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.

Emirates receives approval for biometric boarding from US Customs Border Protection

Emirates Airline announced it is the first carrier outside the US to receive approval for biometric boarding from the US Customs Border Protection. The approval enables passengers travelling to the carrier’s 12 destinations in the US to choose facial recognition at departure gates. The technology was trialled on Emirates’ services from Dubai to New York and Los Angeles during peak periods in Jul-2019 and Aug-2019, with some flights recording 100% biometric boarding and zero manual checks. The airline is expecting to make biometric boarding available for all of its US destinations by the end of 2019.

Aviation to contribute USD3.6bn to Oman GDP by 2040

Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC) CEO Aimen Al Hosni forecast the nation’s aviation sector will contribute over OMR1.4 billion (USD3.6 billion) to national GDP by 2040. Mr Hosni said: “The airport is not an attraction for any tourist, it is an enabler for the guests of Oman. What we are trying to do is to make that journey good, safe and enjoyable. A big percentage of passengers today come with us on the aircraft, but then they arrive in Oman and leave for another destination.” Mr Hosani continued: “We want Oman to be the hub of airlines”.

Dubai World Central ‘rethink’ due to ’emergent technologies’

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths reported a “rethink” of Dubai World Central is underway, due to “emergent technologies”. Mr Griffiths said: “The slightly lower expectations of air transport industry over the next few years are giving us the luxury of the time to achieve that particular review”. The airport executive says forecast consolidation of air transport would lead to growth in the Middle East’s air transport industry over the next 10 to 15 years. Dubai Airports’ aviation strategy plan is awaiting approval. The strategy involves an increase in frequency and a growth in available routes. Once confirmed, the plan is intended to provide a framework for operations over the next 15 years. Mr Griffiths stated management is “Very optimistic over some of the opportunities that that plan will give us”.

‘Strong case exists’ for expansion of Kuwait’s bilateral air agreement with India

Jazeera Airways CEO Rohit Ramachandran stated the carrier “will be engaging through the Government of Kuwait with India” to expand a bilateral air agreement, which currently limits a carrier’s capacity to 12,000 seats per week. Mr Ramachandran added: “I think a very strong case exists for carriers on both sides to increase the number of seats available. With the number of carriers in India and the number of new aircraft they’ve ordered, it makes perfect sense”.

IndiGo CCO says strategy is to operate in all the major cities in the Middle East region

IndiGo CCO William Boulter, commencing on the LCC’s expansion on the Middle East, stated “flying into the Gulf is competitive, but we found great success with our routes there”, noting “we are operating 16 times a day into Dubai and we continue to add new points”. Mr Boutler said: “Our strategy is to operate in all the major cities in the region”, adding that IndiGo commenced services to Abu Dhabi and Kuwait in 2018, Jeddah in 2019 and plans to commence services to Riyadh in Oct-2019. He reported: “We found, despite the widebody competition we face from the big three airlines (Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways), we were able to operate profitably. I think that is because we concentrate very much on the point-to-point markets between India and these markets”.

Emirates has ‘closer working relationship with Etihad than we’ve ever had’

Emirates president Tim Clark said the carrier is working closely with Etihad Airways towards further cooperation in areas including engine overhaul and supply chain. Sir Tim added: “We have a closer working relationship with Etihad than we’ve ever had. Tony Douglas [Etihad’s CEO] and I often have in-depth conversations about what we can do behind the scenes”.

Gulf Air and Etihad Airways extend codeshare agreement to include key US points

Gulf Air extended its codeshare agreement with Etihad Airways. Under the codeshare agreement, Gulf Air will codeshare on Etihad Airways’ services from Abu Dhabi to Chicago O’Hare International, Los Angeles International, New York John F Kennedy International and Washington Dulles International airports. Gulf Air will also have access to the US Customs and and Border Protection facility at terminal 3 in Abu Dhabi International Airport. In addition to the US connections, Gulf Air will also codeshare on Etihad services from Abu Dhabi to and from Bahrain, Brisbane, Jakarta, Lagos, Melbourne and Sydney. Etihad will place its code on Gulf Air services from Bahrain to and from Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Casablanca, Dhaka, Faisalabad, Larnaca, Multan, Najaf, Peshawar, Sialkot and Tbilisi.

News Briefs

  • China Southern Airlines and Qatar Airways announced a codeshare agreement which will allow China Southern passengers to book travel on Qatar Airways’ Guangzhou-Doha and Beijing-Doha services, effective 15-Jan-2020. The codeshare agreement is the first step in the strengthening of cooperation between the airlines since Qatar acquired 5% of China Southern in Dec-2018.
  • Iran Airports & Air Navigation Company executives report Isfahan airport will complete a temporary foreign terminal development plan in autumn 2019. The terminal will cover 7000 square kilometres.
  • Dubai Duty Free opened a Maison Christian Dior store at Dubai International airport’s terminal 3 concourse B.
  • Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker stated “despite having access to a very restricted airspace” the carrier has launched 31 new destinations since the start of the “illegal blockade” in Jun-2017. Mr Al Baker stated the airline’s “mix of wide and narrowbody aircraft” has enabled it to “launch new destinations and increase frequencies based on market demand”.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 23-Sep-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

  • SalamAir received one A320-200neo (A40-OVF, MSN 9197), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker stated the carrier’s decision to convert 10 of orders for 50 A321neo into A321LRs, was due to the aircraft’s extra range which will enable it to “connect Doha to new growing markets where demand is not sufficient for widebody aircraft, or where current narrowbodies are unable to reach”.
  • El Al received a new Boeing 787-9 (4X-EDM, MSN 38783), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates 12 787-9 aircraft.
  • Ariana Afghan Airlines invited bids for an ACMI contract, covering the wet or dry lease of one aircraft from 25-Sep-2019 to 25-Jan-2019 inclusive. The airline is seeking Boeing 767-200 or 767-300 equipment.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 23-Sep-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

  • flynas announced its Riyadh-Baku and Riyadh-Tbilisi services will be continued year round, effective 02-Oct-2019. Both routes will operate three times weekly.
  • Air Arabia launched a four times weekly Sharjah-Vienna service, effective 18-Sep-2019.
  • El Al confirmed plans to launch twice weekly Tel Aviv-Dublin service from 26-May-2020 and three times weekly Tel Aviv-Duesseldorf service from 01-Jun-2020, operating with Boeing 737-800 aircraft, as per a 10-Sep-2019 GDS inventory and timetable display. Tel Aviv-Dublin frequency will increase to three times weekly from 04-Jun-2020.
  • Smartwings plans to resume Prague-Dubai service in winter 2019/2020 season.
  • ATA Airlines plans to increase frequency on its Tehran-Urmia service.
  • Air India plans to commence twice weekly Delhi-Al Najaf service on 07-Oct-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. The airline will be the sole scheduled operator on the route, according to OAG.
  • Druk Air confirmed plans to commence twice weekly Paro-Delhi-Dubai International service on 04-Sep-2020.
  • Iran Air plans to increase Lar-Doha frequency from once to twice weekly, effective 09-Nov-2019.