STRATEGIC PLANS

Kuwait 2018 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sami Fahad Al-Rushaid, Chairman of Kuwait Airways, on dealing with a challenging year, its initiatives to develop Kuwaiti pilots, and taking steps to modernize its fleet.

Sami Fahad Al-Rushaid
BIOGRAPHY
Sami Fahad Al-Rushaid has been Chairman of Kuwait Airways since April 2017. His educational qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Miami. Before assuming his current position, he served as Board Member of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation from 2004-2013. From 2004-2007 he was Chairman and Managing Director of Kuwait National Petroleum Company, for which he had worked in different positions since the start of his career in 1978. From 2007-2013, he was Chairman and Managing Director of Kuwait Oil Company. In addition, he was the Founding Partner of Global Energy Management Solutions Group.

How has the last year been for your operations?

The new board and I were appointed on April 4, 2017. The past year has been tough and challenges remain ahead. We are dealing with these and addressing them one by one. The first and foremost challenge has been the company's financial performance. It is no secret that Kuwait Airways suffered a loss in 2016, and we expect 2017 and the coming three years to see losses as well. However, we are developing a strategy that will enable us to turn these losses into profit in about four to five years at the most. The other challenge that needs mentioning is in manpower and staffing. Three or four years ago, there was a decision to privatize Kuwait Airways. The result was that we lost a large number of professional staff. Many transferred to the government sector. The second major challenge is thus to rebuild our manpower to the strength that we used to have, which we are working on.

Can you tell us more about reinforcing manpower training to correct that issue?

We have done a few things in this regard. We currently have a shortage of pilots, because 35 of our pilots chose to work with the government. We now have about 400 pilots, though 35 pilots matter to an airline like ours. We have taken that as a challenge to convince them to return to Kuwait Airways. We also have new airplanes coming, which means the shortage of pilots is exacerbated. Subsequently, we were able to convince 30 of those pilots to return, which is a great achievement, enhancing our strength and enabling us to get through the summer, which is the high season for travel. Secondly, we made an arrangement with the Ministry of Education for a scholarship program for pilots to study abroad and return to work at Kuwait Airways. We have not done that in the past 20 years, and that is a big step forward by giving this scholarship for Kuwaiti nationals to join Kuwait Airways. Of course, it is a tough process, and they have to pass tests and exams to get there. Thirdly, we are developing an executive MBA program for some of the leaders that we have at Kuwait Airways. We need to create leaders for the future, and we are developing that program with this in mind, for up to 20-25 people.

How does the acquisition of new airplanes fit into your long-term strategy?

Modernizing our fleet is an essential part of our strategy. For some time, Kuwait Airways did not modernize its fleet. We have thus taken the right steps in this direction. We have so far received 10 Boeing 777s, between December 2016 and August 2017, approximately one plane a month, while in the September we received two. They are wide-body planes, their configuration is excellent, and they are long-range planes that can carry a great number of passengers. That has improved our services significantly.

How will the airport expansion affect your operations?

The airport is an essential part of the service of any traveler. The new airport is already under construction. It will take perhaps five to six years to complete; however, it is definitely a step in the right direction and will be state of the art. Another point is that there is a support terminal, which is currently under construction as well. It is a stopgap to reduce pressure on the current airport until the new airport is finished. Terminal 4, the support terminal, is expected to be completed by May or June 2018. That is earmarked for Kuwait Airways in particular as well as some other airlines. This is an excellent opportunity for Kuwait Airways to improve its services if we move to the new support terminal. It will help Kuwait in general too in terms of attracting new passengers and visitors.