Give us a sense of the recovery that Emirates has made since the start of the pandemic.
The ramp up in our operations began last year when we moved from 30-40 per cent to today where we’re sitting at almost 70 per cent of our pre-Covid capacity that we deploy. We’re moving towards the 80 per cent mark by the end of summer. By winter, hopefully, we will have returned to almost 85 per cent. We have more than 140 Boeing 777 aircraft operating, and have 70 of our A380s in operation too – this number will increase to 90 by winter before the end of the financial year. Today, we’re deploying almost more than 1 million seats per week. We have managed to return to 90 per cent of our pre-Covid network with 130 destinations.
Emirates has struck partnerships with several tourism boards over the last few months. What does that mean for the airline from a strategic point of view?
We have signed agreements with the tourism boards of seven countries including Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and Thai-land. The whole objective is to focus our team and theirs to promote the destination. There’s a budget that we set and a commitment from both sides to selling the destination using that marketing fund allocated by Emirates airline and by various governments that we sign the MoU with…and that’s part of the recovery of the airline.
What are Emirates’ plans for the premium economy class which it has showcased extensively at this year’s ATM?
We’re pleased to officially announce the premium economy. We’re launching it with six of our A380s. It will be deployed on August 1, and we start sell-ing it in the system from June 1, 2022. The points that we have initially allocated for the premium economy will be London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Sydney. By December, we will add Christchurch in New Zealand.
We’re taking our fleet through a major retrofit program. We’re rolling out the premium economy across 120 aircraft – including 67 A380s and 53 777-ERs. That will start in November 22 and the program will take 18 months to be completed.
The premium economy is slotted between the economy and business class. I think the premium economy is the gap where we are able to push more economy full-fare tickets into premium economy. I’m sure a lot of people are willing to pay extra money to get that comfort – seats with 40-inch pitch, eight degrees of recline, 13.3-inch screens, and meals similar to business class, including welcome drinks.
The target is to deploy it for long-haul and ultra-long flights beyond the six-hour mark because that’s where the real benefit of the premium economy kicks in.
What are some of the headwinds that the airline is facing?
There is a lot of volatility out there from the interest rate to inflation to the currency devaluation and oil prices. We haven’t been directly impacted by the Russia-Ukraine [crisis]. We’re trying to avoid fare increases as much as we can. We have taken on fuel overload and passed a certain extent of it to the consumers, but we have also absorbed a lot of that impact on us as well without passing it to the consumer.
We hope if things normalize in the future in terms of the fuel prices, we will definitely take off some of these surcharges and bring these prices down. We’re not seeing that happening at the moment as fuel is still holding at $100-$115. But so far, we haven’t seen
a major impact from the demand side or impact on our bottom line because of these volatilities.
As a key partner for Expo 2020, how did the airline benefit from that partnership?
The Expo put Dubai on the world map. Based on our statistics, 50 per cent of people who visited Dubai during the Expo were newcomers visiting from countries we never expected. We saw quite a spike in bookings from the US, Canada and many parts of the world
that weren’t top source markets for Dubai in the past. I think that the policies that Dubai introduced with golden visas and all the possibilities that Dubai created due to the Expo, helped and encouraged these people to stay back.
Dubai will definitely remain a core strategy for Emirates. The awareness that Dubai had two years ago and today are at a different level.
Tell us about your loyalty program Emirates Skywards and the plans for it going forward?
We are reaching almost 29 million members across our Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Blue tiers. It has a lot to do with the measures we took during the Covid pandemic with refunds paid to people in seven days, and a policy to allow customers to maintain their tier status while keeping their miles untouched. I think because of that, we’re seeing a lot of loyalty towards us.
People are coming back to Emirates. We’re ahead because of all the good things we did for our consumers and I think it’s paying off for us in the long term.
What is Emirates doing within the area of sustainability in aviation?
We’re engaged with many suppliers. SAF fuel is very expensive – I think it’s four-five times more expensive than the normal fuel. It is not commercially viable. But it’s something that we’re working with various stakeholders in the fuel industry to address. We’re also
working with engine manufacturers like GE to see how its engines can consume less fuel and become more economical in the future.
The technology that will come in on the A350 and the 777X will result in better efficiency in terms of fuel usage.
What can we expect over the short-medium term from Emirates?
Besides the introduction of the premium economy, the fourth cabin, you will see a completely new fleet of Emirates in three-five years. This will take the airline to a completely new level with the A350s and 777X aircraft that will be a part of this arrangement.
There is a lot of investment in our technology platform as well. We have announced our metaverse and NFT [projects]. There is a lot of work happening around the digital measures to make this airline look completely different and more seamless.