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

19 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 essential 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.

Etihad Airways to resume regular scheduled service between Australia and UK

Etihad Airways resumes scheduled services between Melbourne and London Heathrow. The airline will operate weekly Melbourne-Abu Dhabi-London service from 15-May-2020, with the return service to commence on 21-May-2020. The carrier plans to maintain this link until it fully resumes twice daily service between the cities. These services complement Etihad's existing schedule of special flights to and from Abu Dhabi to several destinations on its global network. Fellow UAE operator Emirates Airline is also offering connections in Dubai for customers travelling between the UK and Australia, albeit into Sydney.

Air Arabia net profit declines 45% in 1Q2020 amid coronavirus pandemic

Air Arabia reported (14-May-2020) a net profit of AED71 million (USD19.3 million) for the three months ended 31-Mar-2020, down 45% year-on-year. During the same period, the airline posted a turnover of AED901 million (USD245.3 million), down 12% year-on-year. Air Arabia chairman Abdullah Bin Mohamed Al Thani said the carrier "managed to deliver profitability" and a "solid performance" in 1Q2020 "despite the impact of COVID-19 pandemic" on the global aviation industry, which affected the overall performance of the quarter. Passenger traffic levels were down -14% year-on-year during the quarter, while system load factor was 83%.

IATA urges Jordanian Government to provide financial relief to airlines amid coronavirus crisis

IATA called on Jordan's Government to provide urgent financial relief to airlines as they struggle to survive the impact of the coronavirus crisis. IATA estimated that revenues generated by airlines in the Jordanian market will fall by US700 million, or -52% year-on-year. This puts nearly 34,400 Jordanian jobs and USD1.1 billion of Jordan's GDP at risk, which is generated by aviation directly as well as by aviation related tourism. "When the COVID-19 virus is brought under control, a healthy aviation sector will be essential to jump start the Jordanian, Middle East and global economies," said IATA regional VP for Africa and the Middle East, Muhammad Albakri. "Timely government support is urgently required to ensure the liquidity which will allow airlines to survive the coming months and thus protect the jobs generated by the air transport sector and preserve Jordan's tourism industry."

Qatar Airways aims to serve 80 destinations by end of Jun-2020, but doesn't see demand recovery until 2023/2024

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker stated the airline will gradually resume operations to some of the 165 destinations it served before the coronavirus outbreak, aiming to operate to 80 destinations by the end of Jun-2020. Mr Al Baker said he is "sure there will be demand" for these services, forecasting the airline will fill between 50% and 60% of seats, but stated it will take years for travel demand to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and he would be "very surprised" if demand recovered before 2023/2024. The airline will reduce its fleet by a quarter, with some aircraft to remain grounded and others returned to lessors, to manage the slow recovery from the coronavirus outbreak. Mr Al Baker noted the airline's ten grounded A380s "will not return for at least a year, and maybe never".

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 18-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

  • Emirates Airline reported its new premium economy class is "still on the cards, although the launch will be delayed". The carrier additionally has no plans to retrofit its existing fleet "in order to safeguard our liquidity which is of highest priority at the moment".
  • Qatar Airways says it is offering "even greater flexibility" to customers with tickets now valid for two years, with unlimited changes on dates. Customers can also change their destination if it's located within 5000 miles of the original one.
  • Kuwait's Ministry of Health inaugurated a drive through Covid-19 testing centre at Jazeera Airways' Park & Fly facility at Kuwait International Airport. The centre will be used to conduct 180 tests a day for 180 people from the six governorates.
  • Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. The company transported critical medical supplies on over 2500 services in Apr-2020 with around 100 flights per day from its hub in Dubai.
  • Iran Airports & Air Navigation Company confirms that Mashhad International Airport has resumed its terminal development and improvement project. The project temporarily ceased due to coronavirus concerns.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 18-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 Airline plans to operate scheduled passenger services to London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney and Melbourne from 21-May-2020.
  • Qatar Airways plans to resume four times weekly Doha-Brisbane service from 20-May-2020 after suspending the service for nearly four weeks. The carrier plans to operate the route with A350-1000 equipment.
  • SWISS plans to resume services to a number of destinations this summer, including Zurich-Cairo and Zurich-Dubai from 01-Jul-2020.
  • Lufthansa reportedly plans to resume three times weekly Frankfurt-Dubai service on 07-Jun-2020.
  • Emirates SkyCargo commenced twice weekly Dhaka freight service with Boeing 777-300ER equipment on 12-May-2020, initially operating for one month. The carrier is expected to transport industrial machinery and raw materials to Bangladesh and handle garments, medical supplies, and courier goods from Bangladesh and onward to Europe and the US.

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