It started way back in 2005 when the Emerald Isle first got a taste of Middle Eastern luxury. Until then, Ireland didn’t have any links between Dublin and the Middle East. How times have changed – Now the big three Persian Gulf airlines are set for a collision course with one another to fight for Irish market share.
Gulf Air got the ball rolling when it started flying to Dublin in December 2005 – although that route didn’t last for long. The service from the Bahraini capital, Manama was dropped under two years later in December 2007. Fortunately, Etihad Airways had its own plans and started flying between the United Arab Emirates and Dublin four times a week in July 2007 – the same month, Gulf Air pulled out.
The Abu Dhabi-based carrier may have cautiously dipped its toes into the marketplace but it wasn’t long before they wanted more of the action. Within months, Etihad launched a 6-times a week service before offering a daily service at the end of March 2008.
Then in 2012 Emirates decided that it too saw the potential in the Irish market. Emirates launched a daily service, initially using an A330-200 aircraft but has since switched to a Boeing 777-300. At the time, Tim Clark, the President of Emirates, said that the carrier would need a load factor of about 60% to break even.
Last year, Emirates added an additional daily service – The airline now carries something in the region of 800 people a day between Dublin and Dubai. Passenger numbers increased by 51% in 2016 and seat occupancy has remained at an impressive 80%-85%.
Emirates carried 1.2 million passengers between Dublin and Dubai in 2016
“The news is that we have just celebrated five years into Dublin. We have carried 1.2 million passengers in that time and 120,000 tonnes of cargo,” said Enda Corneille, Emirates Ireland manager.
He continued: “We started off with a single aircraft, and now it’s double daily. And given how much the business has grown, the next logical step would be to bring a flagship aircraft, such as the A380.”
As the only airport in Ireland to be served by Emirates and Etihad, Dublin Airport offers Irish passengers access to a global choice of destinations, connecting through Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But it’s not only long-haul, connecting passengers who are benefiting from these services to Dublin. Corneille points out: “Dubai is one of the most popular destinations, long haul, for Northern Ireland passengers.”
Dublin Airport Handled 28 Milion Passengers Last Year
The rise of Dublin airport seems almost unstoppable. In 2015, the airport handled 25 million passengers. A massive 15% increase on the year before. Dublin is now the fastest growing airport in Europe. New figures show that the airport handled 28 million passengers in 2016 with 19 new routes launched in the past 12 months.
The Irish success story has obviously caught the attention of Qatar Airways. On June 12th the Qatari state-owned airline will launch its own service between Dublin and the Middle East.
“The launch of flights to Dublin, the capital of Ireland, is an exciting addition to our network and I am confident that business and leisure passengers will benefit from our Boeing 787 Dreamliner service and smooth onward connections through our home and hub, Hamad International Airport,” commented Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker.
Etihad Airways to go Double Daily on April 01st
Qatar will start out with a once daily service between Doha and Dublin. But by that time Etihad Airways will have already started a twice-daily service between Dublin and Abu Dhabi. The doubling of capacity by Etihad Airways is slated to begin April 1st.
The question arises: Is there a market for all these extra seats between Ireland and the Middle East? In 2015, there were 622 seats available between Dublin and the Gulf. By June this figure will have reached 1,498 available seats. Last year, Dublin airport saw its passenger numbers increase by 11.5%. Impressive, but nowhere near the capacity added by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
Even the Managing Director of Dublin Airport, Vicent Harrison concedes that Europe and North America, and not the Middle East, are the driving force behind the upturn in his company’s fortunes. “Dublin Airport’s passenger performance in 2016 was assisted by its growth as a gateway between Europe and North America,” noted Harrison.
Emirates Postpones A380 Visit
Speaking earlier this year, Corneille suggested the natural progression for Emirates would be an upgrade to its Dublin service with the Airbus A380. The flagship Emirates A380 is the perfect aircraft to tempt passengers away from competitors, Etihad and Qatar Airways but the market would have to sustain the additional passenger capacity.
Emirates had planned to operate a special, one-off A380 service to Dublin at the end of March. That visit has now been postponed. The airline has blamed “operational reasons” outside of their control but has so far declined to give further information. Instead, Emirates insisted the visit was “delayed” but not postponed without giving any indication of when it would be rescheduled.
It’s looking likely that Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways will be fighting for the same market share at Dublin. When Qatar launches its service in June it will be interesting to watch how Emirates and Etihad react to protect their revenues. For Irish travellers, however, the next 12 months could bring bargain fares to the Middle East and beyond.
The original version of it article stated, Etihad Airways was the first Gulf-based airline to fly between the Middle East and Dublin. It has since been updated following feedback from a reader.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.