ME carriers court more premium long-haul and low-cost traffic

Region’s low-cost market growing four-and-a-half times faster than global average, say aviation experts

Low-cost Saudi airline Flyadeal serves eight domestic airports with 10 A320s and has handled 2.5 million passengers.
Low-cost Saudi airline Flyadeal serves eight domestic airports with 10 A320s and has handled 2.5 million passengers.

The GCC’s full-service and low-cost airlines have made a dent in the aviation industry, it was revealed at the first CONNECT Middle East & Africa forum at the recently held Arabia Travel Market 2019 in Dubai.

The Middle East seat capacity doubling to just under 264.31 million in the last 10 years, according to anna.aero data.

Emirates – which heads the region’s departing seat capacity (41.55 million) followed by Etihad Airways (37.14 million) – remains in expansive mood, however, and will add a second daily service between Dubai and London Stansted from 1 July 2019.

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Speaking at CONNECT Middle East, India and Africa, Jacques Khoriaty, Middle East & South Asia aviation director, Egis Airport Operations, said the biggest challenges facing the region are linked to airspace and terminal capacity.

“It’s quite complex; there are airspace restrictions and you have hubs very close to each other,” he said. “However, there have been some big capex programmes with Oman opening its new terminal and Bahrain will soon have a new terminal as well.”

He added Middle East geopolitics is another key issue which has “impacted the travel experience” and regulatory issues continue to provide hurdles. “There are a lot of untapped markets due to the lack of bilateral agreements.”

Sudeep Ghai, chief customer & commercial officer, flyadeal, highlighted the opportunities it has seized since the low-cost airline started up in Saudi Arabia 18 months ago. The carrier serves eight domestic airports with 10 A320s and has handled 2.5 million passengers.

“When we began it took a while for the market to understand the nature of the opportunity and there was a lot of skepticism,” he said. “But we’ve disrupted the market and brought low fares to the Kingdom.”

Capitalising on the country’s young tech-savvy population, he added that the airline is focused on digital and 60% of its bookings are on mobiles.

“Saudis are hungry to explore and in time we will look to expand internationally – the obvious candidates are within a three-to-four, hour radius, such as Egypt, Jordan and the UAE.”

Reportedly, more than 300 aviation and airport professionals and 40 airlines were represented at the inaugural conference.

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