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.

Qatar Airways raises stake in IAG to 25.1%

Qatar Airways increased its shareholding in International Airlines Group (IAG) from 21.4% to 25.1%. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker stated: “Our investment to date has been highly successful and the announced increase in our shareholding is evidence of our continued support of IAG and its strategy”. At the same time, Qatar Airways has expanded its codeshare network with British Airways to include the UK carrier’s London Gatwick-Edinburgh; London Gatwick-Glasgow; London Gatwick-Jersey; London Heathrow-Dusseldorf; and London Heathrow-Hannover services.

Gulf Air and Bahrain Travel and Tourism Offices Association discuss enhancing joint cooperation

Gulf Air announced it met with Bahrain Travel and Tourism Offices Association representatives to discuss the airline’s strategy for 2020 and ways of strengthening ties and joint cooperation between the national carrier and travel agents. Gulf Air CEO Krishmir Kuchko said during the course of developing its fleet and network of destinations, the carrier will “continue to strengthen ties” with its sale partners to “work together on the growth and development of the travel industry” in Bahrain.

Inmarsat launches connectivity services in Saudi Arabia, including inflight connectivity

Inmarsat announced its Aviation, Enterprise and Maritime businesses will supply connectivity solutions to customers based in Saudi Arabia through new partner agreements. The company additionally announced it has secured new spectrum licences to deliver both its narrow-band (L-band) and high-capacity broadband (Ka-band), Global Xpress (GX), services in Saudi Arabia, enabling Saudi-based businesses to deploy these services for the first time. Inmarsat’s Aviation business will work with Sada Al Ammah to deliver cockpit safety services and passenger cabin broadband WiFi connectivity (GX Aviation for commercial airlines and Jet ConneX for business jets) to companies based in Saudi Arabia, enabling inflight internet access for airline and business aviation passengers. Further capacity will be added for customers in Saudi Arabia and beyond, as the recently-launched GX-5 satellite comes into commercial service in 2020.

Kuwait National Assembly forms committee to probe Airbus aircraft orders

Kuwait’s National Assembly approved the formation of a parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing Airbus orders involving Kuwaiti parties. The committee will submit a report of its findings to the National Assembly in three months time. The National Assembly also asked the Ministry of Finance to cross examine recent aircraft deals involving the state carrier Kuwait Airways. As previously reported, Airbus reached a USD4 billion settlement with prosecutors in the UK, France and US relating to allegations of bribery and corruption.

DAE reports 2019 as a ‘breakout year’ for company’s aircraft asset management business

Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) CEO Firoz Tarapore reported 2019 was a “breakout year” for the company’s growth in its aircraft asset management business, including receiving the “largest single mandate in the industry to source and manage aircraft assets” during the year. During 2019, DAE received a USD1.4 billion investment mandate from a large fund manager to source and manage a portfolio of aircraft. The company purchased 11 aircraft and disposed of 34 aircraft in 2019, leaving it with a fleet of 357, consisting of 289 owned aircraft (includes seven aircraft on finance lease and 10 aircraft classified as held for sale), 65 aircraft managed on behalf of third parties and three committed aircraft.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 24-Feb-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

  • Aleppo International Airport recommenced commercial operations on 19-Feb-2020. The first operation was conducted by Syrian Airlines with an Airbus A320 from Damascus International Airport.
  • Oman’s SalamAir announced a new partnership with Tune Protect Commercial Brokerage to offer travel insurance to its passengers. The travel protection programme will provide passengers with a range of benefits, including overseas medical expenses, travel cancellation, missed departure, baggage delays, travel delay, emergency medical evacuation, repatriation, personal accident and more.
  • Qatar Airways signed a codeshare agreement with Bulgaria Air, effective 02-Mar-2020. The agreement will provide Bulgaria Air passengers with seamless connection to destinations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Qatar Airways passengers will have access to two new destinations in Bulgaria, comprising Varna and Burgas.
  • Saudi Arabia received 1.2 million visitor arrivals in 4Q2019, according to data compiled by Expedia Group.
  • Iran extended visa waivers for residents of Iraq’s Kurdistan region until 27-Apr-2020. The waiver allows travellers to visit Iran without a visa or fees for up to 30 days.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 24-Feb-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

  • Ariana Afghan Airlines issued a RFP for the purchase of six aircraft, comprising two A330-200s, two Bombardier Dash-8 Q300s and two Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. Submissions close on 26-Feb-2020.
  • flynas received one A320-200neo (HZ-NS27, MSN 9531) on 21-Feb-2020, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • Jazeera Airways plans to issue an RFP by Apr-2020 for the lease of a dozen A320neo aircraft, which will double its fleet to 25 aircraft by 2022.
  • Qatar Airways plans to deploy Boeing 777-300ER on its Doha-Sialkot service, replacing A330-300 equipment on the majority of flights between 04-Aug-2020 and 30-Sep-2020, according to Routes Online.
  • Aeroflot plans to deploy A321neo on Moscow Sheremetyevo-Dubai World Central service from 02-Oct-2020 to 25-Oct-2020.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East – India since 2015 (as at 24-Feb-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)

Route Update

  • Royal Jordanian issued frequency reductions for its Amman-Bangkok-Hong Kong service. The carrier has reduced the Bangkok-Hong Kong sector from four to twice weekly, operating from 20-Feb-2020 to 01-Mar-2020 and 15-Mar-2020 to 29-Mar-2020.
  • Etihad Airways plans to operate daily Al Ain-Jeddah service, effective from 14-May-2020 to 23-May-2020, to meet increased demand during Ramadan. The carrier will operate the route with A320 equipment.
  • Jazeera Airways has cancelled Kuwait-Mashhad service, in accordance with instructions issued by Kuwait’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation as a precautionary measure against coronavirus.
  • Air France plans to adjust Paris CDG-Dubai service in winter 2020/2021, operating 10 times weekly with Boeing 787-9/777-200ER mix instead of seven times weekly A380 equipment from 25-Oct-2020.
  • Kuwait Airways plans to increase Kuwait-London Heathrow frequency from 12 to 14 times weekly from late April 2020. The carrier operates the route with Boeing 777-300ER equipment.
  • Air India commenced three times weekly Mumbai-Doha service on 21-Feb-2020, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. Qatar Airways, IndiGo and Air India Express also operate on the route.
  • Ukraine International Airlines aims to commence Kyiv Boryspil-Jeddah service in late May-2020. It will be the sole scheduled operator on the route, according to OAG.
  • IndiGo plans to commence six times weekly Kozhikode-Riyadh service on 20-Mar-2020, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. Saudia, flynas and Air India Express also operate the route.
  • Pegasus Airlines plans to expand operations into the region from Antalya in summer 2020, with weekly Antalya-Bahrain and Antalya-Kuwait from Jun-2020.