Shifting Sands – an update on latest travel 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. Recent activities mean their is even more focus on the region impacting short-term travel to, from and within the area.

Our regular round-up delivers some of the latest key aviation and travel news stories from across the region.


Etihad Airways and Air Miles Middle East launch new rewards initiative

Etihad Airways partnered with Air Miles Middle East to launch a new reward initiative. This will enable members to exchange Air Miles into Etihad Guest Miles. Air Miles Middle East members can exchange up to nine Air Miles for one Etihad Guest Mile, which can be redeemed for Etihad Airways services, upgrades, hotel bookings and holiday packages.


Gulf Air to focus on millennials, premium leisure and corporate travel markets: CEO

Gulf Air CEO Krešimir Kuko says the carrier is “putting accent” in its future growth, but “with more focus on millennials, premium leisure travellers and on business and corporate travellers”. Mr Kuko adds the carrier has no intention of becoming “another big airline”, but instead aims to offer a “more personalised” and “unique travel experience” making it the “airline of choice and not the airline of convenience”. The carrier expects to carry more than seven million passengers in 2020 and retain its load factor at 77%. Mr Kuko adds Gulf Air experienced substantial growth in 2019, particularly in the Indian Subcontinent where its load factors grew to 90%.


Qatar Airways to continue to operate services into Iran

Qatar Airways will continue to operate services to Iran and has not suffered any lost bookings despite heightened tensions in the region between the US and Iran, along with the incident involving a Ukraine International Airlines aircraft near Tehran on 08-Jan-2020, according to its CEO Akbar Al Baker.


Pakistan Government to sign revised air services agreement with Saudi Arabia

Pakistan’s Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan has reported that Pakistan’s Government has approved a proposal to sign a revised bilateral air services agreement (ASA) with Saudi Arabia. Dr Awan said the revised ASA will allocate “an equal number of flights” to Pakistan International Airlines and Saudia for services to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, respectively. She added: “This will end the disparity in the numbers of flights of the air carriers in each country”. The ASA was initially signed in 1972.


Etihad Airways partners with easyJet as part of its worldwide connection platform

Etihad Airways has announced a new partnership with easyJet. Customers can purchase tickets through the easyJet worldwide website from 68 cities on the airline’s network in Europe to Abu Dhabi, connecting on to Etihad Airways services from 10 European gateways in Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Rome, Geneva, Madrid, Manchester, Milan Malpensa, and Zurich. The airlines plan to expand the partnership to include more destinations in the future. The partnership also marks Etihad’s first use of the NDC platform.


UIA not considering Iran operations, options for feasible operation of Dubai service to be assessed

Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) CEO Evgeniy Dykhne said the resumption of Tehran service is not under consideration. Mr Dykhne added: “Iran is closed for us at the moment”. UIA is assessing the feasibility of operating to Dubai, taking into account the need to bypass the Persian Gulf. Mr Dykhne said: “Options exist if we find them feasible. We also need to complete with those that are not bypassing the region”.


CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 20-Jan-2020)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)


News Briefs

  • Qatar Airways plans to launch Qsuite business class product on one of three times daily Doha-Manchester frequencies, effective 14-Feb-2020. The carrier plans to increase its Qsuite offering to twice daily, effective 01-Mar-2020.
  • Afghanistan’s National Procurement Authority (NPC) has approved an initial investment plan for the reactivation of Bakhtar Afghan Airlines. The carrier previously ceased operations in Feb-1988 when it merged with Ariana Afghan Airlines.
  • Saudia transferred Madina flights to the new terminal 1 at Jeddah King Abdulaziz International airport, effective 20-Jan-2020.
  • dnata Travel reported the top 10 country markets for UAE travellers booked with the company in 2019 were the UAE, Thailand, Turkey, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives, Italy, Egypt, Switzerland and Azerbaijan. It forecasts the same international destinations will remain popular in 2020, with strong growth forecast for Russia, Vietnam, Japan, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.
  • Gulf Air Group Holding increased its shareholding in Bahrain Airport Services (BAS) to 44%. This coincides with the signing of a concession agreement between BAS and Bahrain Airport Company under which BAS will continue to serve as the ground handling services provider at Bahrain International airport’s new terminal until 2034.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 20-Jan-2020)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)


Aircraft News

  • Gulf Air is scheduled to take delivery of three A321neo aircraft in 2020 and a fourth in 2021, according to its CEO Krešimir Kuko. The A321neos are “planned for Europe predominantly as there will be flatbed seats in Falcon Gold business class”, which is also part of the carrier’s “overall boutique concept,” he explains.
  • Kuwait Airways is scheduled to receive one A320-200neo (9K-AKM, msn 9119) in Feb-2020, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • Air India plans to deploy Boeing 787-8 equipment on three times weekly Delhi-Jeddah service from 31-Mar-2020, replacing 777-300ER equipment. Saudia, IndiGo and SpiceJet also operate the route, according to OAG.
  • Emirates Airline has issued seasonal aircraft adjustments on some flights to Europe during summer 2020 where Boeing 777-300ERs will replace Airbus A380 in and out of Dubai, reports Routes Online. These comprise Dusseldorf (on EK057/058, effective from 01-May-2020 to 30-Jun-2020 and 01-Sep-2020 to 30-Sep-2020); Frankfurt (on EK047/048, operating between 01-May-2020 and 30-Sep-2020); Milan Malpensa (on EK101/102, operating between 01-May-2020 and 30-Jun-2020); and Moscow (on EK133/134, operating between 18-May-2020 and 30-Sep-2020).
  • On reconciliation of Boeing orders and deliveries data for Dec-2019, Saudia was revealed as the customer for one 787-10 as part of a previously undisclosed order.

MARKET SNAPSHOT: Middle East international capacity by region (as at 20-Jan-2020)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG


Route Update

  • Kuwait Airways will boost its Kuwait-Paris CDG service from six to seven times weekly, effective 29-Mar-2020. It will also operate three of seven weekly frequencies with Boeing 777-300ER, substituting A330-200 equipment.
  • Emirates Airline plans to resume a third daily Dubai-Denpasar frequency, effective 01-Jun-2020. The rotation EK368/369 will be operated with Boeing 777-300ER equipment.
  • Gulf Air plans to launch twice weekly Bahrain-Nice service, effective Jul-2020. The carrier plans to operate the route with A321neo equipment.
  • Jazeera Airways plans to launch three times weekly Kuwait-Abha service. The new route marks the carrier’s sixth destination in Saudi Arabia.
  • SkyUp plans to temporarily suspend scheduled services from Kharkiv, Lviv and Zaporizhia to Sharjah from 01-Feb-2020, due to Ukraine’s ban on the operation of services in the airspace of Iran and Iraq.
  • Qeshm Air launched three times weekly Shiraz-Sohar service, effective 15-Jan-2020.
  • Pegasus Airlines launched three times weekly Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen-Madinah on 12-Jan-2020, marking its fourth destination in Saudi Arabia.