Abu Dhabi’s aviation ambitions up in the air

The Midfield Terminal Abu Dhabi International Airport. Completion of the new building, which will increase capacity to 45 million per year, has been delayed until 2019. Courtesy, ADAC
Updated 23 April 2018

Abu Dhabi’s aviation ambitions up in the air

  • Passenger traffic at Abu Dhabi International Airport fell 11 percent in the first quarter
  • Etihad Airways this month cut routes to Edinburgh and Perth

LONDON: The inaugural non-stop Qantas flight between Perth and London last month may have been hailed as the future of aviation by the airline industry, but it’s unlikely to have prompted much celebrating in Abu Dhabi.

The prospect of ultra-long haul flights, which reduce journey times by cutting out the need for stopovers, strikes at the heart of the business model of the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which have risen to prominence in recent years as major transit centers for global air travel.

“The Gulf airports burst onto the scene as the airframe technology changed and the long-haul hubbing model was created,” Andrew Charlton, the managing director of consulting firm Aviation Advocacy.

“The Qantas flights from Perth show that the technology is again changing; in the end, the technology always wins.”

Mr. Charlton cautioned that the impact in the short-term on Abu Dhabi and other hubs would be minimal, noting that ultra-long haul would not be available to most passengers.

What’s more, “the market demographics and the economics of hubbing (still) make airports in the Gulf very attractive,” he said.

But ultra-long haul travel is just the latest in a series of issues impacting Abu Dhabi’s aviation strategy, with progress slowing in the wake of lower oil prices and operational issues at Etihad, the emirate’s flag-carrier.

The high-profile Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport, designed to expand capacity to 45 million passengers per year, has faced numerous delays, with its expected opening date pushed back from late-2017 until the end of 2019.

The increase in capacity, designed to coincide with the growth of Etihad Airways, no longer seems as urgent a priority, as the emirate cuts back on spending in the wake of lower oil revenues. Meanwhile, Etihad’s international expansion strategy, launched in 2011, is now very much on hold.

Etihad’s strategy of acquiring a series of stakes in global airlines, in a bid to transform itself into a global rival to the likes of Dubai’s Emirates, hit the buffers last year, with the bankruptcy of Alitalia and Air Berlin, two of its largest interests. Etihad subsequently sold its stake in European regional carrier Darwin Airline, with rumors earlier this month that it may also look to offload its stake in Virgin Australia, after the latter canceled its last route to Abu Dhabi earlier last year.

Etihad did not respond to a request for comment.

The loss of some of Etihad’s international operations has taken its toll on Abu Dhabi’s passenger traffic. Abu Dhabi Airports has not released traffic figures for 2017, but passenger numbers for the 11 months to the end of November fell 3.7 percent year on year to 21.5 million.

That trend appears to have deepened so far this year; Abu Dhabi Airports last week announced an 11 percent drop in passenger traffic for the first quarter of the year, falling to 5.5 million, with aircraft movements dropping 15 percent to 35,788.

The drop in cargo was even more pronounced, falling 25 percent year on year to 142,492 metric tons.

Traffic through the emirate is “likely to see further reductions,” said John Strickland, director of JLS Consultancy.

Earlier this month, Etihad announced it was cutting flights to Edinburgh and Perth in Australia, as part “of several adjustments that we are making to our network in 2018 in order to improve system profitability,” according to an Etihad spokesman. This followed the axing of its Dallas route late last year.

Mr. Charlton said that Abu Dhabi’s hub strategy remains solid for the moment, but that the loss of Alitalia and Air Berlin “certainly slows things down.”

Abu Dhabi Airports did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are continuously working toward fortifying Abu Dhabi International Airport’s presence as a key airport hub within the region, by enhancing our existing network and connecting with new and wider markets globally,” said Saoud Al Shamsi, the acting chief commercial officer of Abu Dhabi Airports, in a statement coinciding with the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai.

“We are optimistic about the sector’s performance in the coming years that will continue to be key in our efforts to implement enhancements to our services.”


Gulf Marine CEO quits after review sparks profit warning

Updated 22 August 2019

Gulf Marine CEO quits after review sparks profit warning

  • Tensions in the Arabian Gulf, a worrisome global growth outlook and uncertainty over oil prices have recently dampened investor confidence

DUBAI: Gulf Marine Services said on Wednesday Chief Executive Officer Duncan Anderson has resigned as the oilfield industry contractor warned a reassessment of its ships and contracts showed profit would fall this year, kicking its shares 12 percent down.

The Abu Dhabi-based offshore services specialist said a review by new finance chief Stephen Kersley of its large E-class vessels operating in Northwest Europe and the Middle East pointed to 2019 core earnings of between $45 million and $48 million, below $58 million that it reported last year.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Anderson, who has served as CEO for 12 years, was asked to step down. Anderson could not be reached for comment.

The company, which in the past predominantly operated in the UAE, expanded operations and deployed large vessels in the North Sea and Saudi Arabia nine years ago and listed its shares in London in 2014.

Tensions in the Arabian Gulf, a worrisome global growth outlook and uncertainty over oil prices have recently dampened investor confidence.

The North Sea has seen a revival in production in recent years due to new fields coming on line and improved performance by operators following the 2014 oil price collapse.

Still, the basin’s production is expected to decline over the next decade, according to Britain’s Oil and Gas Authority.

“(The CFO’s) review has coincided with a pause in renewables-related self-propelled self-elevating support vessels activity in the North Sea, which will impact several of the higher day-rate E-Class vessels,” Investec wrote in a note.

Gulf Marine appointed industry veteran Kersley as chief financial officer in late May as it sought to halt a slide which has seen the company’s shares fall nearly 80 percent last year and another 23 percent so far this year.

The company said market conditions remained challenging and that it was still in talks with its financial advisors regarding a new capital structure.

“Management, the new board and the group’s advisors, have been in negotiation with the group’s banks on resetting its capital structure and progress has been made,” it said in a statement.

Last year, Gulf Marine said contracts were delayed into 2019 as the company was seen to be in breach of certain banking covenants at the end of 2018.

The company said it was still in talks with its banks and individual lenders with hopes of getting a waiver or an agreement to amend the concerned covenants.