Since it first took flight in 1985 with two aircraft, Emirates Airline has gone from strength to strength: from being taken as a serious contender to inspiring the launch of other airlines, to a truly global airline en route to dominating the skies.
In an exclusive interview, Tim Clark, president, Emirates Airline, gives TTN a sneak preview of what the airline has in store. Excerpts:
It has been reported that Emirates could double its Airbus A380 order and that currently a 50-100 aircraft order is being evaluated. Are you that bullish?
If airport capacity allows, Emirates could certainly consider adding to our A380 order. At the present time, we have already ordered as many A380s (55) as can be handled at Dubai International Airport –even with the new terminal and concourses currently being constructed, as part of a $4 billion airport expansion plan.
It is no secret that we are looking at ordering 50-100 mid-sized aircraft in the near future. Part of this order would replace some of the older aircraft in our fleet.
Yes, Emirates is bullish about the future of air travel for good reasons. Across the region, countries, states and cities are embarking on an unparalleled programme of investment and development to increase capacity, improve infrastructure and grow tourist numbers and revenues.
Consider these numbers on the future of travel and tourism in the Middle East, according to the a study by Global Futures and Foresight, released this May. Current estimates suggest that upwards of $3 trillion is going directly into leisure and tourism and indirectly into supporting
infrastructure in the Middle East. From the announced projects, it is estimated that the Middle East will add airport capacity for 300 million extra passengers, build over 200 new hotels, add 100,000 additional rooms and grow visitor numbers to 150 million per annum. Forecasts suggest that annual travel and tourism revenues in the Middle East could increase by 89 per cent over the same period.
The latest IATA data is also indicative of this buoyant travel trend - passenger growth in the Middle East was 18.8 per cent in July this year compared to a year before and compared to an industry average of 5.9 per cent.
Both Etihad and Qatar are expanding rapidly and aggressively marketing themselves internationally. Arguably they have the same advantages as Emirates – geographical location, supportive local environments that are investing in infrastructure and in some ways subsidising their operations. Maybe they were not viewed as threats previously, but what about now?
Believe it or not, I view them as a pressure relief valve! The demand for travel in this part of the world is growing so quickly that everything else – aircraft deliveries, airport infrastructure and route expansion – are struggling to keep pace.
Geographical location has been a lynchpin in Emirates’ success, as has the Dubai story of diversification away from oil industries and aggressive infrastructure investment. Having good air connections draws tourists, international companies and air cargo – all essential for stimulating economic growth. The growth of Emirates and that of Dubai go hand in hand. It is a formula that has proven successful and so it is no surprise other cities and airlines in the region are taking a leaf from the same book.
Emirates takes the view that competition is good for everybody – the customer, the airlines and the market. There is enough customer demand for all three airlines to be successful and given the number of multi-billion dollar ‘mega-projects’ in the region, the prospects for air services remain very bright. The traffic growth could be complementary rather than predatory.
Where are Emirates’ major growth markets?
The Americas, which we can now serve efficiently with the new ultra-long haul aircraft such as the Boeing777-200LRs and 777-300ERs joining our fleet. Also China and Africa. We would also like to strengthen services to our key markets – the UK, Australia, Germany, India and some cities in the Far East – where aircraft availability, airport infrastructure and air services rights allow.
How does Emirates intend to stay ahead of the competition?
By doing what we do best, which is to maximise our hub’s strategic location by identifying and connecting new city-pairs with the latest aircraft so as to meet and grow travel demand to invest in our product and service, so we can retain our customers and attract new ones, while keeping a tight rein on our unit costs.
In June this year, Emirates announced a multi-million dollar programme to provide ‘best in the skies’ travel experiences in all its three classes. The luxurious new in-flight product debuted on Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER ULT aircraft and the new Boeing 777-200LR, which will be operating on our new routes to Sao Paulo and Houston. We believe, the travel experience starts before the customer gets onto our aircraft, which is why Emirates invests millions to ensure our on-the-ground services are top-notch.
In addition to expanding our lounges in Dubai, over the past three years we have opened 16 luxurious airport lounges around the world, which are dedicated to Emirates premium passengers.
We have also extended our very successful chauffeur-drive service for first and business class customers to more cities and in some places like Venice, we innovated by introducing a water limousine airport transfer service.
This being the Internet age, Emirates also continues to invest heavily in enhancing our online bookings, check-in and seat selection experience and we aim to launch an attractive new online portal with advanced capabilities in the near future.
Can you give us a sneak preview of what will be on board Emirates’ A380s?
You will find some of Emirates’ latest industry-Ieading products onboard including our sumptuous private mini-suites in first class and Ice digital widescreen in all classes, our latest in-flight entertainment offering what will blow the competition out of the skies with over 1,000 channels of high-quality visuals and audio entertainment options on demand. More details will be unveiled closer to date, but one can expect comfort and practical luxuries in keeping with the Emirates high quality value proposition.
So – any plans to buy another airline or set up a budget carrier subsidiary?
No. Emirates’ rate of expansion will remain in high gear for quite a while more and that is going to keep us busy. We intend to focus our resources and energies on our own organic growth.
What will Emirates Airline look like in 2012?
In five years’ time, Emirates will transport some 33 million passengers around the world annually. Our fleet is projected to reach 150 wide bodies jets and our route network will link over 100 cities around the globe through Dubai. According to industry estimates, Emirates will likely be the largest long haul airline by this time. It is not our aim to be the largest, but certainly we intend to remain the best and the airline of choice for travellers around the world.
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