Encouraged by the results of initial collective ventures, airlines in the Middle East are planning to extend a range of joint projects that have enabled them to increase efficiency by reducing costs at out-stations. But carriers in the region may be inhibited from reaping the full rewards of co-operation because restrictions on the free movement of people and goods in the area stand in the way of liberalised open skies policies.

The Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO), meeting in Beirut earlier this month, resolved to extend joint ground handling and fuel-purchase arrangements, and expand efforts to ease local airspace restrictions. It will also seek a strategic electronic-commerce partner to promote AACO members' flight information. After years of discussion, AACO airlines are now beginning to see the results of joint efforts that are estimated to save them almost $150 million a year collectively. The bulk of this, around $100 million, arises from agreements that have seen 14 operators' flights covered by the Amadeus and Galileo computer reservation systems.

A move to rationalise ground-handling arrangements at London Heathrow in the late 1990s, based on a single AACO framework agreement, has been so successful that similar schemes now operate at Athens Spata, Frankfurt, Rome Fiumicino, and Vienna, saving airlines an annual $10 million and leading to plans for the addition of Istanbul, Milan Bergamo and Marseilles.

Arrangements for the bulk purchase of fuel for members at Middle East airports have now been extended outside the region to a total of more than 25 points, with cost reductions put at some $20 million a year. Non-members from countries belonging to the Gulf Co-operation Council are to be invited to join the scheme.

Following an AACO initiative to rationalise routes in the Middle East, a trial operated in the second half of last year has led to the adoption of new routings for services operating between Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Source: Flight International