Qatar Airways and Emirates leave Etihad Airways behind in network growth race; US, Australia and UK are biggest country markets by ASKs

Qatar Airways leading Emirates for network choice-1

Coming to America. In the last 12 months two further US airports have been added to the networks of the Middle East Big 3 (MEB3) carriers. On 1 September 2015 Emirates began serving Orlando in Florida, while on 1 June 2016 Qatar Airways started serving the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta. Between them the MEB3 carriers now serve 13 airports in the US.

During the last 12 months Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways (the Middle East Big 3 or MEB3 carriers) have continued to grow their networks, though some rather more rapidly than others. Comparing schedule data for early August 2016 with the same period in 2015 reveals the following key statistics:

  • In terms of weekly departures from their home hubs, Emirates has seen growth of 5.5%, Qatar Airways of 16.6% and Etihad of 4.9%.
  • Regarding destinations served non-stop, Qatar Airways has extended its lead over Emirates. The Doha-based carrier now serves 142 destinations non-stop (up from 126 a year ago) compared with 129 for Emirates (up from 121). Etihad has increased its non-stop network by just one, from 87 to 88.
  • Both Etihad and Qatar Airways have seen an increase in average weekly frequency from 11.0 to 11.4 and from 11.9 to 12.3 respectively, while Emirates has seen a slight reduction from 13.9 to 13.7.
  • Route droppings: Emirates has not dropped any services that it was operating last August. However, it did launch flights to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen on 15 December 2015 which were then suspended on 28 July 2016. Qatar Airways suspended flights to Osaka Kansai at the start of S16, while Etihad has dropped flights to Basra (in Iraq) on 24 March 2016 and Yerevan (in Armenia) on 31 August 2015, according to OAG Schedules Analyser.

The following table summarises the new destinations served non-stop by the MEB3 carriers during the last 12 months that are still being served. In some cases it is a matter of resuming services to destinations previously served (such as Baghdad and Erbil) while some routes have been upgraded from a one-stop to a non-stop service, such as Emirates’ service to Auckland.

Emirates (Dubai) Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi) Qatar Airways (Doha)
Auckland (AKL)*
Baghdad (BGW)**
Bologna (BLQ)
Cebu (CEB)
Mashhad (MHD)
Orlando (MCO)
Yangon (RGN)
Yinchuan (INC)
Dar es Salaam (DAR)
Rabat (RBA)
Istanbul (SAW)
Abha (AHB)
Adelaide (ADL)
Atlanta (ATL)
Baghdad (BGW)**
Belgrade (BEG)*
Birmingham (BHX)
Boston (BOS)
Erbil (EBL)**
Los Angeles (LAX)
Maputo (MPM)
Nagpur (NAG)
Pisa (PSA)
Ras Al Khaimah (RKT)
Sulaymaniyah (ISU)**
Sydney (SYD)
Yerevan (EVN)
Zanzibar (ZNZ)
Source:’s New Route Database, OAG Schedules Analyser for w/c 10 August 2015 and w/c 8 August 2016. *Upgraded from one-stop service to non-stop. **Resumption of services.
Bold destinations are airports served non-stop for the first time by any of the MEB3 carriers.

Italy and the US both welcomed a MEB3 carrier for the first time at two airports; Bologna and Pisa in Italy and Atlanta and Orlando in the US. Apart from these new non-stop services, Emirates also began serving Zhengzhou (via Yinchuan), Clark (via Cebu) and Hanoi (via Yangon). Qatar Airways also started one-stop service to Durban (via Johannesburg) and Marrakech (via Casablanca). However, one route that was heavily advertised last year, Emirates’ planned long-haul service to Panama City, failed to launch.

Qatar Airways leading Emirates for network choice

A few months after Etihad Airways withdrew its service to Yerevan in Armenia, Qatar Airways stepped in with its own service. The oneworld carrier began its operation on the Yerevan-Doha route on Monday 16 May operating four times weekly with A320s.

US, Australia and UK are biggest MEB3 markets by ASKs

Analysis of schedule data for all of the MEB3 carriers combined reveals that the leading country market as measured by ASKs (Available Seat Kilometres) is the US, well ahead of Australia and the UK. Since last August, Australia has overtaken the UK for second place. Of the top 15 country markets, five are in Europe (shown in bright green), while six are in Asia. The remaining four country markets are Australia, Brazil, South Africa and the US. Among the top 15 markets, only one (France) has seen a reduction in ASKs in the last 12 months. The fastest-growing country markets are the Philippines, South Africa, Australia and the US.

Qatar Airways leading Emirates for network choice

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser for w/c 1 August 2016 and w/c 3 August 2015.

Since last August the number of country markets served non-stop by MEB3 carriers has risen from 81 to 83, with the addition of Mozambique (Maputo) and New Zealand (Auckland). Both markets were previously served by one-stop flights.

In terms of flights operated, the ranking is significantly different with India now leading the way, followed by Saudi Arabia, UK, US, UAE and Pakistan. Ranked on weekly seat capacity the leading country markets are India, UK, US, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Thailand and Germany.

Several more new routes planned for remainder of 2016 and 2017

Looking ahead the MEB3 carriers have already revealed plans to launch (or in some cases re-launch) additional new routes.

  • Emirates (one route) to Conakry (30 October, resumption).
  • Etihad Airways (one route) to Venice Marco Polo (30 October). According to OAG Schedules Analyser data the airline will cease operations to Almaty in Kazakhstan and Larnaca in Cyprus at the start of the W16/17 season.
  • Qatar Airways (five routes) to Windhoek (28 September), Helsinki (10 October), Krabi (6 December), Mahé (12 December, resumption) and Auckland (1 February 2017).

Download the Middle East hub comparison spreadsheet

Two Italian airports were added to the combined global networks of the MEB3 carriers in the last 12 months. On 3 November 2015 Emirates began serving Bologna while on 2 August 2016 Qatar Airway launched its first service to Pisa. They join Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa and Venice Marco Polo.


  1. RAS says:

    The comparison of non-stop destinations between Qatar and Emirates is a little misleading. Qatar has a fleet of narrow body planes for short/haul and regional routes. From DXB short haul routes are flown by flyDubai. EK and flyDubai will check pax and baggage to their final destination with visa free transfers between terminals in Dubai.

  2. Petteri says:

    You should include data from Turkish Airlines to make the Middle East picture more complete.

  3. Pienjolavis says:

    Turkey is no part of the middle east

  4. Qusund says:

    Qatar Airways Doha-Nagpur = resumption of service, not first-time destination.

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