MEB3 network review 2018; Qatar Airways dominates new route race; US is biggest market by ASKs, India and UK top capacity table

A review of the MEB3 carrier’s home hub networks for S18 shows that Qatar Airways added the most new direct routes since S17 with 15, followed by Emirates with five new connections and Etihad Airways with one. Etihad actually saw a net decline in direct destinations from Abu Dhabi from peak S17 to peak S18 since it dropped six routes. Read on to find out who operated the most weekly departures and which airline had the most direct destinations in S18.

It has been a little over a year since last compared the networks of Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways (the Middle East Big 3 or MEB3 carriers). We thought we would begin the new year by taking a look at how these three carriers developed their destination maps from their respective home hubs of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha in 2018. The following analysis compares schedule data for a typical peak week in August 2018 to the equivalent period in the previous year, to help identify which of these long-haul leaders added the most new connections over the 12 month period.

    • In terms of weekly departures from their home hubs, Qatar Airways saw strong growth of 14.2% from S17 to S18, while Emirates experienced an increase of 4.4%. Etihad was the only carrier to see a reduction, with its weekly departures from Abu Dhabi dropping by 2.2%.
    • Emirates had the most weekly departures from its home hub in S18, with 1,805, almost twice as many as Etihad, which operated 954. Qatar Airways scheduled 1,693 weekly flights from Doha during S18.
    • Regarding destinations served non-stop, Qatar Airways expanded its lead over Emirates from four in S17, to 14 in S18. The Doha-based carrier now serves 149 destinations non-stop (up from 134 a year ago) compared with 135 for Emirates (up from 130). Etihad’s non-stop network witnessed an overall reduction of five destinations from 84 to 79. 
    • All three carriers witnessed growth in their average frequencies from their home hubs from S17 to S18. Emirates’ average frequency rose from 13.3 to 13.4, Qatar Airways saw an increase from 11.1 to 11.4 and Etihad’s average frequency grew from 11.6 to 12.1.
    • Route droppings: Emirates and Qatar Airways both operated all of the destinations flown in peak S17, again in peak S18. The only MEB3 carrier to drop routes since S17 was Etihad. As of the week commencing 6 August 2018, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier was no longer operating direct flights to Dallas/Fort Worth, Entebbe, Jaipur, San Francisco, Tehran Imam Khomeini,and Venice Marco Polo. As of the week commencing 8 January 2019, none of these six services have resumed.

Download the Middle East hub comparison spreadsheet

The following table summarises the new direct destinations operated by the MEB3 carriers from their respective hubs in peak S18, which were introduced in the 12 months since August 2017. Some of these are resumptions on routes operated in the past, such as Qatar Airways’ return to London Gatwick and Emirates re-introducing flights to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen. Others are sectors that have been upgraded from a one-stop to a non-stop service, such as Emirates’ connection to New York Newark. The Dubai-based carrier initially introduced an indirect link to Newark via Athens in March 2017. This service still operates, but the carrier added a non-stop service to the New York airport in June 2018.

Emirates (Dubai) Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi) Qatar Airways (Doha)
Abuja (ABV)** Baku (GYD) Adana (ADA)
Dakar (DSS)*/**   Malaga (AGP)
Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (SAW)**   Antalya (AYT)
New York Newark (EWR)*   Bodrum (BJV)
London Stansted (STN)   Cardiff (CWL)
    Hanoi (HAN)*
    Hatay (HTY)
    Mykonos (JMK)
    Kiev Boryspil (KBP)
    St. Petersburg (LED)
    London Gatwick (LGW)**
    Penang (PEN)
    Prague (PRG)
    Sarajevo (SJJ)
    Thessaloniki (SKG)
Source:’s New Route Database, OAG Schedules Analyser for w/c 6 August 2018 and w/c 7 August 2017. *Upgraded from one-stop service to non-stop. **Resumption of services.

Qatar Airways added the most new routes between peak S17 and peak S18, introducing 15 new direct destinations to its Doha departure boards. These include four new links to Turkey, two to Greece and two to the UK, including Cardiff Airport’s first service by an MEB3 carrier. Emirates added five new direct connections. Of these, London Stansted was the only destination that had not been served directly in the past, or which had not been upgraded from a indirect service. Etihad’s only new route added between peak S17 and peak S18 was the link from Abu Dhabi to Baku in Azerbaijan.

Of the 134 established routes Qatar Airways operated in peak S18, it offered increased weekly capacity on 64, compared to S17. It offered exactly the same capacity on a further 33 routes compared to the previous year, and reduced capacity on 37 connections. It should be noted that, on 14 of these routes, the capacity decline since S17 was marginal, at 3.0% or less. 

Qatar Airways, London Gatwick

Qatar Airways returned to London Gatwick on 22 May 2018 after a seven year hiatus, with the UK airport’s COO, Chris Woodroofe (right) on hand to cut the ceremonial cake to mark the launch. The Doha-based carrier offered 149 destinations from its home hub in peak S18. It increased its weekly departures at Doha from 1,482 in S17 to 1,693 in S18. Its average weekly frequency grew from 11.1 to 11.4 over the same period.

Emirates increased weekly capacity on 66 of its established routes in S18, maintained the same number of seats on a further 33 connections, and reduced capacity on 25 airport pairs, when compared to peak S17. On 12 of the latter routes, the capacity cuts were less than 2.0%. 

On the 78 established routes Etihad was still operating in S18, it increased weekly seat numbers on 35 connections, maintained the capacity status quo on 25 links and reduced seat numbers on 18 airport pairs, when compared to peak S17. On four of the latter routes the cuts were 3.0% or less.

Strong ASK growth to Europe and Australia

Analysis of combined schedule data for the MEB3 carriers for all direct flights from their respective home hubs in S18 reveals that the leading country market as measured by ASKs (Available Seat Kilometres) is the US, followed by Australia and the UK. The top 10 nations remains unchanged since peak S17. Of the top 15 country markets, five are in Europe (highlighted in blue), while eight can be classified as being in Asia or the Asia Pacific (highlighted in green). The remaining two country markets are South Africa (highlighted in orange) and the US (highlighted in red). Three of the top 15 markets have seen a reduction in ASKs in the last 12 months. These were all fairly marginal, with the US seeing the most significant percentage cut in ASKs at 3.3%. The fastest-growing country markets for MEB3 ASKs from peak S17 to peak S18 were Spain (22.5%), Australia (15.7%) and Italy (14.4%). European markets saw good growth in general with the UK also witnessing an 8.3% boost in ASKs.

MEB3 2018

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser. Data is for w/c 6 August 2018 v w/c 7 August 2017.

Malaysia was the only new entrant in the top 15 country markets in S18, with a 7.0% year-on-year increase in ASKs. It entered the top-ranked markets at the expense of Singapore which dropped to 16th position. In total the number of country markets served non-stop by the MEB3 airlines grew to 87 in peak S18, compared to 84 in S17. Bosina and Herzegovina and Ukraine were added to the destination board as a result of Qatar Airways introducing flights to Sarajevo and Kiev Boryspil. The third addition was Senegal, which became a direct destination with Emirates connecting Dubai to Dakar.

When the leading MEB3 country markets are ranked by weekly capacity India saw the most seats from the MEB3 in peak S18, with more than 115,000 one-way seats available, followed by the UK with nearly 110,000. The US was third with 75,000 seats. Among the top 15 markets for capacity, notable percentage growth was experienced on services to Spain (+22.7% versus S17), Italy (+15.1%), Australia (+15.0%) and Saudia Arabia (+12.5%).

Additonal routes launched or announced since S18

Since peak S18, all of the MEB3 carriers have launched additional direct routes. Qatar Airways has also announced further routes that are scheduled to begin operating in 2019. Details of these new routes are summarised below.

  • Emirates (one route) to Edinburgh (1 October 2018).
  • Etihad Airways (one route) to Barcelona (28 November 2018).
  • Qatar Airways (five routes) to Mombasa (9 December 2018), Gothenburg (12 December 2018), Da Nang (19 December 2018), Isfahan (4 February 2019), Malta (4 June 2019).
Etihad, Baku

Etihad Airways commenced flights to Baku on 2 March, with the route officially being opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the carrier’s Abu Dhabi hub. Among those conducting the cutting was Etihad Airways CEO Peter Baumgartner (third right). This was the only addition to Etihad’s network for peak S18, compared o the same period in S17. The carrier offered 954 weekly departures to 79 destinations from its home hub during August 2018.


  1. Sergey Dobritskiy says:

    Thank you very much for this overview!
    I’ve been waiting for it!

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