Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad and Qatar have slowed their
expansion, even as debate over the carriers within the U.S. has heated up in
the first few weeks of the Trump administration.
Scheduling data provided by aviation data analytics company
OAG shows that during the second quarter of this year Etihad will fly 4.6% more
seats than it did last year, a substantial slowing of growth compared with the
three previous years, when the airline expanded its available seats by at least
14% per year.
Similarly, Qatar will offer 8.6% more capacity this spring
than it did last spring, but that's compared with 21.6% growth the previous
year. Emirates' year-over-year growth in seat capacity is predicted to be 8.9%
this spring, down from 10.4% a year earlier and sharply down from the 20%
expansion the airline experienced between the springs of 2014 and 2015.
Slowed expansion at Emirates parallels a drop in profits.
During the first half of its current fiscal year, which ends in March, Emirates
reported net profit of $214 million, down 75% year over year.
A strong dollar, increased competition and general worldwide
economic malaise played a role in the decline, Emirates said when it released
the results in November.
As a Gulf airline, Emirates is also especially susceptible
to demand drop-offs from the struggling oil sector.
Qatar and Etihad don't release midyear financial statements
and declined to comment on their financial results in the fiscal year. But they
are subject to the same overall market trends as Emirates, said Seth Kaplan,
managing partner of the newsletter Airline Weekly.
"Our informed speculation is that however poorly
Emirates is doing, the others are doing worse," Kaplan said, noting that
Emirates, the largest of the Gulf carriers, benefits from having its hub in
Dubai, where it derives more business from locally originating traffic than
Qatar and Etihad do in Doha and Abu Dhabi, respectively.
Emirates set off a maelstrom of criticism from Delta, United
and American as well as U.S. airline labor unions when it announced plans in
late January to begin flying between Newark and Athens this spring. Opponents
accuse Emirates, Qatar and Etihad of accepting state subsidies in violation of
international open skies aviation agreements, and they acknowledge that they
are especially concerned about the Gulf carriers' expansion into U.S.-Europe
But while Emirates said in an emailed statement to Travel
Weekly last week that it still considers the U.S. "to be one of our most
important growth markets globally," it appears that a period of rapid U.S.
expansion among the Gulf carriers has simmered down.
Of the combined 28 routes the carriers fly to the U.S., 14
began between 2012 and 2014, according to an Airline Weekly analysis of flight
schedule records from the aviation data company Diio.
Gulf airlines have launched just four routes since then,
with the Doha-Las Vegas and Athens-Newark services in the offing.