THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST

Kuwait 2016 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rasha A. Al Roumi, Chairperson & Managing Director of Kuwait Airways, on the process of rebuilding the airline, streamlining labor, and the importance of a flagship airline.

How has the rapid development of the aviation sector regionally impacted Kuwait Airways, as one of the first local airlines established in the Gulf?

Kuwait Airways was established in 1956 as a private company, and has since become a fully government-owned company. The Iraqi invasion destroyed the airline's infrastructure, as the aircraft and hangars were all either left or destroyed. We had to rebuild everything and start from scratch, and the airline's rebirth became a source of pride for Kuwait. Looking back at the history of the region, oil became the defining commodity in the GCC countries, and with the oil boom came a focus on new strategies by those GCC countries, very much around leisure and also aviation, which is a key platform in Qatar, for example. This all happened at the expense of Kuwait Airways. However, Kuwait Airways has always remained the favored and preferred airline of the Kuwaiti people.

What has been your strategy to bring Kuwait Airways back to the leading market position it once held in Kuwait?

When I became chairperson and managing director, my first priority was to sign contracts for new aircraft with either Airbus or Boeing. In line with that strategy, we are in the process of receiving 25 new aircraft from Airbus, 10 of them wide body and 15 of them narrow body, in addition to 12 leased aircraft. We also purchased 10 Boeing 777 aircraft. This was essential for us to be able to regain a share in what has become a competitive airline market in the GCC and the region overall. The Kuwaiti people fly all over the world, and we wanted to reclaim our place as their airline of choice so that they would prefer us to the likes of Qatar Airways, Emirates, or Etihad. We introduced our new fleet far faster than most airlines could, ensuring that customer experience is consistently outstanding. Our other priority was to achieve a financial transformation of the company so that it could be self-sufficient. We also wanted it to sustain and contribute to a cultural transformation, in the way people work and the way business is done in Kuwait. Having achieved those goals, we are now in a strong position to think about future structure and expansion.

How were you able to streamline the workforce and ensure that your employees were also an efficient part of the company's transformation?

According to the Kuwaiti privatization law, people can opt for either redundancy or early retirement. Some people were also transferred to government services. We ensured that the company was efficient from a company perspective, while at the same time recognizing the loyalty and service of people who had in many cases worked here for 15 years or longer. Nevertheless, we are still over-staffed, so the process of streamlining continues. One thing we take great pride in is that Kuwait Airways is truly a Kuwaiti company, in that it is run, managed, operated, maintained, and staffed by Kuwaitis, which distinguishes us significantly from other airlines in the region, including Qatar, Etihad, or Emirates.

What is the plan to continue to deliver high quality services as well as more destinations to Kuwait Airways travel offerings?

We have introduced eight new destinations in 2015 alone, including Munich, Vienna, Sharm El-Sheikh, Bangalore, and Medina. The new aircraft we acquired will enable us to fly to destinations that were not within our reach before, so we will eventually fly to potential destinations such as Los Angeles, Toronto, Boston, and Guanzhou. It is not just about flying to more places, it's also about offering more frequencies, which gives people the convenience they want. We have combined that with operational reliability, quality products and service onboard the aircraft, and a Kuwaiti touch.

What new opportunities are you targeting for the future of Kuwait Airways?

We are now focusing on our new terminal, and we have finally received approval from the Supreme Council to continue with the new terminal. Our aircraft and services are under our control, though the airport is not. Airport services are just as big a factor for our business as aircraft because it directly affects our flow of passengers.

You collaborate with Red Crescent to provide humanitarian aid to those in need. How important are these kinds of initiatives for the company?

We help Red Crescent with cargo flights. We recently provided two relief flights to Syria, where we provided relief equipment and supplies for Red Crescent. Not everything is business, and we have a certain responsibility in the markets we serve. We have been proud to serve Syria in the last few years, and we want to keep serving and helping them in this time of need. The same is true for Yemen. We see this as a part of our corporate responsibility.

What do you expect will be the most important factor in making Kuwait Airways a top airline in the Gulf region?

The airport is the most important factor. It does not matter how many aircraft you have if you do not have the facilities to operate them and cater to the increased flows. Kuwait has much more competition, partially due to the fact that people see Kuwait as being a more attractive market in itself. Qatar and Emirates are about providing connectivity, but it is a different situation in Kuwait. Carriers come to Kuwait to take the business of Kuwait.

As the national flagship carrier of Kuwait, what vision you would like to see achieved at Kuwait Airways moving forward?

The world first gets to know about your country through your airline, so it is an important part of any country's economy. We want to become a boutique airline that is growing healthily, serving Kuwaitis and those who live in Kuwait. We want to provide a service that gets them where they want to go at the frequencies and with the quality of service that they desire, and we want them to prefer us simply for the pleasure of flying Kuwait Airways.

What are your expectations for 2016, and what are your priorities for next year?

We are working on our new identity and rebranding Kuwait Airways in accordance with our new strategies. By June 2016, customers will see a new Kuwait Airways.