It is the time to fly - UAE airlines are adding more flights and have no issues filling them up. It sure is the year for travel. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: UAE and Middle East airlines are leaving all other regions trailing far behind when it comes to adding more flights to their networks, and hoping to bring forward a full return to profits earlier than was thought possible.

Emirates airline, which launched a daily service to Tel Aviv last week, will be restarting services to London Stansted, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Christchurch this year. Etihad Airways flew its first flight to Beijing since 2020 last Thursday (June 30) and will launch a weekly service to the destination from July 6.

“As traveller confidence returns, we’ve witnessed a revival with pent-up demand turning into millions of travellers enjoying their longed for trips again,” said Ayoub El Mamoun, Global Social Media Manager, Skyscanner. The travel portal said that bookings from UAE for travel in July and August are up by 156 per cent compared to last year. Some of the top destinations are Manila, Cairo, Amman, Mumbai and Istanbul.

In terms of flight capacity, North Africa and the Middle East were the fastest growing regional markets in the week ending June 27, with increases of over 75 per cent on the same week last year, according to aviation data firm OAG. Saudi Arabia, which is gearing up to receive millions of pilgrims for Hajj, has seen a 325 per cent rise in travel bookings. Cairo is again among the busiest routes, with the others being London, Bangkok, Baku and Hyderabad.

Saudi Arabia which has been looking to bolster its tourist numbers, is offering incentives to airlines to start flying unprofitable routes linking it to major citie worldwides. Hungary’s Wizz Air has already announced flights connecting Dammam to Rome, Vienna and Abu Dhabi, starting from September.

But, not everyone’s on board with such moves. “Such route funding can be headline-grabbing and also senseless if it only funds services that commercially are unprofitable,” said aviation expert John Grant, in an article for OAG.

Return of A380s

The pandemic was supposed to be the death knell for jumbo aircraft like the Airbus A380, but that has not quite been the case. According to OAG, nine airlines will operate just under 1,000 A380 flights in the coming days, of which Emirates airline will account for 70 per cent, British Airways 9 per cent and Qatar Airways around 7 per cent.

Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas has spoken about the possibility of bringing back the airline’s A380s into service if market conditions permit. This is in sharp contrast to recent developments in the European sector where several airports have asked airlines to reduce capacity as they deal with labour strikes and severe staff shortages.

Outlook is downright positive

According to a ForwardKeys 2022 outlook report, the region that is on course to recover most strongly is the Middle East and Africa. The region’s total arrivals in the third quarter are expected to reach 83 per cent of 2019 levels; It is followed by the Americas, where summer arrivals could touch 76 per cent, and then by Europe, 71 per cent, and Asia-Pacific, just 35 per cent.

“Several Middle Eastern airports act as hubs for travel between Asia=Pacific and Europe, which has led to the Middle East benefiting from the revival of intercontinental travel, particularly driven by people returning to Asian countries to visit friends and relatives,” said OAG.

The closure of Russian airspace has also contributed to the uplift in hub traffic, the report said. Globally, air travel will reach 65 per cent of 2019 levels as international travel comes back strongly.

“With 2022 seeing connectivity re-established and consumer confidence regained, demand for international travel is on the rise once more, marking a departure from the domestic travel trend that dominated recent years,” said Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys. “In Q3-22 this year, holidaymakers are relatively much keener to leave the pandemic behind with a relaxing break on the beach than they are to consume culture, cities, and sightseeing.”