabre’s technology services and intelligence platform, Sabre Red 360.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 22-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

  • Air Arabia plans to deploy A321LR equipment on Sharjah-Tunis service, effective 29-Oct-2019, according to Routes Online. The carrier also plans to reduce frequency from four to three times weekly, effective 10-Sep-2019.
  • Royal Jordanian plans to order 22 narrowbody aircraft, which will be delivered from 2020 to 2025 and replace its existing narrowbody fleet. CEO Stefan Pichler told CAPA TV the new aircraft will serve as replacements as the carrier plans to grow capacity by 18% over the next five years.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 22-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

  • Saudia plans to suspend four times weekly Riyadh-Athens service, effective 25-Oct-2019, and launch four times weekly Jeddah-Athens service, effective 28-Oct-2019. The route will be operated with A320 equipment.
  • Qatar Airways plans to launch three times weekly Doha-Johannesburg-Gaborone service, effective 27-Oct-2019. The carrier will operate the route with A350 equipment. Qatar Airways will be the first Middle Eastern airline to operate to Gaborone.
  • Emirates Airline plans to reduce Dubai-New York Newark frequency to six times weekly, operating between 16-Sep-2019 and 29-Sep-2019 and down to five times weekly, operating between 07-Oct-2019 and 24-Nov-2019.
  • Iraqi Airways has launched weekly Baghdad-Hurghada and twice weekly Baghdad-Trabzon, effective 18-Jul-2019, reports Routes Online.
  • MyWay Airlines plans to launch Batumi-Kuwait charter service from 25-Jul-2019. The carrier also operates Tbilisi-Kuwait service.
  • Azur Air plans to resume Nizhnekamsk-Dubai charter service from 23-Oct-2019, operating with 215 seat Boeing 737-900 aircraft on behalf of Anex Tour. The service will be suspended from 23-Mar-2020.
  • Qatar Airways plans to increase Doha-Casablanca frequency from seven to nine times weekly, effective 02-Aug-2019 to 13-Sep-2019. The carrier plans to operate the route with Boeing 787-9 equipment.
  • GoAir has commenced daily Delhi-Abu Dhabi and Mumbai-Abu Dhabi services. Etihad Airways and IndiGo also operate both routes, according to OAG.
  • Qatar Airways Cargo has added Singapore to its trans Pacific operation, commencing twice weekly Chicago-Singapore-Macau-Los Angeles-Mexico City-Guadalajara-Liege-Doha service. The route is operated with Boeing 777F equipment.