Downturn bottoming out in the region, says BA official


A senior British Airways official has said the airline had seen a 10 per cent week-on-week jump in demand in regional markets, suggesting the sharp downturn in the airline industry triggered by the events of September 11 had bottomed out.

"The degree of the upward gradient is different in different markets," Terry Daly, general manager for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Central and South Asia regions, said.

"But we remain committed to the region, with the UAE being our fastest-growing, and our second most important market in the Middle East."

He said the airline which saw a sharp plunge in sales and bookings immediately after September 11 owing, primarily, to corporate travel advisories banning travel to the region, had begun seeing a steady rise in loads both into and out of the UAE.

Bookings for January were also now looking more healthy, said Daly.

"Regional revenue comparisons might give a reasonable picture of a market's importance during normal times, but during other situations market shares vis a vis the competition might give a better feel of ground realities - and here, we are happy with our share which remains very healthy," he said.

He said the airline together with its alliance partners has been the largest European carrier in the Middle East for the past 70 years, and is determined to keep it that way.

He said the ongoing global belt-tightening had forced the carrier to cut three weekly flights to the UAE - two to Dubai, and one to Abu Dhabi - out of an earlier total of 21, but reiterated the company's determination to resume these as soon as possible.

"Even today, we have 103 weekly flights to 14 countries in the Mena region, and 54 flights to the GCC," Daly said.

Judith Limburn, commercial manager for the UAE, Oman and Yemen, added that while the airline had to axe around 10 per cent of its staff, it had done so transparently, and in an open, caring manner.

Further, she suggested, the region might actually have fared better when considering the overall lower headcount.

"In our UAE operations, for instance, we cut costs by not filling existing vacancies or continuing with part-timers, which should result in only 5-10 per cent of staff having to be made redundant."

On the overall scenario, however, despite the carrier's stated plan of continuing with its fleet acquisition and replacement programme, Daly professed himself less than optimistic.

"While September 11 exposed the airline industry to its worst crisis ever, the world was even earlier in the grip of a recession. Further, fuel charges coupled with lowered fares are straining profitability, with added security concerns today having impelled us to impose a Dh20 'security surcharge' on flights into this sector," he said.

All in all, he said, 2002 will also remain "pretty tough".