No question the Arab Spring political turmoil, which has run into the summer and fall, depressed air travel in the Middle East, but what is far from clear are the long-term ramifications of the unrest.
Some markets have already recovered. Oman Air saw a marked downturn early in the year, but as the country has stabilized, so have passenger numbers. Royal Jordanian Airlines also has seen a gradual return to norm and has restored flights to Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya.
The uprising also has dampened anticipated aircraft orders. Those activities are expected to level out when airline management shifts from dealing with the immediate crisis to focusing on long-term development plans.
One big question now is whether the movement will prove to be a prolonged depressant to air traffic due to political instability or a potential boon as larger elements of society become politically and economically enfranchised, making travel a more likely proposition.
“On a long-term basis, it will open up opportunities,” says Mathieu Duquesnoy,vice president for commercial aviation in the Middle East and Africa. And with fleets of widebodies in the region growing at a steady pace, it will drive demand for regional services to feed those aircraft, he argues, adding that “the Arab Spring will reinforce this trend.”
officials also have experienced a slowdown in activity in North Africa and the Middle East as airlines assess the long-term outlook for that region. However, the European turboprop maker expects to see some deals materializing in that sector in the not too distant future.
Embraer in recent years has seen demand grow for its regional jets in the Middle East, particularly among carriers looking to find a niche alongside widebody behemoths such as Emirates and. But the regional aircraft market in the Middle East remains somewhat limited. No strictly regional carrier has emerged to mirror, for instance, what is doing in Europe.
However, there are some other impediments to rapid growth, particularly of regional air travel. Key among them is the slow pace of liberalization. Although the Middle East—in particular the Gulf States—has been discussing liberalizing traffic rights across the region, progress remains slow, acknowledges Philippe Georgiou, chief officer for corporate affairs at Oman Air.
, in its latest market forecast, signals the belief that some of the market challenges in the combined Middle East and Africa region—such as deregulation and infrastructure problems—are likely to be addressed in the near term and will trigger order growth.
Still, for Bombardier the Middle East currently appears to be a more attractive prospect for its largest offering, the, since the Canada-based manufacturer projects that 61% of the 980 aircraft to be delivered to the region will be in the 100-149-seat category.
In the Middle East's turboprop and regional aircraft market, Bombardier projects close to 400 aircraft being delivered. That outlook is similar to Embraer's. The Brazilian aircraft maker sees 65 aircraft in the 61-90-seat category this decade and 80 in the 91-120-seat range, with 80 and 85 aircraft, respectively, coming to market in 2021-30. Some aircraft will serve as replacements, but the bulk of the demand will stem from growth in the market.
ATR projects that 150-300 turboprops are likely to be placed in the Middle East and North Africa, and notes that interest from the region is on the rise.
Duquesnoy says, “My objective is to double [our sales] in Africa and the Middle East in the next couple of years.” One compelling aspect of the Middle East market is how strong the sales of/175 regional jets have been compared with its larger aircraft. Oman Air, for instance, is buying four 175s (two fielded and two on order, not counting one in operation with the Oman Royal Police); Saudi Arabian Airlines has 15 170s and EgyptAir Express has 12 170s. And some airlines in the region fly both 170s and the larger-sized Embraer 190s. Royal Jordanian operates two 175s and two and Saudi Arabia-based low-cost NAS Air has ordered 10 190s. Duquesnoy attributes the trend toward the smaller RJ largely to the fact the region never had the opportunity for a large fleet of 50-seat regional jets as an entry model, so the 170/175 family has filled that niche. As with other markets, he expects the large-capacity RJs to take more market share in the future. Saudi Arabian, for instance, is seen as a potential customer for the larger type, as is EgyptAir.
Embraer confirms that they are seeing their product compete more withand narrowbodies, rather than with Bombardier regional jets.
To help support fleet growth, Embraer is slated to announce at the Dubai air show plans for a joint venture to underpin regional spares support for its RJs.