Top three Gulf carriers have added to their operations to the United Kingdom’s Manchester. With British Airways reducing its services in the city, there remains a large client base for these Arabian airlines.

Top Middle East-based carriers including Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways added flights to the English city of Manchester as British Airways stopped providing services there in favour of the London Heathrow.

Emirates, the national airline of Dubai, announced earlier this month that it is going to launch its third daily flight to Manchester after its existing operations proved to be a big hit among travellers. This announcement came within days of Qatar and Etihad declaring that they will operate daily double flights from Abu Dhabi and Doha to Manchester.

Emirates’ new service which begins from 1st May, 2011 will escalate the airline’s capacity by 25%. Emirates’ superjumbo service from Manchester has turned out to be a runaway success for the airline with its 517-seat plane flying full within a couple of months of its introduction in September.

“Manchester is a real success story. To be adding a third flight just months after introducing our 517-seat A380 superjumbo to the route reflects surging demand for our flights in and out of the north west of England,” Salem Obaidalla, Emirates’ Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations, Europe & Russian Federation was quoted in the company’s press release.

In 2008, British Airways did away with its long-haul flights from Manchester in favour of London Heathrow, which is Europe’s busiest airport. The flag carrier of the United Kingdom however maintains that it has no plans of revising the model, even as a number of airlines like Delta Air LinesContinental Airlines and Singapore Airlines operate long-haul services from the airport.

With more than 17.5 million passengers (8.4 percent of the national total), Manchester was the busiest airport outside London in the year 2010. The number is not too far off from the 2005 figure of 22 million before the cut back in service by British Airways and the British Midland. Heathrow handled over 65 million travellers last year.

Expansion Plans

The Manchester Airport is expecting some considerable growth in the current year. The airport’s Chief Executive Officer Charlie Cornish stated in an interview last month that the company is estimated to boost passenger numbers by 4 percent this year.

The Gulf carriers are also on a fast track as far as growth splurge is concerned. The carriers are targeting the northern part of the England in accordance with its growth plans in order to provide some sort of challenge to the British Airways and other airlines that specialize in long-distance transfer traffic.

Emirates is building up its fleet with 90 A380s with total seats numbering up to 45,000. The airline seeks to direct its budget-conscious passengers through Dubai. This is indeed good news for passengers who are in a constant look out for tickets on cheap flights. Other than Emirates, both Qatar and Etihad are also in an expansion mode with Qatar having orders for more than 170 jetliners worth $35 million and Etihad having 100.

And the Passengers are indeed getting allured by the new shining aircrafts that are appearing on the routes out of Manchester. Apart from cheap economy class tickets onboard their flights, Emirates and Etihad also offer competitively priced tickets for first-class on their flights from the city.

London Gatwick Exit

While Qatar Airways is jacking up its capacity in Manchester, the airline is scrapping its service to London Gatwick, which is the secondary hub for BA. The Gulf airlines seem to be more focused on faster-growing markets in the Asian continent unlike British Airways which is strongest on the North Atlantic routes, and after its merger with Iberia of Spain, has added to its connections to Latin America.

Qatar Airways acknowledged that its increased flight frequency caters to the demand of the population living in and around the city for travel via Doha to Asian destinations like IndiaPakistan and Sri Lanka.

However, as of now there is no possibility of re-establishing Manchester as a hub as far as the British Airways is concerned. Willie Walsh CEO of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, BA’s parent company, was quoted by news portals as stating “We’ve flown international flights from Manchester in the past but they weren’t profitable, so today we fly to Heathrow.” Mr Walsh also added, “If the Middle Eastern carriers want to fly there and it’s a market we’re not serving directly, that’s competition. I have no complaints.”

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