The great ‘MEB3’ analysis: Emirates, Etihad, Qatar networks and fleets compared

Featured launches: Emirates’ Dubai-Prague July 2010, Qatar Airways’ Doha-São Paulo-Buenos Aires June 2010, Etihad’s Abu Dhabi-Baghdad April 2010, Emirates’ Dubai-Dakar September 2010, and Emirates’ Dubai-Houston December 2007

We’re not too big on jargon at, but we did invent the industry term ‘MEB3’ to define the ‘Middle East Big 3’ of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. With their home hub airports located in very close proximity to each other, the general perception among their managements, passengers, and for that matter the many airports that would like their services, is that all three are trying to offer the same basic proposition: global connections via a convenient hub. Most industry observers are aware that in terms of size, there is a clear pecking order; Emirates is the biggest, followed by Qatar Airways and then Etihad (which only began operations as recently as November 2003).

Emirates’ fleet has 60% more seats than Etihad and Qatar Airways combined

An analysis of the passenger aircraft fleets for all three carriers reveals several interesting points:

  • Emirates still has more passenger aircraft (147) than Qatar Airways and Etihad combined (138).
  • Emirates only operates widebody aircraft, while Qatar Airways and Etihad both operate Airbus A320-series aircraft that currently comprise 36% of Qatar Airways’ fleet and 28% of Etihad’s fleet.
  • The average number of seats on an Emirates aircraft is just over 350 (in part thanks to being the only one of the three operating the A380 at present), while for both Qatar Airways and Etihad the figure is just over 230.
  • The total fleet seat capacity of Emirates is almost 60% greater than that of Qatar Airways and Etihad combined.

The table below summarises the fleets of all three airlines, listing the number of aircraft of each type and the upper and lower limit of the number of seats in each aircraft type.

Aircraft Type Emirates Qatar Airways Etihad
Airbus A319-100LR 2 (110) 2 (110)
Airbus A320-200 17 (144) 13 (136-164)
Airbus A321-200 12 (177)
Airbus A330-200 28 (237-278) 16 (228-272) 18 (200-262)
Airbus A330-300 13 (259-305) 3 (203)
Airbus A340-300 8 (267)
Airbus A340-500 10 (258) 4 (240)
Airbus A340-600 4 (306) 7 (292)
Airbus A380 15 (489-517)
Boeing 777-200/ER/LR 21 (266-290) 8 (259)
Boeing 777-300/ER 65 (358-442) 13 (335) 6 (412)
Total 147 85 53

As is well documented, all three carriers have extensive orders placed with both Airbus and Boeing. Here as well, Emirates has the most aircraft on order (still only widebody aircraft), followed by Qatar Airways and Etihad. All three carriers have major orders for the still unbuilt Airbus A350 series of aircraft, and across all three airlines, around two-thirds of the 430 or so ordered aircraft will be delivered by Airbus.

Asia leads Europe in terms of weekly seat capacity

Analysis of the networks for all three carriers reveals how focused the carriers are on different regions of the world. Looking at weekly departing seat capacity by geographic region (but excluding departing capacity from each airline’s home base) reveals that all three carriers have most seat capacity assigned to routes in Asia.

Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 February 2011

Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 February 2011

Other observations include:

  • For Emirates, Europe is the second biggest region, but for Qatar Airways and Etihad, the Middle East takes second place.
  • The Middle East region (and the much smaller Latin American region), are the only ones where the combined weekly seat capacity of Qatar Airways and Etihad is greater than Emirates.
  • Emirates’ weekly seat capacity is around 40% higher than Qatar Airways and Etihad combined. This is less than the 60% difference in total fleet seat size as Qatar Airways and Etihad both operate more regional (shorter sector) services as a proportion of their total network.
  • Asian route capacity accounts for between 34% and 37% on all three carriers’ networks.
  • European routes represent between 22% and 23% of each carrier’s total weekly seat capacity.
  • African routes represent between 8% and 12% of each carrier’s total weekly seat capacity.
  • North American routes only represent between 3% and 5% of each carrier’s weekly seat capacity.

Qatar Airways planning five more new routes this year

In terms of new routes announced for the rest of the year, Qatar Airways leads the way with five; Stuttgart (6 March), Aleppo (6 April), Shiraz (5 June), Venice (15 June) and Montreal (some time in June). Aleppo in Syria will notably become the carrier’s 100th destination. Already since the beginning of the year, Qatar Airways has launched new services to Bucharest, Budapest and Brussels.

Emirates has currently revealed plans for just two more new routes this year. Both are in Europe, with Geneva starting on 1 June and Copenhagen on 1 August. At present, Etihad has not revealed any further new routes for 2011, with Bangalore/Bengaluru its last route launch on 1 January.


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