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

21 April, 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.

Air Arabia has no plans to postpone proposed Air Arabia Abu Dhabi launch

Air Arabia stated there are "no plans to delay or postpone" the launch of Air Arabia Abu Dhabi. Air Arabia added: "Preparatory work for the launch remains in motion and will progress as the market situation improves". As previously reported, the new LCC is scheduled to commence operations in 2Q2020.

Gulf Air outlines 'Golden Principles' of healthy and safety

Gulf Air has introduced 'Golden Principles' for health and safety of passengers and crew members. These include a modified seat arrangement to suit social distancing; aircraft being disinfected and decontaminated after each service; all crew members being fully trained to follow international guidelines regarding to personal protective equipment on board; a recommendation all passengers wear a mask and disposable gloves while travelling; all meals and beverages being served in disposable containers with meals limited to a selection of cold meals and snacks and selected amenities and services temporarily removed.

flydubai splits fleet between Dubai and Al Maktoum Airports

flydubai reported it is maintaining 23 Boeing 737-800s and three 737 MAX 9s at Dubai World Central (Al Maktoum Airport), and another 15 737-800s and 10 737 MAX 8s at Dubai International Airport. The Boeing 737 MAXs continue to be maintained in active storage, while the 737-800 fleet is in a state of operational readiness, to be used at least once for repatriation, cargo or maintenance services, the latter of which would be operated between Dubai and Al Maktoum. flydubai SVP of engineering and maintenance Mick Hills said the airline is "closely" following guidance for maintaining grounded fleets.

UNWTO: 96% of all worldwide destinations have introduced travel restrictions since Jan-2020

World Tourism Organisation (WTO) reported 96% of all worldwide destinations have introduced travel restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Around 90 destinations have completely or partially closed their borders to tourists, while a further 44 are closed to certain tourists depending on country of origin. The Middle East, alongside Africa and Asia Pacific are regions were 100% of destinations have adopted Covid-19 related restrictions since Jan-2020. In the Americas, 92% of destinations have taken similar steps, while in Europe, the proportion is 93% as of 06-Apr-2020.

Etihad Airways undertakes biggest maintenance programme in its history amid coronavirus outbreak

Etihad Airways announced with 80% of its passenger fleet grounded, the airline has embarked on the biggest aircraft maintenance programme in its history. Etihad Engineering is performing maintenance work on 96 passenger aircraft including 29 A320 and A321s, 10 A380s, 38 Boeing 787s and 19 777-300ER aircraft. The programme ranges from minor maintenance tasks, such as seat repairs and updates to Inflight Entertainment Systems, to bringing forward scheduled engine changes and modifications on several aircraft, eliminating the need to withdraw them from service when scheduled passenger operations recommence. The airline plans to operate a reduced network of scheduled passenger services from 01-May-2020 to 30-Jun-2020, with the aim of gradually returning to a fuller schedule when the global coronavirus situation improves. These planned service resumptions are subject to the UAE's government imposed travel restrictions being lifted on passenger travel.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 20-Apr-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

  • Jazeera Airways has made its entire fleet of 14 A320 aircraft available for cargo only services, offering capacity of 15 tons per aircraft. The Kuwaiti airline operated its first cargo only service to Riyadh on 15-Apr-2020.
  • Qatar Airways has signed a USD850 million financing deal with Standard Chartered to provide funding for the acquisition of seven Boeing 787-9s. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker noted the airline remains focused "on finding solutions to get as many people back to their homes to be with their families and loved ones during these difficult times".
  • Kuwait Airways has cancelled 50% of its A350 order by removing five aircraft from its backlog. The airline now has 12 A320neos, eight A330-800s and five A350-900s on order.
  • In an internal email to staff Saudia has requested some cabin crew members to suspend their contracts from Apr-2020 until the end of the year, as the carrier does not expect passenger operations to return to normal until Dec-2020, reports Reuters.
  • Emirates Airline has resumed operations at terminal 3 Dubai International Airport, following an increase in services out of Dubai. The carrier will operate limited passenger services to Jakarta, Manila, Taipei, Chicago, Tunis, Algiers and Kabul, in addition to London and Frankfurt, to facilitate the return of residents and visitors to their home country.
  • Etihad Airways has operated approximately 500 special passenger, freighter and cargo services since 25-Mar-2020. These include passenger and belly hold freight services to Amsterdam, Bogota, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Jakarta, London Heathrow, Manila, Melbourne, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Seoul Incheon, Singapore, Tokyo Narita, Washington and Zurich, with other destinations planned.

  • CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 20-Apr-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 Updates
  • Kuwait Airways has tentatively scheduled an operational resumption from 01-Jun-2020 with a schedule of routes linking Kuwait to Bangkok, Dhaka, Frankfurt, Geneva, London Heathrow, Manila, Munich, New York JFK, Paris CDG, Sarajevo and Vienna.
  • Saudia plans to operate a skeletal international service from May-2020, including Jeddah-Addis Ababa (twice weekly with A330); Jeddah-Istanbul (daily with A330); Riyadh-Amsterdam (twice weekly with Boeing 787-9); Riyadh-Dubai (twice daily with A330); Riyadh-London Heathrow (three times weekly with 777-300ER); and Riyadh-Paris Charles de Gaulle (twice weekly with 777-300ER).
  • Kenya Airways has tentatively scheduled the resumption of international services, including the Nairobi-Dubai route which it plans to operate daily with 737-800 and 787-8 equipment from 07-May-2020.
  • British Airways has included Dubai in a proposed skeletal schedule for May-2020. The airline plans a daily London Heathrow-Dubai service flown with Boeing 787-9 equipment, resuming 01-May-2020.
  • Korean Air plans to resume daily Seoul Incheon-Dubai service from 01-Jul-2020, according to tentative planned schedules.
  • Air Canada plans to resume its Toronto-Dubai service from 25-Jun-2020, according to tentative planned schedules.

**NOTE: all these route plans are based on provisional schedule filings and are tentative, speculative and subject to change**