Regional airlines have come of age

18 July 2008
Etihad is following Emirates and Qatar Airways in its intent to force its way to the top of the pile.

Middle East airlines used to be considered upstarts by the aviation industry. No longer. As the orders placed at the UK’s Farnborough International Airshow in the past week demonstrate, Middle East carriers are now the industry’s lifeblood.

Had it not been for the huge orders placed by Etihad, FlyDubai and Saudi Arabian Airlines, Farnborough would have been bereft of any significant commercial activity.

Outside the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions, the talk is of cancelling or postponing aircraft orders, particularly in the US.

Against that backdrop, Etihad alone placed firm orders for 150 aircraft with Airbus and Boeing, in deals worth more than $20bn. FlyDubai, the latest addition to the region’s burgeoning low-cost sector, also made a bold step into the market with a $4bn order with Boeing.

Only five years old, Etihad has followed Emirates and Qatar Airways in signalling its intent to force its way to the top of the pile.

Both Boeing and Airbus recognise that where once orders from US and European airlines were the backbone of their order books, today they have fallen away dramatically. It is the Middle East that is taking up much of the slack.

The situation will not last forever. Competition in the Middle East market is only just beginning and, in time, some attrition in the regional market is inevitable. In the short term, however, the industry has much to thank the Middle East for.

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