The MEB3 – the Middle East Big 3 airlines – the expression coined by anna.aero to refer to the fast-growing Gulf carriers Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad, continue to grow their market shares globally. In Europe, the MEB3 have collectively grown their seat capacity by 23% in the last year.
At present, already-announced, but yet-to-be-launched European routes are Emirates’ services to Lyon and Warsaw as well as Qatar Airways’ routes to Warsaw and Belgrade (the latter will operate via Turkey’s capital Ankara). A deeper look at the MEB3 airlines’ offered capacity to European countries in February, when these routes will have launched, reveals the three airlines’ European network strategies.
The MEB3 airlines will by then serve 27 European countries in all corners of Europe; ranging from Cyprus and Russia in the east to Portugal and Ireland in the west. Emirates is by far the biggest, offering more than 2.5 times as many seats to European destinations as Qatar Airways, which in its turn is twice as big as Etihad in Europe.
Emirates’ dominates West Europe; Qatar Airways alone in Nordic area
In the UK, the MEB3 airlines’ biggest European market by far, Emirates clearly dominates, offering twice the seat capacity of the other two airlines combined. Even in Germany, where Emirates has had difficulties in gaining access to all destinations it wishes to serve, the airline is the biggest of the MEB3, offering more than three times as many seats as Qatar Airways and four times’ Etihad’s capacity.
Italy stands out for being the MEB3 airlines’ third-biggest European market, in spite of ‘only’ being Europe’s fifth-biggest air transport market behind Spain and France. Italy ranks as #3 for both Emirates and Qatar Airways, while Etihad’s presence is more limited and the country market only is the airline’s sixth-largest in Europe.
The MEB3 airlines’ two smallest Western European markets, Sweden and Norway, are notably only served by Qatar Airways. The Nordic area appears to be part of its strategy, since the airline’s CEO Akbar Al Baker last year informally announced that Finland is on his airline’s horizon with a future Helsinki route.
Meanwhile, Emirates flies to three Western European countries not served by other MEB3 airlines; Malta, Netherlands and Portugal. Etihad’s more careful approach means that it faces competition from at least one other MEB3 carrier in all of its Western European country markets, with Dublin (Ireland) and Brussels (Belgium) being the only two with a single MEB3 competitor.
Qatar Airways offers more Eastern Europe, but Poland to be second-smallest market
Also in Eastern Europe, Emirates offers more capacity in its country markets than its MEB3 competitors. Greece is the only exception; the only European market where Emirates is present but is not the biggest MEB3 airline, as Qatar Airways’ Athens service is offered with higher capacity.
However, although Qatar Airways and Emirates are ‘going to war’ in Poland’s capital, with both airlines having announced new non-stop services from their respective hubs to Warsaw, the Polish market will rank as Qatar Airways’ second-smallest in Europe in terms of seat capacity offered, even smaller than country markets the airline only serves with stopping services, such as Croatia and Bulgaria; only offering more capacity than the airline’s flights to Serbia.
Qatar Airways’ focus on Eastern Europe is clear from the wide number of markets the airline serves in the region. While Emirates and Etihad serve one ‘monopoly’ country market each in the region, the Czech Republic (Prague) and Belarus (Minsk) respectively, Qatar Airways is the only MEB3 airline in five Eastern European country markets; Croatia (Zagreb), Hungary (Budapest), Bulgaria (Sofia), Romania (Bucharest) and Serbia (Belgrade).
Emirates does, however, have an even greater presence in Europe if including its low-cost sister airline flydubai that provides feed to Emirates’ onward network in Dubai. The 737-800 operator serves Ukraine, Russia, Serbia and Turkey in Europe and will launch further (Eastern) European routes this autumn with Bucharest in Romania beginning on 1 October and Skopje in Macedonia on 18 October. Although none of the MEB3 airlines serve Ukraine, the country is notably flydubai’s biggest European market.