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
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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.”


New Zealand to conduct own assessment of Huawei equipment risk

Updated 57 min 54 sec ago
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New Zealand to conduct own assessment of Huawei equipment risk

  • Huawei faces intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government
  • Several Western countries had restricted Huawei’s access to their markets

WELLINGTON: New Zealand will independently assess the risk of using China’s Huawei Technologies in 5G networks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday after a report suggested that British precautions could be used by other nations.
Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, faces intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government and US-led allegations that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying.
No evidence has been produced publicly and the firm has repeatedly denied the allegations, which have led several Western countries to restrict Huawei’s access to their markets.
The Financial Times reported on Sunday that the British government had decided it can mitigate the risks arising from the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks. It said Britain’s conclusion would “carry great weight” with European leaders and other nations could use similar precautions.
New Zealand’s intelligence agency in November rejected an initial request from telecommunications services provider Spark to use 5G equipment provided by Huawei.
At the time, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) gave Spark options to mitigate national security concerns over the use of Huawei equipment, Ardern said on Monday.
“The ball is now in their court,” she told a weekly news conference.
Ardern said New Zealand, which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network that includes the United Kingdom and the United States, would conduct its own assessment.
“I would expect the GCSB to apply with our legislation and our own security assessments. It is fair to say Five Eyes, of course, share information but we make our own independent decisions,” she said.
Huawei New Zealand did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Spark said it was in discussions with GCSB officials.
“We are working through what possible mitigations we might be able to provide to address the concerns raised by the GCSB and have not yet made any decision on whether or when we should submit a revised proposal to GCSB,” Spark spokesman Andrew Pirie said in an emailed statement.
The Huawei decision, along with the government’s tougher stance on China’s growing influence in the Pacific, has some politicians and foreign policy analysts worried about potential strained ties with a key trading partner.
Ardern’s planned first visit to Beijing has faced scheduling issues, and China last week postponed a major tourism campaign in New Zealand days before its launch.
Ardern said her government’s relationship with China was strong despite some complex issues.
“Visits are not a measure of the health of a relationship they are only one small part of it,” she said, adding that trade and tourism ties remained strong.