SOARING TO GREAT HEIGHTS

Dubai 2016 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman & CEO of Emirates Airline & Group, on the future of the aviation industry, staying ahead of the competition, and developments in the pipeline.

HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum
BIOGRAPHY
HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum began his career in the aviation industry in 1985, when he was appointed President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), the governing body that oversaw the activities of Dubai International and Dubai Duty Free, among others. In the same year Emirates was launched, with Al Maktoum as its Chairman. He is currently Chairman & CEO of Emirates Airline and Group, which includes air services provider dnata and other aviation-related entities. He also holds a number of government positions and plays an increasingly pivotal role in leading the Emirate’s finance and energy sectors.

How would you evaluate the aviation industry and the role Emirates has played in it?

Aviation is a vital part of the increasingly globalized world economy and has facilitated momentous growth for international trade, tourism, and international investment, in addition to efficiently connecting people across continents. Aviation is one of the main engines driving Dubai's emergence as a global center for trade, commerce, and tourism, which is why the government created a business and regulatory environment that supports its growth by encouraging open competition through open skies policies and efficient operations. As a result, aviation and its direct, indirect, and induced outputs will account for more than 17% of Dubai's total workforce by 2020. I believe aviation and air travel has a promising future, but only if everyone involved in this sector—the industry, governments, regulators, and local communities—work together in the long-term interests of all stakeholders.

How can the burden of congested airspace be alleviated in the Middle East?

At the moment, air traffic control is manageable, but we know where the issues are, as we have six international airports sharing the same airspace here in the Gulf. We are evaluating a number of air traffic management solutions. Governments in the region understand the criticality of making airspace management feasible for all, and I anticipate progress in the next two years.

How can the UAE maintain its edge as one of the world's leaders in aviation?

The UAE can maintain its edge because we are fortunate enough to have visionary leaders who understand that the right mix of geography, modern infrastructure, innovative products and services, and, most importantly, people, will help the UAE keep its edge over the competition. For example, Dubai's strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia, has been at the foundation of Emirates' success in building a global hub for travelers and cargo. We serve about one-third of the world's population within a four-hour flying radius, two-thirds of the world's population within an eight-hour flying radius, and almost 90% of the world's population with non-stop flights using the latest ultra-long range aircraft. Geography is only part of the story. A clear vision was put in place for the right infrastructure, systems, and investments needed to build a global destination. Good products will keep us ahead and will help us win new customers and loyal fans. For Emirates, this means flying modern aircraft that are efficient to operate, and ensuring we have the latest onboard features to guarantee our customers get the best value and experience. Last but not least, it is people. Recruiting and retaining the best people from around the world and bringing together the best insights and practices will continue to contribute to our success.

What are Emirates Airline's prospects for the year ahead?

Emirates' rapid growth has reflected that of Dubai's. In 2015, we flew 51.3 million passengers on 240 aircraft. In 2020, when Dubai hosts the World Expo, we expect to be flying 70 million passengers on about 300 aircraft. We will receive 37 new aircraft this year, and will also retire 26 older aircraft to keep our fleet young, modern, and efficient. We will launch services to more new cities including Yinchuan and Zhengzhou in China, Cebu and Clark in the Philippines, Yangon in Myanmar, and Hanoi in Vietnam. There will be more developments, so watch this space. We believe there is still great potential for the airline—and Dubai—to grow even further. For Emirates, one of the keys to unlocking that potential will be the new Al Maktoum International airport (DWC). The new airport at DWC will not only feature the latest technologies for a better passenger experience, but also open up much needed capacity to accommodate the expansion of our fleet and operations. As always, we will remain focused on growth, and take advantage of opportunities that work for the business.