ABOVE THE REST

UAE, Dubai 2013 | TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman & Chief Executive of Emirates Airline & Group, on building an aerotropolis, and future plans for one of the world's greatest carriers.

HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum
BIOGRAPHY
HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum is President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports, and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group, also including Dnata, the sole ground handling agency at Dubai International Airport. He embarked on his journey in the aviation industry in 1985 when he was appointed President of Dubai Civil Aviation. He studied in England and obtained a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver.

What are the key factors that have contributed to the success of Dubai's aviation hub?

Aviation and Dubai are inseparable. In a departure from the trend seen in many other countries, the UAE places aviation at the center of its economy, and the results over the past 25 years have been phenomenal; Terminal 2, which has just been extended, Terminal 3, the cargo mega terminal, the Dubai Flower Centre, and the Dubai Metro system. More recently, we've seen the opening of Concourse A, the world's first purpose-built A380 concourse, while Al Maktoum International—part of the Dubai World Central aerotropolis in Jebel Ali—continues to unfold. This has all been made possible by the underlying vision of Dubai's rulers, creating an aviation-centric economy and a model that the country can be very proud of.

What's next for the aviation industry in the UAE?

The next important aviation milestone is the start of passenger flights at Al Maktoum International–Dubai World Central (DWC) from October 27, 2013. The launch carriers will be Saudi-based nasair and Naz Air of Hungry, which flies to Central and Eastern Europe. Many people may not realize that the airport has been open to cargo flights since 2010, and Emirates SkyCargo will be moving its operations to DWC in a phased process beginning later in 2013. The latest developments come at a time when Dubai's aviation sector continues to show impressive growth. Dubai International, the world's second busiest airport for international passengers, racked up another month of double-digit growth in May with an 18.9% increase in passenger numbers. Overall, passenger traffic was up 16.8% compared to the first five months of 2012. In May 2014, Dubai Airports will conduct an extensive runway enhancement project at Dubai International. To safeguard service levels over the 80 days during which the work is taking place, scheduled passenger flights will be reduced, and all freighter, charter and general aviation flights will be diverted to DWC.

Emirates Airline keeps opening new routes that connect Dubai with the world. What is the airline's ongoing strategy for securing a strong global presence?

From the beginning in 1985, the strategy of Emirates Airline has remained very focused—to grow organically, connect cities across the world via Dubai, offer unbeatable value for money, and provide an unmatched level of service. In 2012, Emirates Airline launched a record 15 new destinations, and our fleet count has recently reached 200, including 35 A380s.

Which regions provide the greatest opportunity for the company? What new routes do you have planned?

Emirates Airline is a global organization, so we look at opportunities on a global basis, sensitive to economic trends and other emerging patterns that may impact our business. So far in 2013, we've launched the Algiers, Warsaw, and Tokyo-Haneda routes. Stockholm, Clark International in the Philippines, and Conakry in Guinea will follow later in 2013. A significant plus for Emirates Airline is the size of our network, enabling us to activate business between all sorts of city pairs, exploiting east-west connectivity through our Dubai hub. The strength of our business model, and the healthy spread of risk has helped us through the more difficult times.

What sets Emirates Airline apart from its competition?

In short, an indomitable desire to lead the industry. Billions of dollars in investment spanning our fleet, aircraft interiors, lounges, products, and services ensure that we leave no stone unturned in providing the very best value for money, delivering an experience customers are eager to repeat and share. With the largest fleet of A380s and Boeing 777s in the world, our fleet is one of the youngest and most environmentally efficient in the industry.

What is the significance of customer needs anticipation for Emirates Airline?

I strongly believe that people are an organization's greatest asset, and I am pleased to say the staff I oversee are remarkable, going the extra mile for our customers every day. Anticipating what customers want is a vital part of what we do.

Emirates Airline offers the largest fleet of A380 aircraft, and a multitude of added services to the traveller, including luxurious lounges, a chauffeur service, and extensive cabin features. What is your next contribution to the airline sector?

Emirates Airline is a pioneer in so many ways. Just recently, it was awarded the highly coveted “World's Best Airline" award, presented by Skytrax at the 2013 World Airline Awards. It is well known that barely a day goes by at Emirates Airline without a major announcement—if it's not a route launch, it's a global sponsorship, or an aircraft order, or else an investment of some sort. So I would say, watch this space.

How will the Dubai's vision to further develop the infrastructure, in combination with the World Expo 2020 bid, impact operations of Emirates?

From the very start, Emirates Airline and Dubai have grown hand in hand. The ongoing infrastructure development and the World Expo 2020 follow that pattern. Emirates Airline would continue to play a significant role in Dubai's bid, and, if successful, the event itself. As a company, we exist on the basis of connectivity, and in the 2012 financial year, we carried nearly 40 million passengers around the world. We, of course, will be a major factor in bringing millions of visitors to Dubai should World Expo 2020 be held here. With modern aircraft and numerous pioneering initiatives, Emirates Airline is also a shining example of progress. With the completion of Concourse A as the new home of the A380, the aircraft is representative of the rapid economic and infrastructural journey Dubai has undertaken.

What does 2014 hold for Emirates Airline?

The new financial year, which began April 1, 2013, is again proving to be challenging. However, we will remain focused on growth, and exploit opportunities that work for the business. We are optimistic about the future, but, given the intensely competitive environment and the forces at play, we need to remain smart and ahead of the game. We will continue to see a shift of activity from west to east—and with Dubai's globally central position, Emirates Airline is well placed to capitalize on that trend, equipped with modern, fuel-efficient aircraft.