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Emirates, Saudia & Others: Why Middle East Airlines’ Cancellation Rates Explode?

So far, September has marked a challenging month for the vast majority of Middle East airlines in terms of flight operations. As a result, many of them had to cancel a substantial amount of flights. We provide details and some possible reasons.

Especially the big Middle East airlines, such as Emirates, are usually known for their highly stable and reliable operations. We recently released an analysis that discusses Emirates’ extraordinary performance in the first half of 2021. As the analysis shows, Emirates did not cancel a single flight for an extended period in 2021.

However, and as already mentioned in our last article about Emirates, those times are over at the moment. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to declare this a problem of Emirates only. We had a look at other Middle East carriers and found out that flight cancellations seem to be a common problem at the moment.

Middle East Airlines Have Recorded Tremendous Flight Cancellations Rates in September

To put this article on a fact-based fundament, we provide the latest cancellations rates of Middle East airlines in September.

IATAAirlineCountryCanceled Flights
1-26 Sep
Cancelation Rate
SVSaudi Arabian AirlinesSaudi Arabia8357,1%
GFGulf AirBahrain944,5%
EKEmiratesUnited Arab Emirates3654,1%
KUKuwait AirwaysKuwait503,7%
XYflynasSaudi Arabia1243,6%
WYOman AirOman303,1%
FZflydubaiUnited Arab Emirates741,8%
EYEtihadUnited Arab Emirates481,6%
September Cancellation Rates — Middle East Airlines

As the table above shows, some Middle East carriers have canceled many flights in September so far. With more than 800 canceled flights, Saudi Arabian Airlines is leading this inglorious ranking. As a result, Saudia recorded a cancellation rate of more than 7% in September.

When looking at the Top 40 European and Middle East airlines, Middle East carriers count for seven out of the ten worst cancellation rates.

Gulf Air and Emirates, on positions two and three, recorded cancellation rates above 4%. To put that into context: That average cancellation rate of major European airlines in September has been 0.3% so far! Moreover, when looking at the Top 40 European and Middle East airlines, Middle East carriers count for seven out of the ten worst cancellation rates.

What are the reasons behind increasing cancellation rates?

Based on our research, we couldn’t find an overall explanation for the devastating results. That’s why we discuss some arguments below.

Crew / Pilot Shortage

We’ve talked to some representatives of the airlines. One argument that they mentioned very often was the shortage of pilots and crews. Due to COVID-19, many airlines had to lay off flight and cabin crew. Moreover, Middle East airlines that are highly dependent on international traffic have laid off more staff than many other airlines. As representatives mentioned, airlines, such as Emirates or Etihad, are now facing problems to bring in sufficient resources again. Especially pilots that require training and flight hours seem to be a bottleneck.

Although the explanation sounds reasonable, we don’t think that this is the universal answer. First, flight schedules and volume in September haven’t significantly increased for many Middle East airlines. On the contrary, some of the carriers even reduced their flight volume. Therefore, it seems strange that pilot/crew shortage impacts the airlines more than in August. Moreover, some of the carriers still operate a very meager amount flights. Therefore, a pilot shortage can’t be the reason.

COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Other sources we’ve talked to mentioned COVID-19-related travel restrictions as a reason for skyrocketing cancellation rates. Again, we believe that this might be the reason for a few cancellations, not the vast majority. Here are the reasons why: In most cases, travel restrictions wouldn’t affect Middle East carriers only. On the contrary, European airlines would most likely face similar issues. Moreover, many of the canceled flights are intra-Middle East routes. Based on the current information, there are no travel restrictions for such routes.

Aircraft Shortage

The availability of aircraft was also mentioned as a potential reason for cancellations. Again, due to COVID-19, many airlines parked their aircraft and put them temporarily out of order. As a result, airlines currently face issues putting them back into operations.

 Why Middle East Airlines' Cancellation Rates Explode? — Parked Emirates Aircraft
Are parked aircraft a reason for cancellations? Image Source: Emirates

Low Demand

A reason that wasn’t discussed officially lies in the potential low demand for some routes. As a result, airlines decided to cancel routes since they are simply unprofitable at the moment.

There Isn’t a Universal Answer

As mentioned above, there doesn’t seem to be a single universal answer to the ongoing issues. Moreover, we do believe it is a mixture of the presented reasons. On top of that, the different aspects might differ from airline to airline. For example, some airlines suffer from the pilot shortage, others struggle with putting aircraft in operations again, and all cancel some flights due to low demands.

Two Airlines Positively Stand Out

As you might have noticed, two airlines are not listed in the table above: Qatar Airways and Air Arabia. Both carriers do not follow the Middle East trend and have delivered strong results in terms of flight schedule reliability in September.

Qatar Airways, on the one side, has canceled 40 flights in September so far. As a result, the airline recorded a cancellation rate of 0.3%, in line with the EMEA average. On the other hand, air Arabia has performed even better. From 1st to 26th September, the Sharjah-based airline canceled only five flights, resulting in a cancellation rate of 0.2%.

white and red air plane in the sky during daytime
Qatar Airway hasn’t been following the cancellation “trend” so far

Data Source

The shown data is based on the latest FlightFacts data. FlightFacts is a free-to-use mobile app that lets you discover the operational performance of airlines in real-time. For more information about FlightFacts, click here or visit our download page. FlightsFacts is available for Android and Apple mobiles.

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Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

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