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

9 June, 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 Guest enters expanded partnership with Aeroplan

Etihad Airways announced Etihad Guest signed an expansion agreement with Air Canada and its loyalty programme Aeroplan to provide additional benefits for Etihad Guest members. Etihad Guest members will be able to earn and spend miles across the Air Canada network and Aeroplan members will be able to earn and spend miles with Etihad.

Three quarters of Saudis are confident to travel as restrictions are lifted

Almosafer, via its official LinkedIn account, has posted a report highlighting the following results of an online survey of 3,000 Saudi nationals conducted from 14-May-2020 to 20-May-2020. It shows that 73% are confident in travel once restrictions - very confident: 28%; somewhat confident: 45% - while just over a quarter (27%) are not confident. The preferred travel destination for more than a third of travellers was GCC countries and Asia (38%), with more than a third travelling within Saudi Arabia (35%), with Mecca and Jeddah the top destinations.

Qatar Airways claims status as 'largest airline in the world'

Qatar Airways stated it has operated "more flights to more destinations than any other airline, becoming the largest airline in the world over the past three months". Group CEO Akbar Al Baker commented: "We have become the largest global carrier flying over 50 million kilometres to repatriate over 1.8 million passengers on over 15,000 flights". The airline plans to rebuild its network to 80 destinations by the end of Jun-2020, with more to be added by the end of the 2020 summer season.

Partnership with a US big three airline is 'a huge opportunity' for Emirates

Emirates Airline president Sir Tim Clark said an agreement with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines or United Airlines would enable Emirates to "deliver huge amounts of business" to the US. Sir Tim stated: "There's a huge opportunity there that Emirates could bring to the United States without going into an alliance. It would be a tap that you turned on, sat back, and watched us fill large numbers of their airplanes". The size of the airline's future fleet will be decided over the coming months, according to Sir Tim. "We need a little more time to see how this is all going to pan out," he said. Decisions on the fleet will be based on whether demand shows signs of recovery for 2021. Sir Tim added: "We are nowhere near confident enough that the economics, the cash flows, the bottom line will put us in a good position to be able to guess if we'll buy a hundred of this or a hundred of that".

Etihad Airways launches 'Etihad Wellness' health and hygiene programme

Etihad Airways launched 'Etihad Wellness', an expanded and comprehensive health and hygiene programme and customer guide. This builds on the measures already put in place by the airline to deal with COVID-19. Etihad Wellness initiatives will be communicated through an online guide highlighting the standards of cleanliness, health and hygiene being applied at every stage of the customer journey. Etihad plans to expand the service to include a web chat option and over the coming weeks, Etihad will also introduce Wellness Ambassadors at Abu Dhabi International Airport in partnership with Abu Dhabi Airports. Once travel restrictions to and from the UAE are lifted, and the airline resumes an expanded network of international flights, Etihad will also introduce Wellness Ambassadors on board.

IATA reports 46% decline in Middle East passenger volumes for Mar-2020

International Air Transport Association (IATA), via its Middle East Regional Briefing for May-2020, reported airlines based in the Middle East registered a -46% year-on-year fall in passenger volumes (RPKs) in Apr-2020, after a +1.7% expansion in Feb-2020. The Middle East-Asia and Middle East-Europe, which are the region's larger markets, halved their size compared to a year ago.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East Domestic Seats (as at 08-Jun-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

  • Yemenia chairman Ahmed Masood Alwani has stated the airline aims to acquire a fourth A320 on the used aircraft market. The carrier has outstanding deliveries with Airbus for eight A320s, but in an interview with trade publication Arabian Aerospace, Mr Alwani noted: "With this war we cannot commit ourselves to continue. We can't finance new aircraft".
  • Dubai International Airport installed personal protective equipment (PPE) vending machines in Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 departure areas. The vending machines dispense PPE kits containing a mask and a pair of gloves as well as offering two varieties of sanitisers.
  • Wizz Air Abu Dhabi plans to operate a six aircraft fleet within the first six months of operations. The carrier initially planned to operate three aircraft. Wizz Air CEO József Váradi said: "We are looking at a larger scale start versus what we originally contemplated".
  • Jazeera Airways announced it will offer 50,000 free round trip tickets, valued at KWD5 million (USD16.2 million), to Kuwaiti frontline workers. The tickets will be distributed as directed by Kuwait's Government and will be redeemable to any destination from the reopening of Kuwait International Airport until the end of 2021.
  • International Air Transport Association (IATA), via its Middle East Regional Briefing for May-2020, reported airlines based in the Middle East saw a -14.1% year-on-year decline in cargo tonne kilometres (CTKs), a major reversal from the +4.3% growth in Feb-2020. Of the larger markets to/from the region, Middle East-Asia CTKs were down -16.9%, and Middle East-Europe CTKs were down -18.2%.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East International Seats (as at 08-Jun-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

  • Qatar Airways expanded its network to more than 170 weekly frequencies to 40 destinations in the seven days to 04-Jun-2020 with the addition of Bangkok, Barcelona, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Singapore and Vienna services. The carrier also plans to resume Berlin, Dar Es Salaam, New York, Tunis and Venice services and increase frequency to Dublin, Milan and Rome.
  • Sepehran Airlines commenced five times weekly Mashhad-Tabriz service with Boeing 737 equipment on 28-May-2020.
  • Iran Air Tours commenced Tehran Mehrabad-Birjand service, after Mahan Air suspended operations on the route for the summer season.
  • Mahan Air plans to resume Tehran Mehrabad-Ardabil service on 16-Jun-2020.
  • Emirates Airline will offer passenger services to Bahrain, Manchester, Zurich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, New York JFK, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Taipei, Hong Kong, Perth and Brisbane from 15-Jun-2020. The airline will serve the destinations with Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The expansion follows the UAE Government's decision to lift restrictions on transit passenger services. Emirates will also offer connecting services from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad from 08-Jun-2020.
  • Iran Air plans to commence three times weekly Tehran Mehrabad-Maku service on 18-Jun-2020. Taban Air also operates the route, according to OAG.