Just nine new routes so far in 2008 from the Middle East’s “Big 3”; none to Western Europe

Image: Great Airline hubs of the world
Today’s word is MEB3 (“Middle East Big 3”). None of the carriers has dropped any routes during 2008 (although there were no new services to Western Europe). The MEB3 also kept Airbus and Boeing sales people busy in 2008 – each new aircraft potentially represents a new daily route given the typical sector lengths of these airlines; Etihad ordered more than 200 units in July alone!
Image: Qatar Airways executives cut a cake at a welcoming ceremony at Baiyun International Airport
Qatar Airways launched Guangzhou services on 31 March. Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker, centre, and Guangzhou Baiyun Airport Management President Liu Zijing, right, cut a ceremonial cake at a welcoming ceremony.

The “Middle East Big 3” (MEB3) airlines of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have continued to keep Airbus and Boeing sales people busy in 2008 as they placed further orders to expand their already sizable fleets.

Each new aircraft represents potentially a new daily route given the typical sector lengths of these airlines. In contrast, when Ryanair receives a new 737-800 it typically will need to find around eight new routes for the aircraft to serve given the shorter sector lengths (typically three to four return trips per day) and lower average frequency (between three and four weekly flights).

So far none of the MEB3 airlines has revealed plans to axe routes or reduce frequencies as a result of the industry’s current problems. However, capacity growth planned for 2009 may be reigned in a little.

Just nine new routes in 2008 so far; five more planned before year-end

Image: The Los Angeles Emirates Roadshow, held on the lot of Paramount Studios
Emirates held a series of Roadshows in June to promote its non-stop services from Dubai to Los Angeles and San Francisco, which begin on 1 October and 15 December respectively. The Los Angeles Roadshow (pictured) was held on the lot of Paramount Studios.

In 2008, so far, the MEB3 airlines have launched just nine new non-stop routes from their bases. Emirates has increased its non-stop destinations from 80 to 83 with Los Angeles and San Francisco both scheduled to start before year end. Qatar Airways has increased its non-stop destinations from 71 to 73 and will add Houston in November. It will also serve Newark non-stop for the first time from 26 October. The airport is currently served via Geneva. Finally Etihad has grown its network of non-stop destinations from 43 to 47, with Almaty and Moscow planned to start in December.

Airline New non-stop routes started in 2008 (Frequencies per week, start date)
Emirates Cape Town (7, 30 March), Guangzhou (6, 1 July), Kozhikode (6, 1 July), Los Angeles (7, 1 October), San Francisco (7, 15 December)
Qatar Airways Guangzhou (5, 31 March), Houston (3, 10 November), Kozhikode (7, 16 June), New York Newark (7, 26 October)
Etihad Almaty (4, 2 December), Beijing (4, 30 March), Chennai (7, 1 August), Kozhikode (7, 1 August), Minsk (2, 5 August), Moscow Domodedovo (4, 1 December)
Source: Airline press releases
Image: Qatar Airways traditional Pookkalam ceremony celebrating the arrival of inaugural flight to Kozhikode
Dignitaries take part in the traditional Pookkalam ceremony celebrating the arrival of Qatar Airways’ inaugural flight to Kozhikode.

Curiously all three carriers began flights to Kozhikode (Calicut) in India this year. New routes to Western Europe are conspicuous by their absence. None of the carriers have dropped any routes during 2008.

Each of the MEB3 airlines is dominant at its home airport with over 50% of scheduled capacity. While Emirates has increased its share at Dubai since January, Etihad and Qatar Airways have seen small declines in their market share at their base airports.

Airline (Airport) Frequency share
January 2008
Frequency share
September 2008
Second biggest carrier
(Freq share Sep 08)
Emirates (DXB) 53.1% 56.9% Qatar Airways (2.3%)
Qatar Airways (DOH) 77.0% 74.4% Emirates (3.9%)
Etihad (AUH) 69.6% 68.3% Qatar Airways (3.3%)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 1 September 2008

Emirates has most ‘monopoly’ routes

Image: Etihad Airways launched a twice-weekly service to Minsk
Etihad Airways became the first airline from the Gulf region to fly to Belarus when it launched a twice-weekly service to Minsk on 5 August.

Each of the MEB3 airlines offers flights to destinations not served by either of its rivals. Etihad’s recent launch of flights to Minsk in Belarus is only its third ‘monopoly’ route joining Brussels and Dublin.

Airline Destinations not served non-stop by other MEB3 airlines
Emirates (19) Accra, Addis Ababa, Bangalore, Birmingham, Cape Town, Dűsseldorf, Glasgow, Hamburg, Houston, Kolkata, Larnaca, Mauritius, Melbourne, Nagoya, Newcastle, Perth, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Venice
Qatar Airways (11) Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Berlin Tegel, Cebu, Ho Chi Minh, Luxor, Madrid, Mashad, Nagpur, Stockholm, Washington Dulles
Etihad (3) Brussels, Dublin, Minsk
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 1 September 2008

Emirates operates a total of 19 ‘monopoly’ routes while Qatar Airways manages to find 11 destinations not served by either Emirates or Etihad.

Image: Emirates launched a six-times weekly Dubai
Emirates launched a six-times weekly Dubai – Guangzhou service on 1 July. Guangzhou is the airline’s fourth destination in China and increases its weekly frequency to the country to 48 flights.

Bahrain beats Heathrow for most flights with MEB3 airlines

Image: Middle East spreadsheet screenshot
Download spreadsheet: Middle East Hub Comparison

Combining weekly frequencies across all MEB3 airlines reveals that Bahrain with 81 weekly departures just beats London Heathrow (80) for most services. Kuwait, Bangkok and Muscat each have 50 or more weekly departures.

A total of 100 destinations are served non-stop by these three carriers, while several other destinations (notably in New Zealand) are served via intermediate points. Brisbane is served by both Emirates and Etihad via Sydney. Between January and September 2008 the number of weekly departures from their bases has increased by 8.7% for Emirates at Dubai, 4.4% for Qatar Airways at Doha and 8.0% for Etihad at Abu Dhabi.


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