Shifting Sands – an update on latest travel developments across the Middle East

4 February, 2020

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.

Amadeus and Seera Group renew partnership to 'drive technology innovation in the Middle East tourism sector'

Amadeus has renewed its partnership with travel and tourism services provider Seera Group to drive technology innovation in the Middle East tourism sector. Seera will work with Amadeus to strengthen its online business, integrating digital touch points across all operations. Amadeus is also supporting Seera in expanding its omni channel consumer travel business Almosafer. Seera will implement Amadeus solutions relating to hotel content, virtual credit card payment capabilities, fare optimisation solutions and content via New Distribution Capability connectivity.

Emirates sees healthy load factors to end 2019 and start 2020

Emirates COO Adel Ahmad Al Redha has stated the airline recorded "healthy" average load factor of above 80% across the network in Dec-2019 and Jan-2020, according to weekly business publication Arabian Business. Commenting on tensions between the US and Iran, Mr Al Redha said load factor "doesn't seem to have been impacted by this escalation we have seen over the last few weeks". Mr Al Redha also commented: "At the beginning of the year we thought there might be some kind of impact... but to our surprise everything went quite well, we didn't see any drop in traffic".

2020 to be 'big year' for Gulf Air with new destinations and aircraft deliveries

Gulf Air chairman Zayed R Alzayani says "2020 promises to be a big year" for the carrier with "a number of new boutique destinations to be added" to its network from summer 2020. Mr Alzayani added the carrier's fleet modernisation programme is "on target", with its fleet age set to be "one of the youngest in the region by the end of 2023" once all its orders are delivered. As previously reported by CAPA, the carrier is scheduled to receive three Boeing 787-9 aircraft and three A321neos in 2020.

UAE GCAA director general not optimistic about 737 MAX returning to service by mid 2020

UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) director general Saif Al Suwaidi said he is "not very optimistic" about the Boeing 737 MAX resuming service by mid-2020, as expected by the manufacturer in its latest update, reports The National. Mr Al Suwaidi confirmed the GCAA will conduct its own review of the aircraft and information being provide by Boeing is that "the situation may need some more time". He added he hopes that the 737 MAX will return to service by the middle of 2020 "but I'm not expecting [it]".

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 03-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

  • Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) reports Saudi Arabia issued 350,000 tourist visas during the last three months of 2019. The increased numbers are directly attributed to new visa regulations designed to ease travellers entering the nation.
  • Bahrain Airports Company has confirmed Bahrain Telecommunication Company (Batelco) will operate a retail outlet at Bahrain International airport's new passenger terminal under a five year concession agreement.
  • Amman's Queen Alia International airport reported a +5.9% year-on-year rise in passengers in 2019, a year that saw the arrival of four new airlines (SaudiGulf Airlines, Transavia, Transavia France and Royal Air Maroc) and flights to five new destinations (Casablanca, Lyon, Malta, Memmingen and Thessaloniki).
  • Dubai Duty Free says it generated USD130.4 million in revenue from confectionery and food products last year, accounting for 6.5% of the company's overall annual sales in 2019.
  • Sharjah Airport Authority officials confirm the tender for Sharjah airport's planned expansion project will be released in Apr-2020. Work is scheduled to commence in Oct-2020.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 03-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

  • flynas is scheduled to receive one A320-200neo (HZ-NS27, MSN 9531) in Mar-2020, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • Aeroflot Russian Airlines plans to operate a series of daily Moscow Sheremetyevo-Dubai services with its new A350-900 equipment from 21-Mar-2020 to 28-Mar-2020 ahead of the aircraft's debut into scheduled passenger service on 29-Mar-2020. The carrier holds orders for 14 A350-900s.
  • Qatar Airways is scheduled to receive one A350-1000 aircraft (A7-ANP, MSN 372) in Mar-2020, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.

MARKET SNAPSHOT: Middle East LCC penetration (2010 - 2019)Source: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG

Route Update

  • Emirates Airline has applied to Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) for approval to commence operations to Maputo International airport, according to ICAM's chairman Joao de Abreu. He said the carrier plans to commence Dubai-Maputo-Gaborone service in Jun-2020 or Jul-2020.
  • Gulf Air resumed three times weekly Bahrain-Erbil service, effective 02-Feb-2020. The carrier last operated this route in 2012.
  • IndiGo confirmed plans to commence daily Ahmedabad-Dammam and daily Kozhikode-Dammam services on 10-Mar-2020.
  • Oman Air plans to commence four times weekly Muscat-Alexandria Borg service on 03-Jun-2020, where it will be the sole scheduled operator on the route. The airline also plans to increase Muscat-Delhi frequency from twice to three times daily from 30-Mar-2020.
  • flynas plans to resume Jeddah-Baghdad service on 02-Mar-2020, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database.
  • Mahan Air plans to resume seasonal twice weekly Tehran-Belgrade service, effective 26-Apr-2020. The carrier plans to operate the route with A310 equipment.
  • Qatar Airways Cargo commenced operations at Bogotá El Dorado International airport with its Boeing 777F freighters from 01-Feb-2020. The airline is serving the airport twice weekly with a Doha-Luxembourg-Miami-Bogotá-Liège-Doha service.
  • Turkmenistan Airlines postponed the launch of weekly Ashgabat-Jeddah service from 02-Feb-2020 to 26-Apr-2020, reports Routes Online. The service is scheduled to operate with Boeing 777-200LR.