With Qatar Airways’ decision to join the Oneworld Alliance, the Gulf has further strengthened its position as an international travel hub.
The development follows the deal signed between the Dubai-based Emirates airline and Australia’s Qantas in September. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is also expanding its network through codesharing agreements and equity partnerships. Etihad Airways now offers 321 destinations, and according to its chief executive officer James Hogan, 20 per cent of revenues are being generated by its codeshare business.
Rising passenger traffic at major airports across the GCC are testament to the region’s appeal as a transit hub and tourist destination in its own right. Traffic figures for August reveal increases of approximately 20 per cent in passenger numbers, compared with the same period last year. Most of the major airports in the GCC are also reporting increases of between 10-20 per cent in year-to-date passenger numbers.
Smaller regional airlines are also expanding networks and increasing market share. The re-emergence of RAK Airways has fuelled an increase in passenger numbers at Ras al-Khaimah airport. Low-cost Sharjah-based airline Air Arabia announced additional routes in October, while Flydubai has secured funding for new aircraft. The renewed activity means not only is the Middle East becoming an attractive international travel hub, but inter-regional travel is growing, too.