Exclusive: How The Current Crisis Impacts Middle Eastern Hubs

Airports and carriers in the Middle East are famed for connecting tens of millions of passengers around the world yearly. However, the global health crisis continues to put a massive spanner in the works for hubs across the region. Several of these sites rely primarily on international traffic, but with the ongoing restrictions in place, they have to think of ways to adapt. Simple Flying spoke with OAG senior analyst John Grant about the difficulties these organizations are facing.

Emirates DXB
Emirates and Dubai help connect millions of travelers worldwide. Photo: Dubai Airports

Different impact on different regions

OAG is a world-leading provider of digital flight information, intelligence, and analytics for airports, airlines, and travel tech firms. The company is always looking at patterns across the industry and is heavily relied upon across the market.

Grant highlights particular challenges that hubs and carriers face when it comes to connections, especially in the Middle East. In regions such as North America, hubs facilitate important connections to smaller markets across the vast land. These airports that serve small communities can’t justify having several direct services. Therefore, larger hubs are essential to keep passenger flows going.

These hubs will become an important part of the recovery process for both the local communities and, more importantly, the secondary cities that need to reconnect with the rest of the world. However, the same can’t be said for all hubs across the globe. The big three Middle East hubs of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha have no domestic traffic. They are completely and reliant on international operations.

Notably, just this week, the United Kingdom placed the United Arab Emirates on its red list, subsequently causing Emirates and Etihad to suspend their flights to the country. Following this, Qatar Airways temporarily suspended new bookings from its neighbor, along with South Africa and Rwanda, at the request of the UK.

Qatar Boeing 777-300 Getty
Qatar Airways remains integral for the transportation of passengers during these tough conditions. Photo: Getty Images

A sensitive operation

Grant emphasizes that these airlines and the airports where they are based will continue to face significant challenges amid the current climate. However, not all hubs and carriers in the area will face the same fate.

“If you take Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar – essentially they need to balance the amount of capacity and the amount of traffic they have that is to the left and to the right to their hubs. This is because they need those flows and they need to have to regulate the capacity on both sides of the fulcrum point, so that you don’t end up with an imbalance in your markets and imbalance, with your capacity. So, they are extremely vulnerable to sudden changes, international lockdown, and we’ve seen that with countries in Southeast Asia that have tried to reopen and then suddenly shut down. We’ve seen it in the United Kingdom where they give you 12 hours to get home,” Grant told Simple Flying

“So, I think they will always struggle from that perspective. Now, just slightly north of that, of course, is Istanbul, where they have a very strong international to international connected market, but they also have a very strong domestic market. So, they enjoy the benefit of that domestic point-to-point market, and they enjoy the benefits of the international to international market. This is an opportunity perhaps for Istanbul – to grow back quicker. As it grows back quicker, then, you know, inevitably, that means more people will be flying through the airport.”

Turkish airlines
Along with a great international presence in all directions, Turkish Airlines also had a strong domestic network, but it will still be hoping to get more aircraft off the ground this year.  Photo: Getty Images

The show must go on

Nonetheless, even though Qatar Airways does not have any domestic traffic, it has proved to be extremely helpful over the last year in getting passengers to their destination for essential reasons. People have been able to get home, see their loved ones, and travel for important work thanks to the flag carrier of Qatar, which didn’t stop flying since the pandemic started. However, with sudden and strict measures constantly being introduced by governments across the nations, the airline could also face considerable difficulties depending on the requirements.

Altogether, it will be a while before we start to see a notable shift following the rollout of a vaccine against the virus. Aviation bodies will be keeping a close eye on this progress over the next few months. Either way, stringent restrictions such as outright travel bans can’t go on forever, and there needs to be a safe balance. These Middle Eastern powerhouses will undoubtedly be gearing up for when that time comes.

What are your thoughts about the challenges that these hubs face? How will the situation evolve this year? Let us know what you think in the comment section.