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

5 May, 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.

Wizz Air to launch five routes from Abu Dhabi as first stage for Wizz Air Abu Dhabi evolution

Wizz Air plans to launch services from Abu Dhabi to Budapest (twice weekly) and to Bucharest (twice weekly) from 03-Jun-2020, and from Abu Dhabi to Cluj (weekly), Katowice (twice weekly) and Sofia (weekly) from 15-Sep-2020. The launches will mark the first nonstop connections between the destinations, and will provide almost 220,000 seats per annum. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is scheduled to launch operations in 4Q2020. The carrier will operate to Europe, Indian subcontinent, Middle East and Africa.

Dubai aims to reopen by Jul-2020 as Emirates resumes commercial operations

Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing director general Helal Al Marri stated Dubai is aiming to reopen as early as Jul-2020 when Emirates Airline begins to resume regular commercial operations. However, Mr Al Marri said that "many airports internationally remain closed", and it's "really about the bilateral discussions that are under way to have a coordinated approach to the reopening".

Emirates and Etihad project 85% of airlines will face insolvency by end of 2020 without intervention

Emirates Airline president Tim Clark and Etihad Aviation Group CEO Tony Douglas, via a video conference hosted by the US-UAE Business Council, stated last week that 85% of the world's airlines could face insolvency by the end of 2020, without government intervention. Sir Tim and Mr Douglas projected it could take until 2023 for passenger demand to return to pre coronavirus levels, but both expressed strong confidence that the challenges posed by Covid-19 will be overcome, especially with regard to the airline and travel industry.

Amman Airport 'severely affected' by COVID-19 impact in 1Q2020

Amman's Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) handled 1.5 million passengers in 1Q2020, a -21.1% year-on-year decline. Aircraft movements totalled 14,792, a -16.7% decrease. Airport International Group CEO Nicolas Claude stated: "The ripple effect of the Covid-19 travel constraints started back in Feb-2020, when countries worldwide began limiting or suspending flights to and from certain destinations. Paired with the decision to close QAIA for health and safety reasons, national air travel has been severely affected, and traffic statistics for the first quarter reflect that, with Mar-2020's year-on-year passenger figures going down by approximately two thirds".

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 04-May-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

  • International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed in its Apr-2020 Africa and Middle East regional briefing that base passenger yields declined year-on-year across the majority of the region's key routes in Feb-2020, but Africa-Middle East was the largest mover, with a decrease of -6%.
  • Saudi Arabian Logistics (SAL) shifted export cargo handling, domestic cargo handling, and express mail services to its new facilities at Riyadh King Khaled International Airport during Apr-2020, boosting its capacity to 450,000 tons annually.
  • Iran Airports & Air Navigation Company announced Ramsar Airport resumed aeronautical operations, effective 03-May-2020. The airport, in the northern Mazandaran province, previously ceased operations for 70 days due to coronavirus preventative measures.
  • Saudia Cargo reported it achieved a record uplift of 65.3 tons of cargo in the bellyhold of a Boeing 777 passenger aircraft on 25-Apr-2020. The service transported essential perishables from Lahore to Riyadh.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 04-May-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

  • Emirates SkyCargo commenced three times weekly Dubai-Auckland-Melbourne-Dubai and weekly Dubai-Sydney-Christchurch-Sydney-Dubai services, effective 03-May-2020, under the New Zealand Government's International Air Freight Capacity scheme. The airline will operate the services with Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft.
  • Gulf Air is operating a limited schedule through 15-May-2020. This comprises three times weekly Bahrain-London Heathrow with Boeing 787-9 equipment; weekly Bahrain-Frankfurt with A320 equipment; weekly Bahrain-Manila with 787-9 equipment; and weekly Bahrain-Paris CDG with A320 equipment.
  • Qatar Airways suspended plans to resume daily Doha-Osaka Kansai service on 23-Jun-2020. The airline planned to operate the service with A350-900 equipment.
  • Sichuan Airlines plans to extend its reduced international operations in May-2020 including a weekly Chengdu-Cairo service operated with A330-200 equipment from 05-May-2020.
  • Etihad Airways delayed launch of Abu Dhabi-Vienna service until 25-Oct-2020. As previously reported, the launch was initially scheduled for 01-Jul-2020. The carrier plans to operate the route with Boeing 787-9 equipment.

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