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

31 March, 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.

SPECIAL NOTE: Coronavirus

The COVID-19 outbreak has significantly impacted air service to, from and within the Middle East. Initially, this was on services into China and parts of Asia, more recently into Italy and wider across Europe, and latterly within the region as an increasing number of cases have been recorded.

This has seen restrictions on arrivals, and cancellations of numerous flights across the region. This is a fluid situation that is changing by the day. To keep up to date on the devastating effect of the virus on the aviation and supporting industries, read this new essential daily update from CAPA - Centre for Aviation, which curates intelligence from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and myriad industry sources. Its mission is to help cut through the noise and provide a useful daily snapshot of the COVID-19 outbreak evolution, together with key industry developments.

AACO highlights measures Arab governments could adopt to ease burdens on airlines

Arab Air Carriers' Organization (AACO) has communicated with Arab governments through the Arab Civil Aviation Organization encouraging them to adopt a range of measures to support the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include providing tax relief to airlines for at least a period of two years; exempt airlines from any slot rules applied in Arab airports; and provide speedy financial support packages for airlines and encouraged governments to support airlines in requesting airport operators and air navigation service providers to exempt airlines from paying parking fees during this time of emergency and to cancel or reduce other user charges paid by airlines. It also requested governments temporarily exempt airlines from passenger rights regulations as the current situation is considered to be force majeure that obliges airlines to cancel or delay their flights with short notice.

Qatar Airways has enough cash to continue operations for short period of time

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker stated the carrier will continue to operate as long as necessary to facilitate the return of stranded travellers, but only has "enough cash to take us through a very short period of time". Mr Al Baker said the carrier will eventually seek support from Qatar's Government. Qatar Airways is one of few international airlines continuing to maintain scheduled commercial passenger services with 1800 frequencies scheduled over the next two weeks. The airline's chief strategy and transformation officer Thierry Antinori said he expects that when traffic does rebound post-coronavirus crisis, it will "bounce back relatively quickly" (La Tribune, 25-Mar-2020). "After being confined in their homes for so long, people will want to travel, and companies will need to travel", Mr Antinori continued.

Etihad Airways offering bonus miles with Etihad Credit option to support COVID-19 impacted travel

Etihad Airways announced updates to its Etihad Credit offering to support passengers with travel impacted due to the coronavirus outbreak. The carrier will provide an additional bonus of up to 5000 Etihad Guest Miles depending on the booked cabin class. Eligible Etihad Guest members redeeming Etihad Credit will automatically receive the bonus miles within four weeks of their credit being issued. Etihad Credit allows customers to cancel their flight and use the value as credit to rebook their trip for travel until 31-Jul-2021 for any ticket, any fare type, any Etihad destination. Any fare difference from the original ticket price will be charged. Bonus Tier Miles will also be provided to eligible Etihad Guest members to keep them on track to reaching their next tier, even when it's difficult to travel. Etihad Airways temporarily suspended flight operations for an initial 14 days as of 24-Mar-2020.

Arkia considers merger and nationalisation a possibility

Arkia Israeli Airlines chairman Avi Homero said there are discussions about the possibility of merging with Israir Airlines and El Al. Mr Homero said: "I won't say that this is on the table, also because of the Israel Competition Authority, but we're talking about it between us". Mr Homero also did not rule out nationalisation. Mr Homero noted most of Arkia's employees are on unpaid leave.

Emirates SkyCargo launches dedicated network and charters with passenger aircraft

Emirates SkyCargo has announced the creation of a dedicated network with Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft to cater for customer demand. The network complements the carrier's freighter operations and covers Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North America. Emirates SkyCargo is also offering cargo only charter solutions with 777-300ERs. The airline will continue to consider adding new routes in response to customer demand.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 30-Mar-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 announced its Privilege Club members are able to extend or restore their membership tier level for a period of up to 12 months. Gold and Platinum members' Qcredits will also be valid for two years as long as the membership category is maintained.
  • Jazeera Airways announced the airline's board agreed to suspend its previous recommendation to distribute dividends to shareholders for the financial year ended 31-Dec-2019. The suspensions comes as part of measures taken by the airline to safeguard the company against the current challenges caused by the outbreak of coronavirus.
  • As part of its shrunk international network Air China has confirmed it plans to operate a weekly Beijing Capital-Dubai service from 16-Apr-2020.
  • Royal Jordanian extended its passenger service suspension to 13-Apr-2020. As previously reported, the carrier suspended all passenger services from 17-Mar-2020 to 31-Mar-2020 as a precautionary measure against the outbreak of coronavirus.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 30-Mar-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)

Fleet Developments

  • Etihad Cargo announced it is temporary introducing a fleet of Boeing 787-10 passenger aircraft alongside its 777 Freighters to operate 34 weekly routes to India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea, subject to permits.
  • Saudia took delivery of one Boeing 787-10 (HZ-AR27, MSN 40052), according to the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • Qatar Airways has reportedly withdrawn all 10 of its A380 aircraft from service due to reduced demand as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, it has taken delivery of one additional Boeing 787-9 (A7-BHC, MSN 64210), according to the CAPA Fleet Database.
  • Gulf Air is scheduled to receive one A320neo (A9C-TF, MSN 9380) in Apr-2020, according to the CAPA Fleet Database.