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.

  • Emirates to roll out premium economy product on new aircraft from 2020
  • Saudia introduces complimentary inflight social messaging functionality
  • Etihad Airways, Travelport extend content, merchandising and analytics agreements
  • Iraqi Airways operates first service to Damascus in seven years
  • Luxair’s new flight to Ras Al Khaimah will support growing European demand to the Emirate
  • Etihad Guest expands partnership with Points International
  • ROUTE UPDATE: latest route launches and announcements
  • DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East aircraft fleet (data: w/c 17-Sep-2018)

Emirates to roll out premium economy product on new aircraft from 2020
Emirates president Tim Clark stated the airline plans to roll out its “exclusive” premium economy on its new A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft from 2020, before retrofitting most of its existing fleet to include the product, according to a report from Skift. Sir Tim stated he does not believe the airline “waited too long” to introduce premium economy, citing the significant growth achieved through its existing premium product. He said: “There was always a concern we would end up diluting that, and people would start trading down. That’s probably why we were a bit slow”.


Saudia introduces complimentary inflight social messaging functionality
Saudia introduced complimentary inflight social messaging for passengers travelling on WiFi connected aircraft from 15-Sep-2018, offering free access to iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp regardless of class. The airline launched a free WhatsApp plan onboard domestic services on 05-May-2018, and on international services from 31-May-2018. More than 500,000 passengers have used WhatsApp onboard since the rollout.


Etihad Airways, Travelport extend content, merchandising and analytics agreements
Travelport and Etihad Airways have signed a new multiyear content agreement, which allows the carrier to continue using Travelport’s rich content and branding, sponsored flights and business intelligence solutions and merchandising tools. Etihad also renewed its contract with Travelport Digital to continue to extend their digital reach. “Travelport’s edge in technological innovation, mobile engagement platforms, merchandising and intelligence helps us ensure we have the right content, promoted to the right audiences, at the right time, in the right way. This provides us with an important competitive edge, which we value greatly – especially in today’s highly competitive environment,” says Dieter Westermann, vice president revenue management at the Abu Dhabi-based carrier.


Iraqi Airways operates first service to Damascus in seven years
Iraqi Airways operated its first service to Damascus last month following a reported seven year absence due to the political and economic challenges facing Syria, according to Middle East news reports. The airline’s director of media relations Laith Abdel Karim al-Rabii noted the airline’s office in Syria is preparing to expand its operations and accommodate “passengers wishing to visit Iraq”. He said the airline expects revenues to increase once Syria services resume, particularly in light of the “huge numbers of Iraqis wishing to visit religious sites in Syria”. Mr al-Rabii added: “Enhancing air transport between the two countries coincides with the security stability that is rolling out between the two countries … Moreover, religious tourism in Syria mainly depends on Iraqi visitors. Should Iraqi flights resume to Syria, then this will spare Iraqis a lot of time and money”.


Luxair’s new flight to Ras Al Khaimah will support growing European demand to the Emirate
Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) says Luxair’s weekly Luxembourg-Ras Al Khaimah service which will launch from 24-Oct-2018 is “in response to the increasing number of visitors from Europe to the Emirate”. RAKTDA CEO Haitham Matta said: “As we are on track to exceed our projection of one million visitors by the end of the year, we’re very pleased to see an ongoing growth of strategic partnerships with key players in the aviation and travel industry globally”.


Etihad Guest expands partnership with Points International
Etihad Airways’ loyalty programme Etihad Guest expanded its partnership with Points International to enable Etihad Guest members to earn miles through Travel Rewards when booking hotels and renting cars. Launched in January 2018, Travel Rewards has proven popular amongst Etihad Guest members. In addition to spending on hotels and rental cars members can earn a minimum of 1,000 miles per night on hotel bookings and at least 250 miles per day for car rentals.


Route Updates

  • flydubai plans to reduce Dubai-Catania frequency from seven to four times weekly on 01-Oct-2018 through summer 2019. The carrier is the sole operator on the route, according to OAG.
  • Fly Baghdad has reportedly introduced four times weekly links from Baghdad and Najaf to Damascus
  • TUIfly plans to commence a twice weekly Berlin Tegel-Dubai Al Maktoum charter service with a Boeing 737-800 from 04-Nov-2018. The last time the route was operated on a scheduled basis was by airberlin in 2012, according to OAG.
  • Indian SpiceJet plans to commence a Delhi-Kabul freighter service on 15-Oct-2018 after signing a trade agreement with the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
  • Emirates Airline has confirmed it is now deploying two class Boeing 777-200LRs with 38 business class seats in a 2-2-2 layout and 264 economy class seats in a 3-4-3 layout, on three times weekly service from Dubai to Yinchuan and Zhengzhou.

  • DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East aircraft fleet (data: w/c 17-Sep-2018)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG