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.

Abu Dhabi Airports and Etihad Cargo work to develop Abu Dhabi International as a cargo hub

Abu Dhabi Airports and Etihad Cargo announced a project to develop Abu Dhabi International airport as a global air cargo centre of excellence. The infrastructure development strategy includes the upgrade of Etihad’s cargo terminal facilities at the south side of the airport, which will commence immediately and is scheduled to be complete in phases between autumn 2019 and the end of 3Q2020. The project will support cargo growth at Abu Dhabi Airport for the next five years and will enhance Etihad’s pharmaceutical logistics capability with a dedicated 3500sqm terminal. Land at the east midfield site will be designated for Etihad Cargo’s new terminal. EoIs will be invited for the design and construction of the facility, which is expected to be “one the world’s most advanced and automated air cargo terminals”. Abu Dhabi Airports is also preparing for the first phase of the ‘Al Falah Free Zone’, a bonded, non bonded and free zone area adjoining the airport. The zone will be developed as a location for e-commerce fulfilment and logistics warehousing.

IATA: Passenger growth increases for Middle East in Sep-2019

IATA, via its Nov-2019 Africa and Middle East regional briefing, reported RPK growth increased to 2% for Middle Eastern airlines in Sep-2019. IATA stated regional performance continues to be impacted by a mix of structural challenges for some of the region’s larger airlines, geopolitical risks and weaker business confidence in some countries. Key international markets showed mixed performance in Sep-2019. Growth increased for Middle East-Asia (+2.1%) and Middle East-Europe (+4.9%), but Africa-Middle East was the key under performer in Sep-2019 with a -6.8% decrease in passenger volumes. Middle East passenger load factor outperformed the result for Sep-2018, but remained 4ppts below the historical maximum for September.

Emirates launches EmiratesRED retail programme

Emirates Airline launched EmiratesRED in Oct-2019, an inflight retail programme that offers customers 150 duty free and tax products, as well as the ability to purchase experiences in Dubai and beyond and from the Emirates Official Store. The carrier has also introduced EmiratesRED TV, a dedicated shopping channel, which is available on its inflight entertainment system. The EmiratesRED offering has resulted in a 23% increase in revenue during its first month, with the average sales per customer up 10%.

Abu Dhabi International airport’s new Midfield Terminal nears completion

Abu Dhabi Airports CEO Brian Thompson said Abu Dhabi International Airport’s new Midfield Terminal building is 97% complete and due to open in the very near future. Mr Thompson said: “We are in the final stages of completion of the Midfield Terminal, including operational readiness and testing. We are keen on giving our passengers the greatest experience ever and we want to ensure that we are 100% ready at the time of opening”.

Bahrain Duty Free to operate 5000 square metres of retail space at Bahrain International airport

Bahrain Duty Free plans to operate 5000 square metres of retail space at Bahrain International airport following the completion of the airport’s new USD1.1 billion terminal in 1Q2020. Bahrain Duty Free GM Bassam Al Ward commented: “The magnitude of the new terminal is three times the size of the current one… There will be many offers which are a little different to what the current visitor to the terminal is used to. It is affordable fashion, mid class in terms of the category and not the extreme high end what other airports have”. Due to the expansion of the airport, Mr Al Ward added: “Passengers used to quick entries and exits will probably no longer have the privilege”.

News Briefs

  • Gulf Air has signed a five year retailing agreement with ATPCO to integrate Routehappy Rich Content on the airline’s website and key regional and global third party sales channels.
  • Dubai Airports Company and Anghami have signed an agreement for a free music streaming service at Dubai International airport. The stream will provide passengers with uninterrupted free access to specially curated playlists.
  • Qatar Civil Aviation Authority and Civil Aviation Division of East Timor have signed an initial air services agreement. The agreement allows airlines of both countries to operate an unlimited number of passenger and cargo flights.
  • Qatar Airways has signed an agreement with Global IME Bank, which grants card holders a discount of up to 7% on economy and business class tickets.
  • Amman’s Queen Alia International airport reported a +10.4% year-on-year growth in passenger traffic in Oct-2019. Year-to-date (Jan-2019 to Oct-2019) it has handled 7.6 million passengers, up +6.1% on the same period in 2018.
  • Doha’s Hamad International airport opened the ‘Shafallah Center Lounge’ for special needs passengers in concourse C. The lounge was opened in partnership with the Shafallah Center is a part of the MoU to provide additional services to passengers with special needs and ensure their comfort and convenience while travelling.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 02-Dec-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

  • flydubai signed a wet lease with Smartwings for four Boeing 737-800 aircraft to be utilised between 14-Dec-2019 and 25-Jan-2020. The four 737-800s will supplement the carrier’s fleet of 40 737-800s and add more capacity during the seasonal travel period.
  • Jazeera Airways received one A320neo aircraft (9K-CBC, MSN 9149), effective 30-Nov-2019, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The aircraft is owned and managed by Avolon.
  • Qatar Airways received one new Boeing 777F (A7-BFU, MSN 66339), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates 21 aircraft of the type.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 02-Dec-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 plans to launch three times weekly Kuwait-Abha service, effective 14-Jan-2020, as recorded by the CAPA Route Changes Database. The carrier will operate the route with A320 equipment.
  • Qatar Airways Cargo announced an expansion of its South America flying with the addition of four new destinations from 16-Jan-2020. These comprise a Doha-Luxembourg-Miami-Bogotá-Liège-Doha twice weekly service and a Doha-Luxembourg-Campinas-Santiago-Lima-Dallas-Luxembourg-Doha twice weekly service, both flown with Boeing 777F equipment.
  • flyPersia has launched commercial operations at Shiraz airport, according to a report by Iran Airports & Air Navigation Company. The carrier commenced operations to Mashhad, Tehran, Kish, Qeshm and Bandar Abbas with Boeing 737 equipment.
  • Pegasus Airlines launched twice weekly Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen-Ras al Khaimah service on 27-Nov-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. The service is scheduled to operate with Boeing 737-800.
  • SCAT Airlines has launched weekly Almaty-Jeddah and Almaty-Madinah services, operating with Boeing 757.
  • IndiGo plans to suspend six times weekly Chandigarh-Dubai International service from 14-Dec-2019 to 14-Mar-2020, as per a 26-Nov-2019 GDS inventory and timetable display. The LCC is the sole scheduled operator on the route, according to OAG.