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.


Etihad Cargo completes first year of digitalisation programme, outlines upcoming projects

Etihad Cargo has completed the first year of its digitalisation programme, which went live with the IBS Software iCargo cargo management system in Oct-2018. The system migration involved a full overhaul of the carrier’s booking processes and platforms. Since launch, the system has processed nearly 500,000 bookings, equating to 115,000 flights, and 10 million messages from nearly 3000 customers and 6000 users. The airline’s online booking portal, which also launched in Oct-2018, accounted for 20% of total bookings. Etihad Cargo also launched an automated freight forwarder messaging booking function in Apr-2019 and launched an “enterprise data lake” to feed data into its data visualisation tool, complementing the ongoing rollout of the Salesforce customer resource management tool across all stations. In Aug-2019, the airline launched a dedicated service to support small and medium sized enterprises in establishing electronic air waybills as its default option on all trade lanes. The next phase of the carrier’s digitalisation strategy includes the introduction of a mobile app, dynamic pricing and APIs to support new booking channels.


Second phase of Hamad International airport expansion will increase capacity to 53 million by 2023

Hamad International airport reported the second phase of its airport expansion plan will increase capacity to more than 53 million passengers annually by 2022. This represents almost a 30% increase from its current capacity. Construction is scheduled to commence 1Q2020. The airport will also see the construction of an Airport City, which will provide future investment opportunities, including a free trade zone, an office and business complex, landscape area and hotels among others. “The expansion of the airport is described as “a vital part of the continued success of the Qatar Airways Group, especially in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” explains Qatar Airways Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker. “Expansion is also a sign that Qatar’s economy is going from strength to strength, as well as a factor that will support future growth,” he adds.


China’s market ‘important to the economy of Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE,’ says airport CEO

Abu Dhabi Airports CEO Bryan Thompson reported China’s tourism and business market is “important to the economy of Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE”. Mr Thomspson stated: “Abu Dhabi is a popular destination for Chinese travellers, and tourist numbers are continuing to increase year on year”. The comments were made as Abu Dhabi Airports and Beijing Daxing International airport signed an MoU to establish a framework for the sharing of optimal aviation practices and the exploration of potential opportunities for future collaboration.


Oman and Kazakhstan establish framework for operation of air services

Kazakhstan’s Committee of Civil Aviation says it has established a legal framework for air services between Kazakhstan and Oman following negotiations with Oman’s delegates. Designated carriers of both countries are permitted to operate 14 passenger and 14 scheduled cargo frequencies weekly. The work was conducted following Kazakhstan’s introduction of a 30 day visa free regime for citizens of Oman on 30-Sep-2019. Oman is also considering the introduction of a visa free regime for citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan. As a first step, Oman plans to provide the possibility of obtaining electronic visas for citizens of Kazakhstan.


Etihad Airways to increase Beirut capacity with 787-9 following lifting of travel ban

Etihad Airways announced plans to replace A321 with Boeing 787-9 equipment on daily Abu Dhabi-Beirut service, effective 27-Oct-2019. The 787-9 is configured with 28 business class and 271 economy class seats and will provide a “significant” increase in cargo capacity. The capacity increase follows the removal of a travel ban to Lebanon for UAE citizens by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on 08-Oct-2019. The travel ban was imposed in Feb-2016.


IATA: UAE’s aviation market to grow 170% by 2037, contributing USD128 billion in GDP

IATA presented its latest study on the importance of air transport to the UAE, which revealed that ongoing prioritisation of aviation as a key strategic asset could see the UAE’s aviation market grow 170% by 2037, supporting 1.4 million jobs and contributing USD128 billion in GDP to the nation’s economy. IATA identified three areas where government action could further promote aviation growth in the UAE: increase airspace capacity to ease congestion and meet future demand; align infrastructure investments with expected growth; and continue to leverage new technology and process innovation to enhance efficiency and passenger experience.


News Briefs

  • Expedia Group reported a +55% increase year-on-year in Russian tourists travelling to the UAE in 2Q2019. Expedia Group forecast Russian tourists travelling to Gulf Cooperation Council states will increase by 125% to 2.1 million in 2023. Additionally, Expedia Group forecast an additional 2.9 million room nights are likely to be added in the next five years.
  • Royal Jordanian has announced a loyalty partnership agreement between the Royal Club Program and the Dead Sea Spa Resort, in order to expand its network and provide more ways for frequent flyers to earn award miles. The Royal Club currently has more than 430,000 members.
  • Dubai Air Navigation Services (dans) extended its joint collaboration agreement with Serco for an additional two years. The renewed agreement aims to assist in the continued upgrade and strengthening of service level at Dubai International and Dubai World Central airports.
  • Eirad International Tours and Travels signed a technology agreement with Sabre Corporation. The agreement provides Eirad with continued access to Sabre’s portfolio of technology, including its the Sabre Red 360 workstation and mobile, data analytics, personalisation and automation capabilities.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 14-Oct-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

  • Cathay Pacific has taken delivery of one second hand Boeing 777-300 aircraft (B-NHX, MSN 32702). The 16.3 year old aircraft is the last of five 777-300s the carrier will lease from Emirates Airline.
  • SalamAir received its fourth A320neo aircraft. The aircraft is the third of five A320neos to be delivered to the airline by ALAFCO on 12 year lease terms. SalamAir also operates three A320ceos.
  • Kam Air plans to operate Kabul-Kuwait service twice weekly with Boeing 737 and A340 equipment, effective 01-Nov-2019.
  • Air Arabia CEO Adel Ali confirmed at last week’s CAPA Low Cost Long Haul Summit that the carrier is expected to receive its third A321LR in the coming week. The carrier will lease six A321LRs to trial the aircraft ahead of a potential order later this year.
  • Jazeera Airways is scheduled to receive one A320-200neo aircraft (9K-CBB, MSN 9002) in Nov-2019, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The aircraft is managed and owned by Avolon.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 14-Oct-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

  • Red Sea Holidays plans to operate weekly Hurghada charter services from London Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester from mid Oct-2019 until Apr-2020. The tour operator will initially use equipment leased from FlyEgypt before switching to Enter Air from mid Dec-2019.
  • SalamAir plans to launch daily Muscat-Almaty service from Mar-2020 and Muscat-Nur Sultan service from autumn 2020.
  • Buta Airways plans to operate scheduled Baku-Dammam service with E190 equipment, effective 28-Oct-2019, reports Routes Online.
  • Azur Air plans to launch Vladivostok-Dubai charter service, effective 25-Dec-2019. The carrier plans to operate the service every 10 days with Boeing 767-300 equipment.
  • Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plans to increase Multan-Jeddah frequency from four to five times weekly from 28-Oct-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. Saudia and airblue also operate the route.
  • Kam Air plans to resume twice weekly Kabul-Dubai service, effective 27-Oct-2019. The carrier plans to operate the route with A340 equipment. The carrier suspended this route in Aug-2015.
  • Uzbekistan Airways plans to increase Tashkent-Jeddah frequency to twice daily from 27-Oct-2019, operating with Boeing 767 aircraft. The service operated daily in summer 2019, according to OAG.