As Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha launch multi-billion dollar expansion plans, a senior executive at one of the world’s largest aviation alliances warned the Gulf may not be able to sustain three globally focused aviation hubs.
Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and Dubai’s Emirates Airline are some of the fastest growing carriers in the world and their governments are all planning multi-billion dollar expansion plans to their home bases in order to facilitate their global ambitions.
These infrastructure projects have been spurred on by Qatar’s winning of its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and Dubai’s ambitions to host World Expo 2020.
However, Michael Wisbrun, managing director of Amsterdam-based SkyTeam, the world’s second biggest aviation alliances, told Arabian Business he believed this may be “too much” and the aviation authorities in the region need to adjust their scope and focus to more niche or specific routes in order to find enough space to co-exist.
“We don’t know what will happen... Looking into the future it depends on the scope and scale they are striving at. If they want to build their own global system in the Middle East and are striving to be a global entity then it seems that three of those airlines in the Middle East look like a little bit too much if you project it into the coming ten years.
“But if their scope and scale is smaller and their scope and scale are focused on their relevant role to connecting the India market with Africa, the Australian market with Europe, their position is natural and I don’t see why they couldn’t continue and be sustainable.
At present, Doha’s much delayed $15.5bn Hamad International Airport is “virtually complete”, Abu Dhabi is planning a new passenger terminal for 2017 and Dubai is ramping up its Al Maktoum Airport, which will be able to handle up to 120 million passengers when it is fully operational in around 2027.
“It heavily depends on what their endgame is and if their endgame is global and all three of them then it seems to be a little bit too much... But if their end game is creating a relevant hook on the natural flows to and from [the Gulf] I don’t see why three of those hubs cannot exist in the longer term,” adds Wisbrun.
The airlines certainly don’t seem to have any ambitions to curb their global outlooks. This week, Etihad announced plans to start direct daily flights to Los Angeles from June 2014, which will be the Abu Dhabi-based airline’s fourth US destination.
This summer Emirates president Tim Clark said he was in talks with US manufacturer Boeing to develop aircraft that will allow it to fly ultra long-haul flights of up to 20 hours and was aiming to double the carrier’s global route network to nearly 270 destinations
However, Saj Ahmad, chief aviation analyst at StrategicAero Research, dismissed the SkyTeam executives views and said the Gulf region was more than capable of accommodating three major aviation hubs.
It seems that the SkyTeam boss fails to note the proximity of Heathrow, Charles De Gaulle and Frankfurt airports - all of which have a considerable smaller population radius around 5 hours flight time from those airports,” Ahmad said.
“In contrast, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha have over 2 billion people within that same sort of flight radius - why should Arab airlines focus on smaller scale? Unlike European airlines that have been notoriously slow to adapt, invest and change, it is evident from the IATA [International Air Transport Association] traffic reports that the GCC has plenty of sustainable growth to support more than one busy airport,” he added.