Airbus looks beyond Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways for Middle East growth

Airbus Group is looking beyond the big three Gulf airlines to capture growth in the Middle East and North Africa as it predicts other carriers will account for about two-thirds of total sales in the region by 2032.

With a “bonanza” of orders in recent years from Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, Airbus is targeting smaller airlines from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco, said Habib Fekih, the president of Airbus Group Middle East.

“The big three can maybe grab 30 to 35 per cent of the forecast fleet demand, but the rest has to go somewhere else,” Mr Fekih said in a telephone interview. “I don’t see an airline ordering hundreds of aircraft every year.”

Airbus has relied on large orders from the Gulf carriers in past years, with Emirates by far its biggest buyer of the A380 superjumbo and Qatar the launch customer for the A350. The manufacturer wants to sell about 2,000 planes between 2013 and 2032 in the region, which has become a major global aviation hub at the crossroads of global flight paths.

Among prospective customers is Saudi Arabian Airlines, which is looking to expand its fleet to 200 aircraft by 2020 from 119, Saleh Al Jaser, its director general, said this month.

The airline has a point-to-point business model suited to single-aisle planes in the A320 family as well as wide-bodies such as the A330 or A350, Mr Fekih said.

At the most recent Dubai Airshow in 2013, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and flydubai placed record-breaking plane orders worth US$162.6 billion. The event takes place every two years.

Some Middle Eastern carriers have expressed interest in the A380 double-decker, which has not gained a new customer for more than a year, and Airbus may provide an update in coming months, Mr Fekih said, declining to identify possible customers.

There’s also potential for growth in Iraq and Yemen when peace returns, and in Iran when international sanctions are lifted, Mr Fekih said.

“I’ve been in the region for more than 20 years, we passed many wars, many crises and despite that the traffic is growing higher than the average rate in the rest of the world,” Mr Fekih said.

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