Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways plan 21 new routes in 2014; focus on Europe and US

The “MEB3” airlines are the Middle East Big 3: Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. Of the 21 new MEB3 routes announced for 2014 seven are to Europe, six to the USA, three (each) in Asia and the Middle East, and two in Africa. Ghidorah, was the three-headed monster from the 1964 Godzilla movie “Three Giant Monsters: Earth’s Greatest Battle.” (Now we all know.)

Much to the consternation of some major airlines (especially in Europe) the route networks and fleets of the so-called ‘MEB3’ carriers continues to grow. This week anna.aero takes a closer look at how those networks have grown by geographic region over the last decade. However, before examining the networks in detail here are a few statistics to keep in mind:

  • According to Innovata / Diio Mi schedule data for April 2014 (the last month before runway works at Dubai’s main airport will disrupt Emirates’ operations for up to three months), Emirates will operate 27% more flights than Qatar Airways, and 115% more flights than Etihad Airways.
  • In terms of weekly seats, Emirates’ advantage over Qatar Airways in April 2014 is 116% and 278% over Etihad. This reflects the fact that Emirates operates an all widebody fleet, while both Qatar Airways and Etihad operate a significant number of narrowbody aircraft. Another way of looking at this is that in terms of weekly seats Emirates is 37% bigger than Qatar Airways and Etihad combined.
  • If measured by ASKs (Available Seat Kilometres), which also takes into account sector length, Emirates’ advantage over Qatar Airways is now 168%, and over Etihad the advantage is 276%. Measured by ASKs Emirates is 57% bigger than Qatar Airways and Etihad combined.

Qatar Airways and Emirates battle for most destinations

As can be seen from the following graph, in terms of destinations served (either non-stop from their hubs, or via an intermediate stop), Qatar Airways caught Emirates in 2011, and since then the two carriers have been evenly matched, adding around 30 destinations each in the last three years. Since 2006, Etihad has grown its network by the same number of destinations (50) as Emirates, though in the same period Qatar Airways has grown its passenger network by 64 destinations.

Chart: MEB3 routes - globally - Destinations served

Source: Innovata / Diio Mi for July of each year.

Etihad focuses on Asian network expansion

Looking at the number of destinations served in Asia (which includes Australasia) reveals that Etihad has grown the fastest since 2006, with over half of its network growth being to destinations in this part of the world. Qatar Airways overtook Emirates in 2010 and continues to serve more destinations in this region than its Dubai-based rival, though the gap has closed in the last two years.

Chart: MEB3 routes to Asia/Pacific - Destinations served

Source: Innovata / Diio Mi for July of each year.

Emirates touches down in Taipei Taoyuan

Emirates’ newest destination was launched this week, to Taipei Taoyuan Airport in Taiwan. It is the first of only three new MEB3 routes to Asian destinations that have so far been revealed as starting in 2014. The other two are Etihad Airways’ new services to Jaipur and Perth, which are scheduled to start in April and July respectively.

Emirates and Qatar Airways dominate in Europe

Since 2009, when Etihad was serving only three fewer European destinations than Qatar Airways, the airline has lost ground in this market to its two bigger rivals. This may explain its decision to invest in airberlin, as well as Air Serbia, and to ‘create’ Etihad Regional, with its Swiss partner Darwin Airline. Emirates continues to hold a narrow lead over Qatar Airways when it comes to European destinations served, having added Stockholm Arlanda and Warsaw Chopin in 2013.

Chart: MEB3 routes to Europe - Destinations served

Source: Innovata / Diio Mi for July of each year.

Qatar Airways dominates regional markets

After a long period of adding no new destinations within the Middle East, Qatar Airways will have added 11 new ones in the space of four years by this summer. During 2013, the airline added three new destinations in Iraq, two in Saudi Arabia and Salalah in Oman.

Chart: MEB3 routes within the Middle East - Destinations served

Source: Innovata / Diio Mi for July of each year.

African networks growing slowly

The African networks of the MEB3 carriers have grown only modestly in recent years. In September, Qatar Airways added Addis Ababa to its network, but dropped flights to the Seychelles at the same time, and no longer serves Benghazi either. Emirates added Conakry in Guinea to its network last October with four weekly flights.

Chart: MEB3 routes to Africa - Destinations served

Source: Innovata / Diio Mi for July of each year.

US being targeted for growth

In 2005, Emirates was the only one of the MEB3 serving anywhere in North (or South) America, operating daily flights to New York JFK. This summer, Emirates will serve 12 destinations in the Americas (eight in the US plus Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Toronto), Qatar Airways will serve 10 (seven in the US plus Buenos Aires, Montreal and Sao Paulo), while Etihad will serve six (four in the US plus Sao Paulo and Toronto).

Chart: MEB3 routes to the Americas - Destinations served

Source: Innovata / Diio Mi for July of each year.

Over 20 new routes planned for 2014 so far – Europe and US dominate

This week saw the launch of Emirates’ latest destination in Asia, Taipei Taoyuan. The following table summarises the new destinations each of the MEB3 carriers is planning to add this year, some of which have already started. Of the 21 new routes planned seven are in Europe, six in the USA, three each in Asia and the Middle East, and just two in Africa.

Region Emirates (DXB) Qatar Airways (DOH) Etihad Airways (AUH)
Africa Abuja (ABV) [1 Aug]
Kano (KAN) [1 Aug]
Americas Boston (BOS) [10 Mar] Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) [1 Jul]
Miami (MIA) [10 Jun]
Philadelphia (PHL) [2 Apr]
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) [3 Dec]
Los Angeles (LAX) [1 Jun]
Asia Taipei Taoyuan (TPE) [10 Feb] Jaipur (JAI) [1 Apr]
Perth (PER) [15 Jul]
Europe Kiev Boryspil (KBP) [16 Jan] Edinburgh (EDI) [28 May]
Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (SAW) [22 May]
Larnaca (LCY) [29 Apr]
Rome Fiumicino (FCO) [15 Jul]
Yerevan (EVN) [2 Jul]
Zurich (ZRH) [1 Jun]
Middle East Dubai Al Maktoum (DWC) [1 Mar]
Sharjah (SHJ) [1 Mar]
Madinah (MED) [1 Feb]
Source: anna.aero new routes database.


  1. Chris says:

    It will be interesting to see whether any other ME airline such as Qatar or Etihad follows Emirates to Boston, or if they’ll have Logan all to themselves.

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