Gulf carriers making a killing on long-haul routes

Number of flights from Mideast to US double in four years

Middle Eastern airlines, particularly those from the Gulf region, are giving tough times to their European and American rivals on long-haul flights by increasing their market share and crossing the million mark in 2009.

The US Government statistics showed that the number of directly non-stop flights from the Middle East jumped from 554, 031 in 2005 to 1,210,650 in 2009, an increase of 118.5 per cent or an addition of 656,619 new flights during the period.

The number of non-stop flights directly to US from the Middle East have also more than doubled over the last four years.

According to US Government data, the number of non-stop flights from the Middle East to the US reached 1.2 million last year from 858,952 flights in the previous year, an increase of 41 per cent.

The growth in direct flights peaked in 2008 when it grew by record 45 per cent over the previous year, the statistics by the US government showed.

The government has projected that the growth in the number of flights is expected to slow this year to 35 per cent. “The growth for 2010 is in excess of 35 per cent and new flights continue to appear. Emirates will soon begin double-daily to Los Angeles. These flights are capturing travellers to points like India who previously routed via Asia or Europe,” the US Government said.

“The most dramatic gains are seen in the Middle East and Africa, where non-stop flights have proliferated in recent years, providing new connecting hubs and draining traffic from traditional European routings,” the US Government report said.

In 2005, the Gulf carriers – Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Gulf Air and others – was very limited by expansion has more than doubled the number of passengers connecting in the region for destinations in Africa, Asia and other points in the Middle East.

The statistics showed that shifting travel patterns are emerging, as more direct services provide new points of connection for travellers.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Tuesday revised up the regional carriers’ growth forecast on increased market share in long-haul routes. “Middle Eastern airlines have benefitted from strong regional economies and an expanded share of long-haul markets,” it said..

Emirates now operates five flights per day to the US – a daily service to Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco and a double daily service to New York JFK.

"Starting October 31st for Los Angeles and November 1st for Houston, Emirates will fly non-stop to both cities twice a day on Boeing 777 aircraft. We will also reinstate our A380 aircraft on to one of our double daily JFK routes from October 31. This will mean that from the November 1st, Emirates will offer over 15,000 seats on 49 one way (or 98 return flights) per week to the United States,” said Nigel Page, Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations for Africa and the Americas.

He said the airline has experienced very strong demand across all of its US gateways this year, including very healthy premium and business traffic. “We are pleased to be able to meet this increased demand with the start of second daily services to both Houston and Los Angeles. Our additional services will provide customers in the Middle East and Asia with even easier access to the largest cities in Texas and California, supporting the burgeoning business and leisure traffic between these markets and the United States,” Page said.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad airline said that US is an important market for the airline is committed to future growth in the region but has no plans to add further services to US destinations over the next few months.

“Etihad focuses on building depth into its network through interline agreements and codeshares with established operators in key markets. Etihad has a strong codeshare agreement with American Airlines – with codeshare services on EY Transatlantic services to Chicago and New York, connecting to a number of cities across the USA including Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. The airlines also cooperate via selected European points through to Dallas, Boston, and Miami,” it said in a statement.

It recently announced 26th codeshare agreement with the Virgin Group – incorporating Virgin Blue, Pacific Blue and V-Australia which operates from Australia into the United States.

“Long haul flights have been very important to Etihad’s operations, and will have a significant impact on our future growth. As an example, Etihad commenced services to the US in October 2006, with daily flights into New York’s JFK Airport. In 2009, we increased our presence in the US when we commenced three weekly flights to Chicago, which increased to daily flights at the beginning of 2010.”

In a statement to Emirates 24/7, the airline said that US passenger services have had a load factor of over 80 per cent on both the New York and Chicago routes – which is a very strong performance for the airline.
In Australia, another important long haul market for Etihad, the airline now operates 21 flights per week, to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, a significant increase from its initial three flights to Sydney in 2007.

Last week, British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh warned European airlines not to underestimate the threat posed by growing carriers in the Middle East.

Walsh said Middle Eastern carriers – including Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways – are capable of transforming long-haul services in a similar to fashion to the revolution seen in low-cost short-haul travel.

“We have been very slow in the UK and in Europe to recognise the new competitive threat,” he said.

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