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.


Indian visitor arrivals to GCC to grow 81% by 2024

Arabian Travel Market exhibition director Danielle Curtis stated Indian visitor arrivals to the GCC are expected to increase 81% from 5.4 million in 2018 to 9.8 million in 2024. The UAE is expected to receive 5.29 million Indian visitors by 2024, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 11%, according to Colliers International. Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait are expected to increase by 10% between 2018 and 2024. Ms Curtis stated this “infux of Indian visitors” is driven by “a new generation of leisure attractions in the GCC, relaxed visa regulations for Indian nationals, additional airline routes, increasing business opportunities, a renewed focus on Indian weddings and the MICE segment”.


Emirates requests permission from Amedeo to modify two A380s with premium economy addition

Amedeo Air Four Plus announced Emirates Airline requested permission to modify two Airbus A380 aircraft (MSN 201, MSN 208) through a configuration which will expand the existing business class cabin and introduce a new premium economy class. All costs will be borne by Emirates and the modifications made are intended to remain part of the aircraft upon expiry of the lease agreements with Emirates. Emirates leases six A380 aircraft from Amedeo Air Four Plus.


SpiceJet to hold 49% stake in proposed start up airline based in Ras Al Khaimah

SpiceJet MD and chairman Ajay Singh reported the LCC is finalising paperwork to apply to establish an airline based at Ras Al Khaimah International airport (RAK). Mr Singh said “as per substantial ownership and effective control norms, we will have 49% stake in the proposed airline and 51% will be with a local partner for which talks are on”. Responding to queries regarding the costs associated with establishing the airline, Mr Singh stated “the investment required for the proposed RAK startup JV is not much”, adding: “since RAK does not have a home base airline, they will incentivise us”. He also noted that the primary expense associated with establishing an airline is aircraft “and we already have many on order”.


GDC Technics to install new IFE system on 30 SaudiGulf Airlines aircraft

GDC Technics signed an MoU with SaudiGulf Airlines for the implementation of a new inflight entertainment system and high bandwidth satellite internet on 30 aircraft, including the carrier’s A320neo, A321neo and Boeing 787 aircraft orders. The GDC Technics CUBE seatback IFE system features a wireless modular seatback tablet with a multicore processor, android operating environment, multimode/multichannel wireless interfaces and a premium 4K/UHD screen.


Sabre announces new partnership with Jazeera Airways

Sabre announced a new partnership with Jazeera Airways. Jazeera Airways will gain access to Sabre’s global travel marketplace, allowing the airline to distribute its fares and offers to more than 425,000 travel agents and thousands of corporations globally. Jazeera Airways CEO Rohit Ramachandran stated the partnership will provide the carrier with “extended distribution in key markets” and support its “business growth”.


VFS Global and Philippines open ePassport renewal centre in Dubai

VFS Global and Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs signed a contract for the opening of ePassport renewal centres, with a centre inaugurated in Dubai, and centres in Abu Dahbi and Saudi Arabia to open in 2020. The contract marks the first time Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs outsourced the passport renewal process.


News Briefs

  • Gulf Air and SpiceJet signed an MoU to enhance cooperation, including exploring plans to sign a codeshare and interline agreement. The two airlines will also explore opportunities to coordinate their cargo, engineering, pilot training and aviation security activities.
  • Qatar Airways has selected Gogo to install its 2Ku high speed inflight connectivity solution and live TV on the carrier’s Boeing 787-9, 787-8 and A380 fleets. The new inflight connectivity service is expected to be operational in 2020.
  • Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) suspended Saudia‘s licence to operate scheduled and non scheduled international service between Saudi Arabia and Canada, due to the carrier ceasing to meet prescribed liability insurance coverage requirements.
  • Abu Dhabi Airports has awarded a JV of National Aviation Services (NAS) and Airport Dimensions a contract for construction and management of Abu Dhabi International airport midfield terminal 3500square metre lounge area.
  • Etihad Airways announced it was the first foreign airline to commence operations at the new terminal 1 at Jeddah King Abdulaziz International airport.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 25-Nov-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

  • Emirates Airline signed a firm order for 50 A350-900 aircraft, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines to provide “added operational flexibility in terms of capacity, range and deployment”. The airline has also agreed to buy 30 787-9 aircraft, converting 30 777X commitments and reducing its order of the latter from 156 to 126 aircraft.
  • Air Arabia signed a firm order for 120 A320 family aircraft, valued at over USD14 billion at list price. The new order consists of 73 A320neo, 27 A321neo and 20 A321XLR aircraft. Deliveries are scheduled to commence in 2024.
  • flynas signed a firm order for 10 A321XLR aircraft, increasing the total number of its firm order of A320 family aircraft type to 90 aircraft.
  • Qatar Airways is scheduled to receive one A350-1000 aircraft (A7-ANN, MSN 356) on 01-Jan-2020, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • SaudiGulf Airlines plans to have a fleet of 70 aircraft by 2026 and could place a new aircraft order in the near future, a senior board official has confirmed.
  • Gulf Air received one A320neo (A9C-TE, MSN 9331), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates five A320neos with seven remaining on order.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 25-Nov-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

  • Jazeera Airways launched weekly Kuwait-Karachi service, effective 21-Nov-2019, as recorded by the CAPA Route Changes Database. The carrier operates the route with A320 equipment.
  • IndiGo reportedly plans to suspend six times weekly Chandigarh-Dubai International service, between 14-Dec-2019 and 15-Feb-2020. The LCC is the sole scheduled operator on the route, according to OAG.
  • Zagros Airlines reportedly plans to launch services from Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz and Tehran to Uzbekistan in 2020.
  • SalamAir launched three times weekly Muscat-Dammam service, effective 19-Nov-2019, as recorded by the CAPA Route Changes Database. The carrier operates the route with A320neo equipment.
  • Iran Air plans to resume Sahand-Tehran service, effective 10-Dec-2019.
  • TUIfly commenced weekly Duesseldorf-Abu Dhabi service on 11-Nov-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. Etihad Airways also operates the route, according to OAG.
  • flyadeal plans to launch five times weekly Hail-Riyadh service, effective 27-Nov-2019.
  • Gulf Air plans to resume three times weekly Bahrain-Erbil service, effective 02-Feb-2020. The carrier plans to operate the route with A320 equipment. It last operated this route in Jan-2013.