ANALYSIS: Airlines in the Middle East - The Biggest and Fastest Growing Operators

Ahead of this year's World Routes forum, Routesonline is providing another look at our series of articles on the leading airlines and airports and most used aircraft types across regions of the world last year. Here we look closely at the airlines of the Middle East and highlight the region's top performers.

Ahead of this year's World Routes forum, Routesonline is providing another look at our series of articles on the leading airlines and airports and most used aircraft types across regions of the world last year.  Here we look closely at the airlines of the Middle East and highlight the region's top performers.

​ The data is all supplied by OAG Aviation using its OAG Schedules Analyser tool.

Scheduled Air Capacity From the Middle East (2005 - 2014)

Our analysis of published schedules for the past ten years shows that air capacity within and from the Middle East has risen from 90,896,776 available seats in 2005 to 193,599,965 available seats in 2014.  This represents a growth of 113.0 per cent across the period, an average annual increase of 12.6 per cent.  In the past year capacity increased 10.9 per cent.

Top Ten Airlines in the Middle East Market (2014)

No discussion on global aviation can take place without mention of the growing Gulf hub carriers. This analysis clearly highlights their rise over the past couple of decades but also notes the important role that other airlines in the region play in terms of local, international and intercontinental connectivity.

Although United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrier Emirates Airlines is the largest operator in the Middle East by departure seats within and from the region, it only took that position in 2013 after overtaking Saudi Arabian national carrier, Saudia, for a long-time the leading carrier in the Middle East thanks to a monopoly position in its home market.

Emirates in 2014 had a 16.4 per cent share of departure seats within and from the Middle East, up from 14.1 per cent in 2010, offering over 31 million seats within and from the region. Saudia remains an important player in the local market with a 14.7 per cent share, while Qatar Airways (10.0 per cent) and Etihad Airways (5.9 per cent) follow in third and fourth positions.

The ‘big four’ network carriers hold a 46.9 per cent share of departure seats within and from the region, and although they continues to grow, they are seeing increasing competition from low-cost carriers in the area, most notably flydubai (4.4 per cent capacity share; up from 1.6 per cent in 2010), Air Arabia (3.0 per cent capacity share; up from 2.6 per cent in 2010) and NasAir (2.9 per cent capacity share; up from 1.7 per cent in 2010).

Fastest Growing Airlines in the Middle East Market (2010-2014)

Looking at capacity data in the region across a five year period the growing role of low-cost carriers in the region is clear to see. Our analysis shows that although the region’s ‘big four’ airlines – Emirates Airline, Saudia, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways – are all ranked within the top ten fastest growing airlines within the region’s top twenty operators by departure capacity within and from the Middle East, two of the region’s biggest low-cost carriers lead the way as they adapt the LCC model to meet local market demands.

UAE carrier flydubai has grown capacity by the biggest margin with capacity more than trebling between 2010 and 2014, rising by 251.1 per cent from 2.4 million seats to over 8.5 million. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian operator NasAir more than doubled its capacity across the period, a rise of 118.1 per cent from 2.5 million seats in 2010 to 5.6 million in 2014.

Notable growth during this timescale was also recorded by Turkish Airlines (up 105.6 per cent) as its continued network growth has seen strong development in the Middle East. Other carriers from outside the region that have grown in the Middle East between 2010 and 2014 include Jet Airways (up 94.5 per cent) and EgyptAir (up 28.2 per cent).

Only three airlines among the top 20 operators within and from the Middle East reported capacity declines between 2010 and 2014: at Iran Air capacity fell by a third (down 33.3 per cent), while Kuwait Airways (down 6.6 per cent) and Gulf Air (down 4.0 per cent) also reported departure seats reductions within and from the Middle East.

Data comparison between 2013 and 2014 shows that although the big hub carriers are continuing their significant growth, it is some of the region’s smaller operators, low-cost carriers and airlines from outside of the Middle East that recorded the strongest capacity gains last year.

It was the ‘new’ Iraqi Airways that had the largest rise in departure seats within and from the Middle East between 2013 and 2014, although this data is skewed by the fact it only launched operations in its current form the previous year. The airline reported a massive 589.9 per cent increase in departure seats in the area from just over 550,000 in 2013 to over 3.8 milliion in 2014.

The airline that showed the second largest growth in departure seats within and from the Middle East in 2014 was Iranian carrier Kish Air as it boosted its domestic activity and flights in and out of Dubai. The carrier added five more points in the Middle East to its network in 2014 and its rapid growth between 2013 and 2014 followed a significant downsizing between 2011 and 2013. Its capacity offering in the region in 2014 was up 262.3 per cent versus 2013 and despite the reduction the previous years was still almost double that of 2010.

Saudi Arabian carrier NasAir and Indian operator Jet Airways both increased capacity by more than a third between 2013 and 2014 with rises of 39.5 per cent and 37.2 per cent, the latter boosted by the ethnic traffic between India and the Gulf nations and its new equity arrangement with Etihad Airways.

Double-digit year-on-year growth was also reported in 2014 by Etihad Airways (up 20.5 per cent), Turkish Airlines (up 18.2 per cent), Qatar Airways (up 15.9 per cent) a restructured Gulf Air (14.3 per cent) and Air Arabia (up 10 per cent).

Only three of the area’s top twenty airlines by departure seat capacity in 2014 reported declines in their offering within and from the region versus 2013. These comprised: Iran Air (down 12.2 per cent), Oman Air (down 2.6 per cent) and Iran Aseman Airlines (down 1.4 per cent).

Scheduled Middle East Capacity by Aircraft Type

The chart below shows which aircraft types were most prevalent in the Middle East market during 2014. The schedule data shows that although Airbus A320 Family member aircraft hold the strongest position in the region the networks of many of its larger airlines and their hub models mean that widebodied aircraft play a more notable role than in other parts of the world.

The Airbus A320 (320) is the most widely used aircraft type in this market with a 23.5 per cent share of available seats with overall network capacity increasing by 9.3 per cent between 2013 and 2014 to just over 45 million departure seats.

The second most utilised aircraft type in this market is the older Boeing 777-300ER (77W) with an 11.8 per cent share, up 19.0 per cent in 2014, while the third most widely operated type by network capacity is the Airbus A321 (321) with a 7.1 per cent share, up 10.7 per cent, followed by the Boeing 737-800 (73H) with a 5.8 per cent share, up 7.8 per cent.

The biggest rise in annual capacity among the top ten aircraft types in the Middle East was recorded by the Airbus A380 (388) with a 51.2 per cent rise in available seats in 2014 versus 2013 as UAE carrier Emirates Airlines has boosted its fleet of the type and deployed them on more routes from Dubai International Airport.

Only two of the ten aircraft types most prevalent in the Middle East witnessed a decline in usage in 2014 versus 2013. These were recorded by the Fokker 100 (100) with a fall of 10.0 per cent versus 2013 and the Boeing 777-200 (772) with a decline in seats of 9.6 per cent.

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