x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bahrain halts Lebanon flights

Airlines in Bahrain and Egypt continue to suffer from decreased demand caused by the regional unrest.

Grounded: Gulf Air and Bahrain Air have temporarily suspended services to Lebanon, following the suspension of routes to Iran and Iraq.
Grounded: Gulf Air and Bahrain Air have temporarily suspended services to Lebanon, following the suspension of routes to Iran and Iraq.

Bahrain's civil aviation authority has suspended flights to and from Lebanon as civil unrest in the Gulf state continues to disrupt airlines.

"This decision was taken after the irresponsible comments and stances from Lebanon against Bahrain, its people and leaders," the state-owned Bahrain news agency reported, citing a statement from the Civil Aviation Affairs department.

On Tuesday, Bahrain's foreign ministry warned Bahrainis not to travel to Lebanon for their own safety and said the warning was issued because of threats and interference.

Lebanon is the third country where Gulf Air and Bahrain Air, the two airlines based in Bahrain, have temporarily suspended services. Last week, the airlines cut routes to Iran and Iraq, two countries also featuring sizeable Shiite populations.

Samer Majali, the chief executive of Gulf Air, has said the unrest, and the postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix that was scheduled to have taken place this month, has led to a "serious reduction" in bookings for the airline.

While it has not been affected by unrest in Tunisia, it has been forced to reduce operations to Egypt during the protests, he told Air Transport Intelligence, a trade publication.

Airlines across the Middle East have postponed growth plans and reduced services in response to the wave of unrest that has curtailed demand for trade and tourism. In Egypt, airlines have reduced capacity this week by more than 14,400 seats compared with last week, according to Innovata, the aviation data management firm.

The biggest drop in seats were from EgyptAir, Lufthansa, Emirates Airline, Gulf Air and Austrian Airlines.

Wataniya, the Kuwaiti airline, shut down last week. Only El Al of Israel increased capacity to Egypt.

After months of scaling back operations, EgyptAir is targeting a return to normal operations by the end of summer.

Its revised schedule "will feature a gradual growth in volume of operations over the summer season reaching normal volume towards the end of the season", the airline said.

The recovery plan comes after the carrier this year was forced to push back the arrival of Airbus wide-bodied aircraft by several months and also postponed launching routes to Canada and the US.

The Airbus A330-300s will be delivered up to four months later than planned, while the new services to Toronto and Washington were scheduled to begin in May but will now be launched during winter.

The airline has downplayed reports it was looking to lease out about 25 of its aircraft to other airlines to deal with the sharp drop in demand.

An internal communication was leaked that addressed "possible measures to alleviate the impact of the drop in passenger traffic during the peak of the crisis".

"Within the peak of the crisis, EgyptAir had diligently performed appropriate adjustments to the schedule that were required to enhance the efficiency of the network through altering frequencies and retiming," the airline said.

The regional tension will affect global air travel flows, the International Air Transport Association said yesterday.

"Momentum was strong at the start of 2011 and rising business confidence points to further gains in the months ahead," it said.

However, "the next two months' data will be negatively affected by the unrest in the Middle East and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami".

* with agencies

igale@thenational.ae