Miami International Airport has emerged as the latest US airport to land a nonstop flight to the Middle East by way of Qatar Airways, which will offer four weekly services from MIA to its Doha hub starting June 1, 2014, utilizing a Boeing 777-200LR series aircraft.
The new Miami service announcement from Qatar trails two other recent declarations from the burgeoning Middle East “Big Three” carriers, including Emirates Airline, who will launch daily service between its Dubai hub and Boston Logan airport starting in March, and Etihad Airways, who opened reservations for a daily nonstop flight between its Abu Dhabi base and Los Angeles, also starting June 1. Together with Qatar Airways, all three carriers revealed plans to start these new US routes within a span of four weeks of one another.
Qatar loaded the MIA services into the GDS this morning with the following schedule and flight numbers:
QR777 DOH0840 – 1720MIA 77L x135
QR778 MIA2115 – 1820+1DOH 77L x135
Miami is currently the only top 10 US airport without a Middle East connection
Once Miami is linked to Doha, it will represent the first time that all of top 10 US airports (ranked by largest volume international traffic) will each finally have a link to the Middle East. Up until this point, despite being the second largest US airport boasting international traffic, Miami was the sole airport without a nonstop scheduled service to the Gulf. According to the Miami Herald, South Florida has not had a flight to the region since El Al Israel dropped its services to Tel Aviv in 2008.
Per Wikipedia, the following airports represent the top 10 busiest in terms of international traffic for 2010, compiled by the US DOT:
|Rank||Airport Name||Current nonstop ME Destinations||IATA Code||Traffic|
|Passengers|| % Chg.|
|1||New York||Abu Dhabi, Amman, Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Kuwait, Riyadh, Tel Aviv||JFK||22,702,882||5.8%|
|3||Los Angeles||Dubai, Tel Aviv||LAX||15,505,566||4.7%|
|5||Chicago||Abu Dhabi, Amman, Doha||ORD||10,426,287||2.5%|
|9||Washington||Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Kuwait, Riyadh||IAD||6,167,501||9.5%|
The above airports have service to the following cities in the Middle East (excluding direct flights, e.g. Washington IAD – Kuwait – Bahrain on United). Note that Etihad will be starting Los Angeles – Abu Dhabi in June 2014 and Saudia Airlines also has disclosed plans to fly nonstop to LAX in 2014, although it is unclear from which hub(s).
Qatar beats Emirates in expanding to Miami largely thanks to OneWorld ties
Miami has long been rumored to be on the high-end of Emirates’ list of future US destinations, as it was, up until now, one of the only major US airports lacking direct competition to the Middle East. For Emirates, Miami, in addition to Chicago, represents a major hole in their US network as it seeks to close more geographic gaps once new aircraft deliveries take place.
So far, Emirates has not unveiled any retaliatory plans to launch Miami in the near future, although it is logical that the carrier will inevitably do so within the next 12-18 months. Chicago is also rumored to be on Emirates’ radar for launch in summer 2014, pending arrangements with airport authorities at O’Hare to determine best usage of gate space.
Likely, the opening of Miami was expedited due to Qatar’s impending timeline to join the OneWorld alliance, which is nearing implementation at the end of 2013, moving at a faster rate than initially projected for early 2014. Miami is a critical cornerstone hub for one of the founding OneWorld carriers American Airlines, serving as a key gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Miami launch preceded by Philadelphia, but Qatar has different plans for both
Qatar will also open up a new station at Philadelphia, PA in April 2014, two months in advance of the Miami service. Interestingly, Qatar is launching Philly utilizing a daily Boeing 777-300 service, thereby offering a larger number of weekly seats on a higher-density aircraft than Miami’s less-than-daily 77L. Qatar’s 777-200LRs feature 42 seats in Business and 217 seats in Economy in a 2-class cabin configuration, whereas its 777-300ERs feature 42 seats in Business and 293 seats in Economy, also in a 2-class cabin config.
It is plausible that Qatar planned to commence service to Philadelphia under the guises that US Airways, which operates its second largest hub at PHL, would be joining the OneWorld alliance sometime in 2014 as part of its merger with American. However, merger plans have been placed on hold due to an anti-trust lawsuit filed against the two carriers by the US Department of Justice, and a court date has been scheduled for next month by both carriers to challenge the lawsuit. For the interim, however, US Airways will remain in Star Alliance until further proceedings.
However, the likely scenario is that Qatar is not phased by the merger delays (or, alternatively, the possibility that it may not even occur) in commencing its Philadelphia flight as it aims to focus on stimulating local demand with competitively-priced fares and an attractive connecting schedule beyond its booming Doha hub to destinations in the Middle East, Africa and other parts of Southeast Asia.
In fact, a primary data point to support this notion can be derived from Qatar’s proposed schedule into Philadelphia:
QR727 DOH0100 – 0750PHL 77W D
QR728 PHL1040 – 0615+1DOH 77W D
On the outbound sector from Philadelphia, Qatar’s flight is timed to arrive at Doha in the early morning, just prior to two of its heaviest daily departure banks, which operate between 0700 and 0859 local time. According to CAPA scheduling, these banks support flights to cities such as Male, Tehran, Khartoum, Riyadh, Dubai, Bangkok and Dammam, to name a few, representing some of the connections onward from DOH leaving during those hours that will certainly hail demand from Philly.
Interestingly, however, the times will coincide with few departures to the Indian Subcontinent (namely, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) meaning that passengers traveling between these regions and Philadelphia will either have to endure lengthier layovers, or select another carrier/connection with more favorable schedules.
On the return sector, Qatar will be departing from DOH to PHL at 0100 local time, which also supports connections from its heaviest arrival banks arriving into Doha between the hours of 2200 and 2359 local time. The arrival into Philadelphia in the early morning will also facilitate onward feed on the US side. However, connections on the departure out of Philadelphia will be a bit more limited as the flight leaves for Doha mid-morning as opposed to later in the day, thereby likely rendering connecting traffic to hail from short-haul markets around the East Coast/Upper Midwestern US region and perhaps a few red-eyes from the West Coast. Qatar currently does not fly nonstop to any markets in the US west of Houston.
Qatar will face less competition in Philly and wait out AA-US merger (hopefully)
At Philadelphia, Qatar will also be facing significantly less competition than at Miami, thereby creating a stronger business case to deploy a larger aircraft at higher-frequencies to PHL. US Airways commands the majority of intercontinental traffic from Philadelphia, but primarily to European markets (many of which are seasonal) and the rest of which are mostly terminating/end-of-line destinations without hub feed on the opposite end, such as Manchester, Barcelona and Tel Aviv. The only transatlantic markets from PHL which support major intercontinental connections entail London Heathrow (offered twice daily on British Airways), Frankfurt (offered twice daily on US Airways and once on Lufthansa), and to a lesser extent, Zurich, Munich and Brussels.
Hoping out for an American – US merger victory will only boost Qatar’s likelihood for success on its Philadelphia – Doha route, swinging the majority of the international market-share breakdown from Star Alliance to OneWorld out of PHL. Qatar will likely place its code on the new American’s transatlantic flights from Phildelphia, inherited by US in the merger. Interestingly, in light of the merger stall, neither US Airways nor Qatar have made advancements in forging codeshare agreements on the Philadelphia flight. In all likelihood, this is due to political reasons as US Airways continues to remain in Star Alliance, which generally holds a frosty view towards the Gulf carriers.
Conversely, Miami International is fragmented among over a dozen carriers offering transatlantic services year-round (compared to just 3-4 airlines from Philadelphia) thereby intensifying competition while also softening yields. Further, Qatar’s service to Miami is roughly 900 nm longer than Doha – Philadelphia, and Miami’s geographic positioning requires specialized aircraft, either via long-range 777-200LRs or 787-800/900s, in order to operate across such distances without significant payload restrictions.
As such, Qatar is taking a more conservative approach to opening up its Miami station with a less-than-daily service, which is a wise strategy to allow the route to mature before hopefully up-gauging frequency to a daily service. While Miami has had success in recent years in terms of recruiting new international foreign carriers, not every example has proven to be fruitful: Delta, along with SkyTeam JV partners Air France – KLM, attempted to increase their presences in the South Florida – Europe sector by launching a Miami – London Heathrow flight on Delta and a Miami – Amsterdam service on KLM, both of which did not even last two years. Air Europa pulled out of Miami – Madrid, and Lufthansa dropped its Miami – Munich and Miami – Dusseldorf flights.
Still, Qatar should feel confident that the Miami services will be aided by OneWorld’s strength in South Florida. Qatar already codeshares with American on its services into Chicago O’Hare and New York JFK, and American places its code on Qatar Airways’ flights from Doha to various cities in Europe such as Madrid, Frankfurt, Milan, Barcelona and Manchester. As such, the relationship between the two carriers seems to be favorable.
Qatar offers contrasting scheduling approaches to Philadelphia and Miami for strategic reasons
Another interesting point to note is that Qatar has chosen virtually opposing schedule times for its Miami and Philadelphia launches. The Philadelphia flight, as mentioned already, will leave Doha after midnight, arriving into Philadelphia in the early morning, and then leave Philadelphia just before mid-day and arrive into Doha at early morning the following day.
Conversely, the Miami flight will leave Doha in the morning and arrive into Miami in the evening the same day, then turn to depart Miami in the late evening and arrive into Doha in the evening the following day.
To that end, its interesting to note that whereas the Philadelphia flights are timed to connect to Qatar’s network across the Middle East, Gulf and North Africa, the Miami – Doha flights are primed to arrive into DOH to facilitate connections to India, in contrast to Philadelphia. CAPA schedule analysis shows convenient departure times out of Doha to Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, Kochi, Chennai, Amristar, Lahore, Colombo, Karachi, Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, Dhaka and Amritsar on the outbound, and similarly with early morning arrivals from the above named cities on the inbound flight departing for Miami at 8AM local time.
As such, it is plausible that Qatar purposefully wants to avoid cannibalization in launching these two new routes by offering different scheduling options out of each station, should the US-AA merger receive the green light. Interestingly, Qatar’s schedule for Miami is roughly similar to its setup at recently-launched Chicago O’Hare, meaning that Qatar may be targeting Southern US – Subcontinent traffic flows without having to route them over Chicago O’Hare, adding extra travel time.
QR991 DOH0915 – 1550ORD 77W D
QR992 ORD2055 – 1825+1DOH 77W D
On the Miami end, a late afternoon/early evening arrival will also facilitate connections on American’s late-night departure bank to Latin America, although opportunities are more limited on the return with a late evening departure from Miami (as most deep South American flights operate as overnight services). However, Miami will still be able to funnel traffic from cities in Northern Latin America, Central America and, of course, domestic services.
Next up for Qatar: Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles, possibly Dallas/Ft. Worth? Maybe all?
It’s unclear where Qatar will head next as it continues to forge its way into the US, eager to keep pace with competitors Etihad, Emirates and Turkish Airlines, also a formidable player in the region, as all four carriers expand their presences in the US. Qatar is essentially doubling its fleet over the next decade as it grows from 129 frames with 170 on order, including the Airbus A380, Airbus A350, Boeing 787-800 and a few more Boeing 777-300ER series. Without question, Qatar will be sending a sizeable chunk of those planes to US soil.
The greater question is, where will Qatar head next? Flamboyant Qatar CEO Abu Al Baker has stated intentions to serve Boston, Detroit and Atlanta in the past, but the carrier always seems to throw curve balls by instead proceeding with cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and, right now it appears, Miami, to keep the public guessing.
Several have predicted the likelihood of Detroit given its large Arab/Persian diaspora, while others predicted Boston would be next (until Turkish and Emirates both beat Qatar to the punch). Atlanta could theoretically respond positively to a new foreign flag service to the Middle East, just as Dallas/Ft. Worth has shown ever since Emirates arrived in February 2012. Both airports are roughly similar in nature in terms of international O&D volume and are welcome to more competition beyond their respective hub carriers and alliances.
Alternatively, Qatar may want to fill the void in the US West Coast and launch LAX, but again, would face similar challenges as with Miami: tons of existing competitive forces, long journey time, and fewer connections on the LAX end, despite being a OneWorld cornerstone hub.
That leaves Dallas/Ft. Worth as another possible contender. While Qatar serves nearby Houston, the proximity between the two cities did not seem to thwart Emirates from launching a DFW flight. Moreover, Dallas/Ft. Worth is American’s largest and most important domestic hub. To Qatar’s benefit, the growing subcontinent population in Texas can only help to boost traffic on a DFW-Doha route.