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.


SalamAir uses its A320neo to expand into low cost long haul flying with growth into Southeast Asia

SalamAir will use the expanded range on offer from the A320neo family to spread its wings into Southeast Asia. The airline will this month become the latest to deploy the narrowbody family on long haul routes with the launch of a three times weekly Muscat-Phuket link from 24-Dec-2019. The aircraft is scheduled to depart Muscat at 04:00 local, arriving in Phuket at 13:00 local, returning at 13:45 local and arriving back in Muscat at 17:15 local. This represents a 6 hour outbound and 6 hour 30 minute return block time. The route will initially be flown using A320neo equipment, of which SalamAir has five with one further on order. The airline recently agreed to also acquire two A321neos on lease from GECAS in 2020. Oman is a large tourism source market for Thailand, while SalamAir’s strong transit flows will also provide valuable feed from around the region to support this new route.


Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and Emirates Skywards launch new cards…

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) has partnered with Emirates Skywards to launch two new cards in association with Mastercard. Cardholders will earn up to 120,000 bonus Skywards Miles and Emirates Skywards Silver tier membership with the opportunity to fast track to Emirates Skywards Gold tier membership upon meeting qualifying criteria. Other benefits comprise Emirates Home Check-in service within Dubai, airport transfers in the UAE and global airport lounge access via LoungeKey.


… Skywards members to earn miles at over 1000 UAE outlets with new app

Emirates Airline launched Skywards Everyday, a location based app giving members the ability to earn miles anytime at over 1000 participating retail, entertainment and dining outlets across the UAE. To earn miles, members can download Skywards Everyday on their smartphones or devices and show the device to the cashier at a participating outlet. Emirates Skywards co-branded cardholders and The Dubai Mall app users earn even more miles on the same purchase.


NAS revamps Kuwait International Airport meet and assist service

National Aviation Services (NAS) has revamped its ‘Hala Kuwait’ meet and assist service at Kuwait International airport’s terminal 1. The service assists travellers avoid long waiting times by facilitating immigration procedures on both inbound and outbound flights. Complementing the new service, NAS has also upgraded its Pearl Lounge, one of five lounges it operates under the supervision of the Kuwait Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). First introduced in 2004, the refreshed facility covers an area of 475 square metres. The lounge offers an expanded seating area with 220 seats, a larger hot and cold buffet selection, a live cooking station, prayer rooms, children’s playroom, shower facilities and a smoking room.


Aircraft investment a core part of Etihad’s sustainability agenda

Etihad Group CCO Robin Kamark, speaking at the recent  CAPA World Aviation Outlook Summit, confirmed its new ‘Etihad Greenliner’ partnership with Boeing will be introduced in Jan-2020 and will be used by both companies to explore and assess environmental sustainability initiatives while the aircraft operates scheduled services across the network. He said the innovation agenda and investment programmes in new aircraft is a core part of the carrier’s engagement in terms of sustainability.


Gulf Air and Middle East Airlines sign codeshare agreement

Gulf Air has signed a codeshare agreement with Middle East Airlines. Middle East Airlines will codeshare on Gulf Air’s Beirut-Bahrain service. Middle East Airlines chairman and director general Mohamad El Hout stated this codeshare agreement will complement Middle East Airlines’ network to the Gulf, as well as offering its passengers a new destination to Bahrain and “many other destinations in Asia via the Gulf Air network”.


Jordan could gain future direct connectivity to Cambodia through new air services agreement

Cambodia’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) has signed an MoU with civil aviation authorities in Jordan to establish a commercial service between the countries. “Royal Jordanian Airlines has a direct flight to Bangkok. We want the company to consider expanding this route to link with Cambodia”. Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism says the current indirect market is limited with just 472 tourists from Jordan visiting Cambodia during the first nine months 2019.


News Briefs

  • Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation has signed new bilateral partnerships with Guyana, Iceland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the field of air transport services.
  • Kuwait’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced plans to suspend airline operations from Kuwait International airport’s Terminal Sheikh Saad, effective 01-Jan-2020, due to construction of the new terminal 2. flydubai services will be transferred to terminal 1 at the airport, effective 15-Dec-2019.
  • Iraq Duty Free plans to establish a 510 square metre departures store at Baghdad International airport in 1Q2020 (DFNI, 06-Dec-2019). CEO Ahmed Kamal reported the company’s newly introduced liquor department accounts for 13% of total sales, while fragrance sales increased almost a third (+30%) during 2019.
  • Iran and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to improve transport ties by easing visa regulations and resuming direct service between the countries.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 09-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

  • SalamAir received one A320-200neo (A4O-OVH, MSN 9165), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates five A320neo aircraft.
  • Qatar Airways received three A350-1000s (A7-ANK, MSN 332; A7-ANL, MSN 346; and A7-ANM, MSN 350), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates 51 A350s with 29 remaining on order.
  • Aviation Lease and Finance Company (ALAFCO) has sold three A320neos to CCB Financial Leasing. The three aircraft are on long term operating leases with SKY Airline
  • Middle East Airlines signed a long term sale and back agreement with ICBC for four A321neo aircraft.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 09-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

  • Saudia plans to operate Jeddah-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore twice weekly with Boeing 787-10, replacing 787-9 equipment, effective 02-Jun-2020. The 787-10 will also replace 777-300ER equipment on Jeddah-London Heathrow, effective 01-Jul-2020.
  • SalamAir increased Muscat-Shiraz frequency from four to seven times weekly, effective 02-Dec-2019. The carrier operates the route with A320neo equipment.
  • Jazeera Airways plans to launch three times weekly Kuwait-Dammam service, effective 19-Dec-2019. The service marks Jazeera Airways’ fifth destination in Saudi Arabia, following Riyadh, Jeddah, Medinah and Taif.
  • Pegasus Airlines plans to launch three times weekly Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen-Madinah service from 12-Jan-2020, operating with A320 and Boeing 737-800. flynas and Turkish Airlines also operate the route, according to OAG.
  • Tarco Air plans to launch three times weekly Khartoum-Doha service, operating with Boeing 737-400 equipment.
  • Air France plans to replace Boeing 777-300ER with A380 equipment on daily Paris CDG-Dubai International service during winter 2020/2021 season, effective 25-Oct-2020, reports Routes Online. Emirates Airline also operates the route, according to OAG.
  • GoAir plans to commence four times weekly Kannur-Dammam service on 19-Dec-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. The LCC will be the sole scheduled operator on the route.