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 FAA urges US civil aviation to continue exercising caution around Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman

US FAA issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) on 19-Aug-2019, advising US civil aviation to exercise caution when operating in overwater airspace above the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, as a result of increased political tensions and heightened military activities in the region. According to the FAA, Iran has publicly threatened US military operations in the Gulf region. The FAA says it will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary.


India is a key market for Gulf carriers: Etihad Airways has carried more than 16m passengers to India

Etihad Airways reported it has carried more than 16.5 million passengers on its Indian routes since launching operations to the Indian Sub-Continent in Sep-2004. Etihad Airways Group CEO Tony Douglas stated “India and the UAE share a long and strong economic, cultural and diplomatic relationship” and Etihad Airways “serves more destinations in India than any other country in its network”. Today, the UAE carrier operates 159 return flights per week between Abu Dhabi and 10 key Indian gateways – Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram – and through its Abu Dhabi hub, the airline connects each of these gateways to international destinations throughout the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, and Africa.


Emirates seeks green light to increase Philippines frequencies

Emirates Philippines country manager Satish Seth stated the carrier is awaiting confirmation to resume air service talks between the UAE and the Philippines. According to Mr Seth, Emirates plans to request at least three more frequencies per week into the Philippines as the carrier’s “seat factor is running in mid 90s year round average, which leaves little room for growth”. Mr Seth added when there are more frequencies, “there is more connectivity, more trade, more cargo” and “more tourists into the Philippines”.


Vistara sees “huge demand” for its new Mumbai – Delhi service

Vistara CEO Leslie Thng, commenting on the launch of the airline’s Mumbai-Dubai International service on 21-Aug-2019, said “We have done our feasibility studies and find that there is a huge demand for flights from Dubai to Mumbai”, adding “the Indian diaspora in the UAE is huge, we want to tap into this”. Mr Thng said he believes “there is room for Vistara to grow on the India-UAE route” and “naturally, we wish to further strengthen our international network with more flights to/from points in the Middle East”.


Sky Express signs interline agreement with Middle East Airlines

Sky Express signed an interline agreement with Middle East Airlines covering routes between Greece and Lebanon, effective 01-Jun-2019. Passengers can book airfares on a single ticket, with connecting passengers able to enjoy complimentary access to Sky Express’ lounge at Athens International Airport. Sky Express president and CEO Theodoros Krokidas said the agreement will “maximise travel opportunities” for passengers and “bring enormous benefit and tremendous value” to the local economy.


News Briefs

  • Gulf Air is seeking a new provider for onboard content services. It has issued a formal tender for an inflight entertainment content service provider with submissions set to close on 18-Sep-2019.
  • Saudi Arabia‘s Government terminated its travel restrictions on adult women. The new laws permit Saudi women to travel and obtain a passport without a male guardian.
  • Jordan‘s visitor arrivals rose 6.3% in 1H2019, according to the Central Bank of Jordan. Tourism revenues increased by 8.6% during this period to JOD2.3 billion (USD3.2 billion).
  • Centara Hotels & Resorts and Al Bandary Hotel Management signed an agreement regarding the management of ‘The B Premiere Hotel’ and ‘Centara Al Bustan Hotel Doha’. The hotels are scheduled to open YE2019 and 2Q2021 respectively.
  • Aeronautical authorities from Oman and Pakistan met in Islamabad on 22-Aug-2019 to hold bilateral air services agreement (ASA) discussions and “explore avenues of mutual cooperation in the aviation industry”.
  • Lebanon‘s Prime Minister Saad Hariri inaugurated Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport’s second expansion phase. The phase sees the installation of six new scanners in the airport’s departure area to ease congestion.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 26-Aug-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

  • Kuwait Airways is scheduled to receive its first A320neo aircraft on 29-Aug-2019. The airline is set to receive 38 aircraft up until 2026, including five A350-900, eight A300-800neo, 15 A320neo and 10 Boeing 777-300ER.
  • Jazeera Airways signed a contract to lease three A320neo aircraft from ICBC Aviation. The aircraft are scheduled for delivery in Aug-2020 and Sep-2020.
  • Ariana Afghan Airlines invited  bids for an ACMI contract, covering the wet lease or dry lease of an aircraft from 27-Aug-2019 to 27-Dec-2019 inclusive. The airline is seeking Boeing 767, 757, 737-800, A330-200 and A321 equipment.
  • Etihad Airways plans to deploy Boeing 777-300ER equipment on Abu Dhabi-Barcelona service, operating between 22-Feb-2020 and 29-Feb-2020.
  • EgyptAir completed the inaugural test flight of its first A220-300 aircraft, Airbus has confirmed. The A220-300 is now entering the final phase of completion and is scheduled for delivery in the coming weeks.
  • Saudia plans to operate its Jeddah-Paris CDG service with Boeing 787-10 equipment, effective 01-Mar-2020, reports Routes Online.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 26-Aug-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
  • Fly Jordan launched weekly Amman-Bahrain service, effective 24-Aug-2019.
  • IndiGo plans to increase Chennai-Doha frequency from daily to twice daily, commencing 23-Sep-2019. The LCC will deploy A320 aircraft on the additional daily frequency, a route also flown by Qatar Airways.
  • Emirates Airline plans to reduce Dubai-Barcelona frequency from 21 to 16 times weekly, effective 14-Dec-2019. The carrier also plans to reduce A380 operations to once daily.
  • SpiceJet commenced daily Mumbai-Riyadh service on 15-Aug-2019. Air India and Saudia also operate the route, according to OAG.