Publié le 08/07/2019

Julien LEBEL

Airports in the Gulf emirates are major transit hubs in global airline networks today. Apart from their “advantageous” geographical location, their development results primarily from the ambitions of political actors seeking to maintain their power. This has led especially to the creation of the “Gulf companies”, namely Emirates Airline (Dubai), Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi) and Qatar Airways (Doha). However, the three emirates are not following identical strategies. Within the unstable context of the Middle East, it is important to look at the development dynamics of these companies which symbolize the global reach of small but powerful political entities on the international stage.

The interest shown by some leaders of the Gulf emirates for civil air transport emerged well before the appearance of massive financial rents which have today allowed Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways to sustain their development strategies. The importance for the British to maintain maritime and air routes through to the Indian subcontinent up to its independence gave the Persian Gulf a certain strategic importance.

Today, the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar are pursuing ambitious strategies in the airline industry, within the context of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But they are also pursuing economic diversification and asserting themselves on the international diplomatic scene. The growth of the Gulf companies is not without consequences for other carriers, both in the Middle East and in other continents. It is also leading to a real transformation of global airline connectivity.

The various airline companies which connect the Gulf emirates to other countries reflect the contacts and the interdependency which have developed between different actors across the globe. This is taking place against a background of rising tourism flows (mostly in transit), of strengthening diplomatic and security cooperation, as well as of deepening investments by the sovereign wealth funds of the Gulf in third-party states. A rising number of international actors are therefore concerned by the developments set out here.

This study aims to understand the origins and motivations of an unprecedented development in the history of commercial aviation which has given the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar a place on the international scene, via the expansion of their world-renowned airlines. It is appropriate to examine the consequences of their strategies and the sustainability of the business of the Gulf companies, especially in view of the regional upheaval that is looming over the coming years.