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Gulf aviation’s ambitious wishes for the year ahead

There should be an award for the airline that gets the newest aircraft closest to planned delivery dates

Gulf avaiation companies have a range of goals for the year ahead, including increased flight numbers, more passengers and acquiring planes Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff
Gulf avaiation companies have a range of goals for the year ahead, including increased flight numbers, more passengers and acquiring planes

It has not been a great start to the year for Boeing.

Five days after the new year began a panel blew out of a 737 Max 9 operated by Alaska Airlines en route from Portland Oregon to southern California. The US Federal Aviation Administration has ordered that all 737 Max 9s be grounded pending safety checks.

In truth, the aircraft manufacturer has stumbled through the last few years with a list of production issues and delays to delivery.

These have highlighted wider challenges in the aviation sector and affected many airlines in the Gulf.

What are the resolutions and hopes of other stakeholders in one of the world’s fastest growing markets?

The gift of traffic rights 

Qatar Airways wants to see a resolution to the continued rejection of its request for increased flights to Australia to be resolved as soon as possible.

Boosting aircraft capacity has helped the airline to generate more revenue, and the airline wants more than its already-approved 46 flights a week; Emirates has 56 and Etihad 14.

Qantas, of course, operates no flights to the Middle East but, instead, has a cosy codeshare with Emirates.

With Turkish Airlines having recently concluded an expanded bilateral agreement with Australia, it would be worth Qatar Airways remembering that the absence of a local market of Qataris and Australians flying between the two countries is a major stumbling block to any case for appeal.

The gift of a plane 

There are many virtual airlines around the world, many of which are on various geeky websites and Microsoft Simulator platforms.

But Riyadh Air needs to step out of the virtual into the real world this year with some aircraft, schedules, routes and passenger bookings.

The long-haul fleet is ordered, subject to delivery schedules, but the short-haul fleet has yet to be announced and talk of expansion through partnerships is at an early stage. Riyadh Air really has to start putting some flesh on the bones of its strategy and vision in the next few months if it is to realise its role in Vision 2030.

The gift of 200 million passengers

Say it quickly and it does not seem to be daunting, but Saudi Arabian aviation is scheduled to treble in the next six years. Achieving that seems a long way from the reality of a market where domestic capacity remains flat year on year and is still 12 percent below pre-pandemic 2019 levels. 

International capacity to new destinations such as Fergana, Brussels, Naples and Seoul may be supported by the National Connectivity Fund, but are these destinations sustainable and capable of building towards 300 million passengers?

Tripling demand when one is talking of a market of 10,000 is possible but to go from 100 to 300 million suggests that some re-forecasting is required.

The gift of spare parts

The aviation supply chain is a mess and will be for the best part of 2024, and probably into 2025.

Many airlines in the region have experienced delays in deliveries of aircraft, which have impacted expansion plans, while other carriers have received aircraft on time but with seats they ordered unavailable for months.

Airline CEOs in the region are resigned to these challenges and unable to do anything to alter the situation, but there should be an award at the end of the year for the airline that receives the newest aircraft closest to planned delivery dates.

The gift of peace 

For some airlines, events outside of their control continually knock back their business.

No airline seems to suffer as much as Royal Jordanian. A new fleet order expanded its network of destinations for summer 2024 but unrest in the wider region has damaged consumer confidence. Even offering the cheapest of fares for connecting passengers cannot attract travellers to stop-over in Amman. 

With all the challenges ahead, Middle East airlines will have to navigate their way carefully through both daily operational issues, as well as addressing more strategic questions.

Despite all of these factors, the regional aviation market will once again be full of growth and offer interesting developments. It should be fun to watch!

John Grant is partner at UK consultancy Midas Aviation

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