Major Gulf airlines including Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways are continuing to dominate the skies over Africa and beyond. The latest news in this rapid expansion is the purchase via Islamic financing of 50 Airbus aircraft by Saudi Arabian Airlines. The deal represents the largest Islamic finance arrangement in the aviation sector and comprises of 30 A320neo aircraft and 20 A330-300 Regional aircraft, with a list price of $8.2 billion. The news comes as officials claim that the newly upgraded Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport should expect to handle approximately 1 million passengers this Ramadan period. Mohamed Al-Fadel, deputy general manager of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said, “All measures were taken to boost the level of coordination between all bodies operating at the airport to achieve the highest levels of security and safety for travelers. We were keen, in particular, to reduce the time needed to process travel procedures.”
Middle Eastern airlines continue to dominate the annual Worldwide Airlines Awards, which rank the best airlines according to various categories as a result of customer feedback. Qatar Airways came in at number one in this year’s rankings, with Emirates and Etihad Airways taking fifth and sixth place respectively.
Passenger travel to Abu Dhabi International Airport rose by 15.5% year on year thanks to expansion by partner airlines including South Africa Airlines’ new route to Johannesburg and Etihad Airways’ link to Entebbe. By October of this year, Qatar Airways plans to have launched four additional slots to Johannesburg, meaning that the airline will be offering a daily service to South Africa’s capital. The one apparent stumbling block appears to be the failure of a deal between Emirates and South African Airlines that would have allowed the African airline to sell tickets on Emirates flights and allow passengers full access to routes flown by Emirates.
This expansion comes at a time when European and American carriers are complaining of unfair business practices among Middle Eastern airlines, claiming that because the carriers often receive substantial government funding they should have further access to Europe and America restricted. It is unclear how further expansion will affect already strained relations.