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Aviation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is dominated by the national carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines, which once enjoyed monopoly status. However, more recently the sector has been opened to competition with the entrance of two privately owned LCCs Sama Airlines and NAS Air. The country’s main international gateway is the Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport, which is also the major hub for Saudi Arabian airlines.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible for regulating the country’s aviation sector while also providing air navigation services.
Airports in Saudi Arabia
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Emirates Airline carried 15% additional passengers in the first half of 2013/2014 compared to a year ago. The growth in volume has been led by Europe and the Middle East while Australia has seen the highest percentage growth. Saudi Arabia, the UK and Thailand have received some of the largest capacity injections. India and the UK remain Emirates' two largest markets based on seat capacity, but Saudi Arabia has overtaken Germany as the third-largest while Australia overtook the US, and Thailand overtook South Africa.
In terms of the rate of growth, the standouts were Portugal, Vietnam and Zambia – all with 100%-plus growth, albeit from a low base. But Emirates saw 40-50% growth in seven other countries, including Australia, Saudi Arabia and France.
Overall, 15% passenger growth and 16% capacity growth for an airline the size of Emirates is a considerable achievement. Full year capacity growth, however, is likely to be closer to 12%, making 2013/2014 one of the slower years at Emirates in recent times. Asia will be the largest market for growth, followed by Europe and the Middle East.
Regional political uncertainty and social turmoil have not been able to stop low-cost carriers in the Middle East from reporting another profitable six months. Two of the region’s key privately owned LCCs, the Sharjah-based Air Arabia and the Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways, have both posted strong profits in 1H2013.
In addition to this, the region’s other two LCCs, the privately owned nasair and the emirate of Dubai-controlled flydubai are anticipating profitable full year results. flydubai reported a maiden profit in 2012 and is looking to continue this momentum into 2013.
nasair has not yet reported a break-even year, despite being launched in 2007, but a restructuring in late 2012 has already seen the carrier reporting profits on a monthly basis.
For all of its strengths, one market the global powerhouse Emirates does not facilitate well is intra-Gulf travel. It may have about half of the Dubai-Jeddah market, for example, but a passenger wanting to travel in the six hour period between 10:25 and 16:15 will be found wanting. Emirates concentrates capacity on routes conducive to its global network, so a 777-300ER departs Dubai at 01:55 and arrives in Jeddah at 03:40. Competitors offer higher frequency, partially facilitated by having narrowbody aircraft, which Emirates does not. But such flights on competitors can be a challenge for profitability.
The solution for Emirates' shareholders was the hybrid LCC flydubai. Run independently of Emirates, flydubai has numerous flights within an hour of Emirates. Yet flydubai has carved its own niche, not only serving routes Emirates does not (largely due to the latter's widebody-only fleet), but interlining with Emirates in a hybrid move that enhances both carriers' networks.
The ties with Emirates, and flydubai's overall hybridity, will be enhanced now that the carrier will add to its previous all-economy configuration a business class – with warm meals and soon a lounge. No doubt there is demand for a premium product in thin but high value routes, as well as those fed from Emirates.
nasair has long been the junior partner in the Saudi Arabian aviation market, but five years into operations its fortunes have begun to change. In 3Q2012, the airline reported its first-ever quarterly profit. It also managed to breakeven in the final quarter of the year, ending 2012 with a small loss. Load factors have hit a record 75% and nasair has turned its operational performance around to generate more revenue.
With the improving financial momentum and promising passenger traffic, the carrier is optimistic about its prospects for 2013. Sulaiman Al-Hamdan, Group CEO of NAS Holding – the parent of nasair – has announced the carrier is targeting a 50% increase in passenger traffic for 2013. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the carrier is also targeting a 100% increase in revenue and its first ever full-year profit.
EgyptAir continues to make massive losses as the carrier and Egypt struggle to recover from the Jan-2011 revolution which resulted in the airline moving into crisis mode for two months when it was forced to temporarily ground up to 40% of its fleet and as 80% of revenue evaporated.
Egypt’s Minister of Civil Aviation Wael al-Maddawy reportedly told the Shura Council Transportation Committee in Mar-2013 that losses at the national carrier had reached more than EGP6 billion (USD885 million) since the revolution. EgyptAir is yet to publicly release its annual report for FY2012 which ended 30-Jun-2012, but Mr Maddawy said EGP650 million (USD95.7 million) of the losses were due to the weakening of the EGP to the USD.
“EgyptAir’s losses are huge, but not catastrophic, [as they won’t] lead to the closure or selling of the company,” Mr Maddawy said. The carrier is burdened with 32,000 employees, when it needs just 12,000 to operate the carrier. Some 20,000 more employees than it needs. However, the carrier is prevented from reducing its headcount due to the prevailing social circumstances, according to Mr Maddawy.
Cebu Pacific’s new low-cost long-haul unit plans to initially focus on Middle Eastern and regional markets as it works towards launching services with 436-seat A330-300s by Jul-2013. Dubai will be the Philippine carrier’s first long-haul route and will likely be followed by service to Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 2014. But Cebu Pacific over the medium to long-term also aims to use its new fleet of A330s to serve Australia and potentially Hawaii.
Cebu Pacific will become Asia’s fourth low-cost long-haul carrier, joining Jetstar, AirAsia X and Scoot. But Cebu Pacific is implementing a different strategy with an all-economy product and focus on point-to-point traffic. This reflects the different dynamics of the Philippine market, particularly its large overseas population.