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.

World Travel & Tourism Council supports Saudi Arabia’s new tourism visa programme

World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) partnered with Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage to support Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan and the launch of its new tourism visa programme. WTTC president & CEO Gloria Guevara stated “the potential for tourism in Saudi Arabia is limitless” as the country has “a wealth of natural and cultural resources” that are “yet undiscovered” by international travellers. Ms Guevara added: “Travel & Tourism growth will not only create jobs and a diverse economy but will also spread a new understanding of Saudi Arabia’s rich culture around the world”.

Etihad Airways delays entry of five A350-1000 aircraft into service

Etihad Airways stated it plans to “re-time” the entry into service of five new A350-1000 aircraft as part of its “ongoing business transformation plan”, reports Reuters. The carrier added the A350 aircraft remains an important part of Etihad’s future plans and “a decision on introduction date will be made as part of the airline’s broader strategy planning”.

Air Arabia CEO: ‘There is a lot of room for growth, so we are developing our current hubs’

Air Arabia CEO Adel Al Ali reported the carrier is evaluating opening another base in a new country, although such a development is “not imminent” as there is “a lot of room for growth, so we are developing our current hubs”. Mr Ali said: “We have a catchment area within three hours’ flying time of a few billion people”, adding, “Wherever people are living and they want to fly, we will go there”.

Oman Air needs to ‘corner’ US, South America and Australia markets through codeshare partnership

Oman Air SVP network and alliances Manuel Esu stated the carrier doesn’t have plans to operate extra long haul services to the US, South America or Australia, so it needs to “corner those markets” through codeshare partnership. Mr Esu added there are destinations in Europe where the carrier has some morning arrivals and there’s an “opportunity to connect and have a codeshare with carriers to the US”. When looking for a potential airline partner, the carrier must complement Oman Air’s network coverage and offer a customer experience that is “comparable to that offered by Oman Air”, according to Mr Esu, which is why the carrier doesn’t “have any partnerships with low cost airlines”.

Bahrain and Spain sign agreement to liberalise air traffic

Bahrain and Spain have signed an agreement regarding a bilateral framework that liberalises direct air traffic between the countries. The agreement allows airlines to freely configure their respective service offers when operating between the countries.

ICAO and UAE sign MoU regarding ‘No Country Left Behind’ initiative

ICAO and the UAE signed a MoU regarding provisions for the Middle Eastern States to provide support to the ‘ICAO No Country Left Behind’ initiative. The agreement sees ICAO member states and relevant partners provide financial and technical resources to help states in need build capacity and enhance their ICAO compliance and oversight responsibilities. The initiative is organised through the UN Agency’s Aviation Safety Implementation Assistance Partnership (ASIAP) programme and core Strategic Objectives.

News Briefs

  • Saudi Arabia General Authority of Civil Aviation has inaugurated Jeddah King Abdulaziz International airport’s terminal 1. The terminal has a total area of 810,000 square metres and with a capacity of 30 million passengers per annum.
  • Kuwait and Nicaragua have signed an agreement for the regulation of aviation services between the two countries. The agreement covers operational rules for national carriers of both countries, the exchange of transport rights, and the strengthening of cooperation between them in the field of security and safety of civil aviation.
  • Saudi Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) signed a strategic agreement with Saudia to increase operations to the Al Ula region. Under the agreement, Saudia will operate an additional six frequencies every weekend to Al Ula during winter 2019 for the Tantora festival.
  • The UAE and Nepalese governments have signed a revised air services agreement. Himalaya Airlines now plans to commence twice weekly Kathmandu-Dubai International service on 13-Nov-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database.
  • AeroMobile partnered with UAE telecommunications operator du to offer discounted inflight mobile connectivity to du’s subscribers. The partnership will expand du’s international roaming bundles, enabling subscribers to use AeroMobile’s inflight mobile services to browse the internet, send and receive texts, listen to voicemail and make and receive calls on AeroMobile equipped aircraft at no extra cost.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 30-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

  • BOC Aviation concluded a purchase and leaseback transaction with Qatar Airways for three new A350-900 aircraft. The carrier took delivery of the third A350-900 on 27-Sep-2019. Qatar Airways also received  one A350-1000 (A7-ANJ, MSN 266) on 27-Sep-2019, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • Emirates Airline announced plans to deploy A380 equipment on Dubai-Cairo route, effective 02-Oct-2019, making it the first scheduled commercial airline to operate A380 equipment into Egypt.
  • Gulf Air received one A320-200neo (A9C-TD, MSN 9188), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates four A320neos with eight more to be delivered.
  • The grounding of Boeing 737MAX has ‘had significant impact’ on Oman Air. Its SVP network and alliances Manuel Esu stated the grounding of the 737MAX was “shocking and has had a significant impact” as it occurred just before the start of the summer season when the carrier was “expecting these aircraft to be operating”.
  • Jazeera Airways is interested in acquiring A321LR and A321XLR aircraft so that it can reach a “much wider market,” according to chairman Marwan Boodai. He stated the aircraft would enable the carrier to reach “Thailand and Manila and many other destinations with a high density” that are best served by a low cost carrier.
  • Etihad Airways plans to operate Boeing 777-300ER equipment on one of two daily Abu Dhabi-Jakarta frequencies, replacing 787-9, effective 01-Feb-2020. At the same time it plans to operate daily Abu Dhabi-Amsterdam service with Boeing 787-9, replacing 777-300ER equipment.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 30-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

  • Buta Airways plans to operate three additional weekly Baku-Tehran frequencies from 31-Oct-2019 to 01-Mar-2020. The service operates daily.
  • Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) confirmed plans to commence Quetta-Jeddah service on 28-Oct-2019. PIA will be the sole scheduled operator on the route, according to OAG.
  • flydubai plans to resume twice weekly Dubai service from 19-Oct-2019. The carrier last operated the route in May-2019, according to OAG. The service is scheduled to operate with Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
  • airblue plans to increase Multan-Jeddah frequency from twice to five times weekly from 01-Oct-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database.