Despite the damaging effect of the dire security situation in neighboring Syria and Yemen, tourism still represents around 14% of Jordan's GDP, and central to that industry is the country's aviation infrastructure.
2018 was a very constructive year for Jordan’s biggest air hub, Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA), and 2019 seems to be following the same trend. In 1Q2018, the Jordania flagship airport welcomed 3.8 million passengers, a 7.6% YoY increase. The impact of aviation alone on the country’s economy is estimated at USD2.2 billion a year, employing over 70,000 people.
While traditional air connections such as Alexandria, Antalya, Cairo, Doha, Istanbul, and Kuwait continue to drive much of the passenger traffic at the airport, the airport is finding a growing passenger market in the new connections that opened last year, and most of it is due to the growing interest of European low-cost airlines in the Middle Eastern nation. Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has taken a particular interest in Jordan connections. As of November 2018, the airline had several direct connections from Italy, Poland, Cyprus, Lithuania, Belgium, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to Amman. Furthermore, it now operates eight flights per week from Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Germany to Jordan’s second city, Aqaba. Ryanair is hardly alone. British low-cost airline EasyJet also began flight connections to Jordan in late 2018. The airline carries hundreds of passengers from London and Berlin to Aqaba twice a week. Norwegian Airlines has also started connections from Copenhagen to Amman and Aqaba in recent months. In January 2019, AirArabia announced a new route connecting Sharm El Sheikh, in Egypt, to Amman, twice a week.
In December 2018, Jordanian airline Jordan Aviation made its inaugural flight between Amman and Igor Sikorsky Kyiv International Airport, in Ukraine, in yet another new connection opening in 2H2018. A week later, the airport received the first flight coming from Yemen operated by Queen Bilqis Airways. This rapidly growing interest by European and Middle Eastern airlines in the Kingdom of Jordan not only has a great deal to do with the easing security situation in neighboring Syria and Yemen, but also due to the country’s rising profile as a must-see tourist destination. Renowned tourism platform Lonely Planet chose Jordan, particularly due to its majestic landscapes, as one of the 10 destinations to visit in 2019, which helped putting the country on the wishlists of travelers from all over the world. The fact that fares to Jordan have plummeted with the entry of low-cost airlines, with the average round trip flight falling from USD600 to around USD150 for European locations, is bound to have a significant impact on boosting the number of visitors in the years to come.
Authorities expect the number of visitors to Jordan to continue to rise by 4% per annum for the next 20 years. Part of this future passenger growth could be from new connections with Asia Pacific, Latin American, and African destinations. In November, the Jordanian airport’s operator, Airports International Group (AIG), stated on the sidelines of an aviation conference in Dubai that it was planning to attract airlines from these regions in a bid to become a transport hub for the Middle Eastern diaspora in the four corners of the world. The company expects to add four new airlines to its portfolio from these three under-explored regions in the coming years.
To help in its efforts, the airport can count on a renewed influx of capital. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced in January 2019 that it purchased an indirect stake in AIG, amounting to USD34.9 million. It is uncertain how the capital will be used, especially since the Queen Alia, which was inaugurated in 1983, underwent a massive renovation in 2013 with the construction of a new state-of-the-art terminal, though this gives the operation some financial assurances. The renovations resulted in the airport nabbing the “Best Improvement by Region: Middle East” and “Best Airport by Region: Middle East” by the Airport Council International in 2014, which bodes well for the hub’s growing regional and global ambitions.