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.

This weekly round-up delivers some of the key aviation and travel news stories from across the Middle East region.

  • Gulf Air to receive four Boeing 787-9s with crew rest areas, enabling longer nonstop services
  • Emirates considering expansion in the US; may foray into smaller US markets with 777s
  • flydubai contributes 12% of Dubai traffic in 1H2018, Emirates codeshare expansion on track
  • Qatar Airways: India’s FDI rules create a ‘chicken and egg story’ for investment
  • Etihad Airways partners with Farelogix for customised products, planning full NDC platform
  • Saudi Arabia GACA keen to strengthen aviation industry as traffic continues to grow at steady pace
  • flydubai services now available through Peakwork
  • ROUTE UPDATE: latest route launches and announcements
  • DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East domestic system seat capacity (data: w/c 10-Sep-2018)

Gulf Air to receive four Boeing 787-9s with crew rest areas, enabling longer nonstop services
Gulf Air chairman Zayed Alzayani has confirmed the final four of the airline’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft will be fitted with crew rest areas, enabling the airline to operate longer nonstop services. The aircraft will potentially enable the carrier to serve the United States of America. The airline also plans to expand its network in Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Indian Subcontinent. The carrier operates three 787-9s and has 13 on order, according to the CAPA Fleet Database.


Emirates considering expansion in the US; may foray into smaller US markets with 777s
Emirates Airline CEO Tim Clark has commented that the carrier is considering expansion in the US by either increasing frequencies to existing markets, or launching service to new markets altogether. Sir Tim said Emirates is even considering smaller US markets, with its order of new Boeing 777 aircraft opening up more opportunities across the US market: “You’ve got much more [appropriate] capacity for fitting the demand for these second or third-level tier cities than you might have with a A380,” he is quoted as saying. Meanwhile, in light of British Airways’ recent hack, Sir Tim has told Bloomberg the airline and industry overall has to spend “much more time and money” on cyber security, stressing it is “vital we get it right”.


flydubai contributes 12% of Dubai traffic in 1H2018, Emirates codeshare expansion on track
flydubai reported it accounted for 12.3% of all traffic in Dubai in 1H2018, with passengers steady at 5.4 million. The airline reported 1.4 million passengers were jointly handled under its codeshare agreement with Emirates in the period. The airlines offer a combined 83 destinations under the codeshare, are on track to reach 240 destinations by 2022. flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith said: “Since the start of the codeshare, significant time and resources have been spent on the network alignment. Coupled with the investments we have made we are well placed to contribute to an increase in connectivity of Dubai’s aviation hub as we see our new route structure mature”. The airline reported a “price impact” of AED175 million (USD47.6 million) in 1H2018 due to a 35% year-on-year increase in average Brent crude oil prices. The airline said rising fuel costs have put pressure on operating costs. Fuel accounted for 29.2% of total operating costs, compared to 24.8% in 1H2017. Yield stabilised, but not enough to sufficiently offset the impact of higher fuel costs, rising interest rates and a stronger US dollar. The carrier said the economic and geopolitical climate remains challenging, dampening demand for travel.


Qatar Airways: India’s FDI rules create a ‘chicken and egg story’ for investment
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said India’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy is unclear when it comes to the carrier’s plan to establish an airline in India, and this is “hampering” its efforts, reports the Indian media. Mr Al Baker noted that FDI policy limits foreign airlines to owning 49% of an Indian airline, but non-aviation foreign entities, such as Qatar Airways shareholder the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), can control a 100% stake. This creates a “chicken and egg story” said Mr Al Baker, and Qatar Airways “[does not] know what is allowed and what is not” concerning its plans to set up an airline in India. Mr al Baker said Qatar Airways could look at alternatives, such as partnering with “strong” local carriers such as IndiGo, but will only wait another 12 months for clarity.


Etihad Airways partners with Farelogix for customised products, planning full NDC platform
Etihad Airways has partnered with Farelogix to enhance its merchandising and distribution capabilities and provide customised offers to customers. The carrier will implement Farelogix’s ‘FLX Merchandise’ cloud based solution to create personalised products and services, including preferred seats and priority boarding. The airline will focus on broadening ancillary offerings to allow more personalised travel options across all distribution channels. Etihad plans to launch a full New Distribution Capability (NDC) enabled platform “in the near future”.


Saudi Arabia GACA keen to strengthen aviation industry as traffic continues to grow at steady pace
Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has engaged in discussions with British-Saudi Business Council to review investment opportunities in the aviation sector, particularly light of the country’s growing air traffic. GACA president Abdul Hakim bin Mohammed Al-Tamimi stressed the agency’s keenness to strengthen the industry and enable it to keep pace with the steady growth, while attracting international companies to invest in airport infrastructure and services.


flydubai services now available through Peakwork
flydubai now provides flight data in Peakwork’s EDF format, enabling flydubai services to be searched and booked directly via the platform. International tour operator partners may now bundle flydubai services with hotel offers to create travel packages. Peakwork stated: “Further significant international partnerships will follow in the next months”.


Route Updates

  • Turkish Airlines has confirmed plans to launch Istanbul-Sharjah service from 04-Apr-2019, using Airbus A321 aircraft.
  • Royal Jordanian is reportedly evaluating the possibility of launching Amman-Sarajevo service in 2019, as part of its turnaround strategy to enhance connectivity to Jordan.
  • Qatar Airways plans to increase Doha-Bangkok Suvarnabhumi frequency from six to seven times daily, effective 28-Oct-2018 to 30-Mar-2019. The airline will operate the additional frequency with Boeing 777-300ER equipment.
  • flydubai plans to relocate Dubai-Kiev service from Kiev Igor Sikorsky International Airport to Kiev Boryspil International Airport, effective 28-Oct-2018.
  • Saudia plans to launch three times weekly Jeddah-Erbil service on 01-Oct-2018, driven by an “increase in travel demand” between the two countries within a short period of time. flynas also operates the route, according to OAG schedules.

  • DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East domestic system seat capacity (data: w/c 10-Sep-2018)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG