Venture Explains: The Big Three Gulf Carriers

Who are they?

The global airline industry is being shaken up by a trio of ambitious Gulf-based carriers: Dubai’s Emirates, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, and Qatar Airways. The impressive scope and pace of their expansion has longer-established legacy carriers like British Airways and Lufthansa running scared. These aviation upstarts are rapidly garnering new routes, passengers, and planes. Emirates, for instance, is now the world’s fourth biggest airline even though it only began flying in 1985.

What’s the secret of their success?

A variety of factors have helped these carriers grow quickly over a short period of time. In aviation terms, they’re located at the new crossroads between East and West. Two-thirds of the world’s population lives within an eight-hour flight of their state-of-the-art aviation hubs, which themselves are located in oil and gas rich economies that are fast becoming global centers of trade, tourism, and logistics. But competing airlines allege that state-owned Gulf carriers enjoy unfair advantages in terms of fuel subsidies, access to cheap finance, tax perks, and laxer labor and environmental restrictions.

Can they maintain the pace?

As long as they continue to form a central development plank of their ambitious and wealthy owners, then most analysts agree the big three Gulf carriers have a bright future ahead of them in a world where air travel is booming. “If you look at where they’re sitting and the aircraft they’re operating, they can serve pretty much anywhere in the world. None of them are having any difficulty filling their planes,” independent aviation consultant John Strickland told travel industry intelligence provider Skift.