MEB3 in Europe +360% since 2005: Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways now serve 48 airports in 28 countries

world hub domination dubai istanbul shanghai

Even in their wildest dreams did anybody really ever really think that world hub domination would emerge from the backwaters of Dubai, Istanbul or Shanghai? It just goes to show that, whatever the analysts think, nobody really has a clue what’s around the corner in 2035…maybe a south Atlantic global mega-hub at the new Saint Helena Airport (HLE)?

Apparently under pressure from the French and German transport ministers, the European Commission is considering whether or not to use the next round of commercial aviation agreements with Qatar and the UAE to tackle the alleged subsidies to the global carriers in those countries, namely Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. Emirates has already responded by writing to several governments with its views. Needless to say, as in the US, the matter is likely to rumble on for some time.

Fourfold increase in capacity in 10 years

This week looks in more detail at the development over the last decade of operations by the MEB3 carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways) into Europe, from their bases in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. All three carriers have seen the number of annual flights to Europe grow every year without fail, even during those years of economic recession in Europe. Between 2005 and 2015 both Emirates and Qatar Airways have increased their annual flights by just over 14,000, while Etihad has increased its flights by almost 9,000. The smallest of the three carriers, Etihad in 2015 operated around the same number of flights to Europe as Emirates did in 2006.

meb3 carriers annual flights routes europe -2005-2015

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

When measured by seat capacity, Emirates’ dominance over its two rivals is clearer to see, with the Dubai-based carrier operating only wide-body aircraft, while Qatar Airways and Etihad use a mix of narrow-body and wide-body aircraft. With its impressive fleet of A380s, Emirates has seen its average aircraft size on European routes increase by 118 seats from 281 in 2005 to 399 in 2015. Qatar Airways has grown its average aircraft size by just 35 seats from 216 to 251 during the same period, while Etihad’s average aircraft size stands at 274 seats in 2015, up 40 from the 234 seats recorded in 2005. As a result, Emirates in 2015 offers 29% more seats on routes to Europe than Qatar Airways and Etihad combined.

meb3 carriers annual seats one way routes europe 2005-2015

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

Comparing 2015 with 2005 the number of arriving flights across all three carriers has grown by 270% from just under 14,000 to 51,500 in 2015. Thanks to the increase in average aircraft size the volume of annual arriving seats offered has risen by 360% from 3.6 million to 16.7 million.

UK is leading European country market

A closer look at which European country markets are best served by the MEB3 carriers reveals that, unsurprisingly, the UK leads the way, with 88% more seats offered in 2015 than the next biggest market, Germany. Since 2005, the UK has seen an increase of over 2.6 million annual one-way seats. The German market, with an additional 1.7 million seats, has seen more growth than Italy (1.5 million more seats) and France (1.2 million more seats) during the last decade.

As a result of the enormous growth in the UK market, UK CAA statistics for 2014 show that Dubai is now the third busiest international route from the UK with 5.2 million passengers, beaten only by Amsterdam (8.2 million) and Dublin (7.8 million). Doha ranks 41st from the UK with 1.2 million passengers, while Abu Dhabi ranks 52nd, with just over one million annual passengers.

meb3 carriers top 6 european markets annual seats one way routes europe 2005-2015

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

Up until 2008, France was the third biggest county market in Europe but it has now been overtaken by Italy. In 2013 Switzerland, which had been the fifth biggest country market was overtaken by Spain, which had virtually no MEB3 flights back in 2005.

Serving 48 airports in 28 European countries

All three carriers have added European destinations in the last two years. Since the beginning of 2014 Emirates has introduced service to Bologna (November 2015), Brussels (September 2014), Budapest (October 2014) and Oslo (September 2014). Qatar Airways has added Amsterdam (June 2015), Edinburgh (May 2014), Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (May 2014) and Larnaca (April 2014), while Etihad has added Edinburgh (June 2015), Madrid (March 2015), Rome Fiumicino (July 2014) and Zurich (June 2014).

bologna italy 47th european airport served meb3 carriers emirates

On 3 November Bologna in Italy became the 47th European airport to be served by at least one of the MEB3 carriers, in this case, Emirates. Celebrating the launch in front of a packed audience were: Mr. Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna; Mr. Thierry Antinori, VP and CCO, Emirates; and Mr. Enrico Postacchini, President, Bologna Airport. Bologna became the fourth Italian airport to be served by the MEB3 carriers. Only Germany (with five airports) and the UK (seven airports) have more cities connected to MEB3 hubs.

Using OAG Schedules Analyser data for week commencing 17 November 2015 shows that the MEB3 carriers now operate to 48 airports in Europe spread across 28 countries. Of the 48 airports, 16 are served by all three carriers while a further 11 are served by two of them. In eight countries more than one airport is served, with the UK leading the way thanks to services from a total of seven airports, two more than are served in Germany. Italy recently went from three airports to four with the launch of Emirates flights to Bologna. While many EU member states are served by the MEB3 carriers, some are not. At present there are no flights by these carriers to Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia or Slovenia.

Country Airport Emirates Qatar Airways Etihad Airways
Austria Vienna (VIE) 14 7
Azerbaijan Baku (GYD) 7
Belarus Minsk (MSQ) 7
Belgium Brussels (BRU) 7 7 8
Bulgaria Sofia (SOF) 7
Croatia Zagreb (ZAG) 7
Cyprus Larnaca (LCA) 7 7 3
Czech Republic Prague (PRG) 7
Denmark Copenhagen (CPH) 7 11
France Paris (CDG) 20 21 14
Lyon (LYS) 5
Nice (NCE) 7
Germany Berlin (TXL) 7
Düsseldorf (DUS) 14 7
Frankfurt (FRA) 21 14 14
Hamburg (HAM) 14
Munich (MUC) 14 14 14
Greece Athens (ATH) 7 21 7
Hungary Budapest (BUD) 7 7
Ireland Dublin (DUB) 14 14
Italy Bologna (BLQ) 7
Rome (FCO) 21 14 7
Milan (MXP) 21 14 7
Venice (VCE) 7 7
Netherlands Amsterdam (AMS) 14 7 7
Norway Oslo (OSL) 6 7
Poland Warsaw (WAW) 7 7
Portugal Lisbon (LIS) 7
Romania Bucharest (OTP) 7
Russia Moscow (DME) 14 14 7
St Petersburg (LED) 6
Serbia Belgrade (BEG) 7
Spain Barcelona (BCN) 14 14
Madrid (MAD) 14 14 4
Sweden Stockholm (ARN) 7 10
Switzerland Geneva (GVA) 7 7 7
Zurich (ZRH) 14 7 7
Turkey Ankara (ESB) 7
Istanbul (IST) 11 10 5
Istanbul (SAW) 14
UK Birmingham (BHX) 21
Edinburgh (EDI) 7 5
Glasgow (GLA) 14
London (LGW) 21
London (LHR) 35 42 21
Manchester (MAN) 21 14 14
Newcastle (NCL) 7
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser for w/c 17 November 2015.
In addition Malta (MLA) is served daily by Emirates via Larnaca.

Birmingham and London Gatwick are the only airports served by just one of the carriers, with as many as three daily flights. This will soon change as Qatar Airways has announced plans to serve Birmingham from the end of March 2016. In addition, Emirates will join Qatar Airways in serving Istanbul’s second airport at Sabiha Gökçen from mid-December.

Connecting the world

While Dubai in particular has become a destination in its own right, it should be remembered that the majority of passengers on these airlines are using Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai as hubs to get from where they are to where they want to be. European cities clearly generate a lot of outbound traffic to destinations across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, as well being destinations for passengers originating in those parts of the globe.

Edinburgh is the only European destination to be launched by two of the MEB3 carriers in the last two years; Qatar Airways arrived in May 2014 with Etihad Airways following in June 2015. Edinburgh is also the only European destination served by both of these carriers and not served by Emirates.


  1. Philip Lingard says:

    Contrary to your article, Malta has a daily Emirates flight.

    Unusual for Anna Aero to make such a mistake!

    • You’re correct Philip. Malta is indeed served by Emirates via Larnaca in Cyprus. Our analysis was looking at destinations served NON-STOP from the three major Middle East hubs, but we should have added a footnote about Malta. Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. Sergey Dobritskiy says:

    LED-EK-DXB six weekly?
    That’s daily service, isn’t it?

  3. Adam Simmons says:

    One of the abiding irritations for those of us living in the Canary Islands is lack of connectivity to anywhere except mainland Spain and Britain. One of your readers mentioned Malta, which as a combined daily flight with Cyprus (combined population of 1.3 million). In the Canaries, our total population is 2.1 million, so it beggars belief that none of the MEB3 carriers sees fit to serve Las Palmas or Tenerife! Still, we live in hope……

Comments are closed