Emirates connects Pakistani passengers to its network of 123 destinations in 73 countries. Badr Abbas, Vice President of Pakistan and Afghanistan, speaks about the operations of Emirates and the current situation of the airline industry.
Please tell us about your professional background?
I have 10 years of experience serving in diverse aviation markets in Gulf, Middle East and the African region. I took charge of the Pakistani and Afghanistan market for Emirates Airline in August 2010. Prior to my appointment as the VP Pakistan & Afghanistan, I was acting as the Regional Manager in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2007. I have also worked in senior managerial capacities in Cyprus, Yemen, Libya and Tunis. Previously, I also worked for Emirates in Pakistan before becoming the vice president.
What is the present situation of Pakistan’s aviation industry?
The government has taken a number of steps to manage the infrastructure. Airports in Pakistan are facilitating and the aviation industry is booming. More flight options are now available from North Pakistan. Initially, travelers from Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar had very limited options available to them. A few months ago we increased our frequency of flights in and out of Pakistan from 39 to 45. From February, an additional weekly flight was added to both Lahore and Islamabad increasing the frequencies of Emirates flights to 47 flights a week. We operate from 4 destinations in Pakistan. CAA is very supportive for providing us with these additional frequencies. In addition, our SkyCargo operations are booming which is a testament to the fact that Pakistani exports are rising and ultimately increasing investments as well.
What is the current situation of the airline industry around the world?
The economic recovery is underway but is not uniform across all markets. We continue to monitor the situation closely and deploy our resources to best meet the needs of the market.
Our development plans for all areas of our business remain on track and we are confident that our robust business model will continue to reap rewards. Emirates continues to grow and remain financially stable despite the current economic crisis.
Please tell us briefly about the operations of Emirates Airline in Pakistan?
Pakistan is a significant market for us. Emirates and Pakistan have come a long way together since our launch in 1985 with Karachi being our inaugural destination. This historic relationship has strengthened relations between Pakistan and UAE by providing unrivalled services to Pakistani travelers. Emirates offers 47 return flights per week from Pakistan to Dubai from four hubs- Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar. Apart from air travel, we remain committed to the local landscape as well. We recently collaborated with PCB to sponsor domestic cricket tournaments in Pakistan in order to contribute to the development of cricket from the grass root level. We hope that through this sponsorship domestic cricket receives the boost it needs and opportunities are provided to deserving players. We continue to hold workshops and trainings to keep our partners updated on the new products and services available to them. We also continue to have internal training sessions to better equip our staff to provide the best customer service experience.
Pakistan is among the top contributing markets for Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises. The close proximity of Dubai and Pakistan leads to increased economic activity and investments and greater need for travel. Emirates SkyCargo – our air-freight business is offering reliable cargo solutions to Pakistani exporters through more than 100 airports across the globe. Overall, there has been tremendous growth in terms of both revenue and passenger traffic from Pakistan.
How much work force do you have in Pakistan? What kind of aircrafts are operating in Pakistan?
At present, we have over 3,000 Pakistani nationals including Cabin Crew and Pilots working with us throughout the network. In addition, we employ a staff of over 300 people to support our operations in Pakistan. We operate a variety of aircrafts from Pakistan including Airbus A330-200, Boeing 777-200 and Boeing 777-300 aircraft, in a two-class (Business and Economy) configuration.
How do you see the Pakistan’s market as far as the aviation industry is concerned? Which market segment is more profitable?
In recent years, the airline witnessed a double-digit growth in Pakistan. When there was a decline in yield, it was offset by the increase in passenger seat factor and overall passenger numbers. Business conditions have been challenging but we have an excellent product line, including the very popular A380’s and their increasing network, great service and competitive prices – which helps us in attracting and retaining customers. There is also potential in cargo as Pakistani exports are demanded all over the world and our SkyCargo division aims to provide unmatched services which help boost exports as well as the Pakistani economy. We continue to strengthen as well as expand cargo operations and with increased frequencies granted recently, we will be able to carry more cargo.
What are the major issues faced by your airline in Pakistan, especially from the regulatory authority?
The regulatory authorities in Pakistan have always been accommodating to Emirates. More flight options were needed from North Pakistan as initially travelers from Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar had very limited options available. A few months ago we increased our frequency of flights in and out of Pakistan from 39 to 45 and the CAA was very supportive for providing us with these additional frequencies. Last month, we added an additional weekly flight to both Lahore and Islamabad increasing the frequencies of Emirates flights to 47 flights a week. We have never stopped or reduced any flights to Pakistan and were the first airlines to resume operations to Peshawar after the security situation was lifted.
Please tell us more about the Emirates Airline? What is its ranking among international airlines?
Emirates is one of the world’s leading airlines which has also been attributed as the world’s fastest growing airline. At present, Emirates operates flights to 121 destinations in 72 countries. The airline currently has a mix of Boeing and Airbus aircrafts as part of its fleet including the Airbus A380 superjumbo. Emirates is also the largest operator of the Airbus A380. We aim to penetrate the Pakistani market in order to provide the best possible travel options and convenience. Our goals are not limited to our services but we aim to contribute to the overall Pakistani landscape. On a global front, Emirates secured Gold at the 2012 Air Transport News Awards in a special ceremony held in Athens this month. Winning Gold ‘Airline of the Year’ was a proud accomplishment for Emirates which has well over 500 international awards already to its name.
Do you think that there should be more airlines in Pakistan? How is the local market in terms of profitability?
There is definitely room in the market for more airlines and Emirates always welcomes healthy competition. There is a high demand for flights and we are currently operating at an average load factor exceeding 80% while the average load factor is normally close to 60%. We believe that free competition is the greatest catalyst for better customer service and it keeps us on our toes. It is important to note that a more competitive structure of the aviation market will lead to more innovation and betterment of service quality and will also boost local trade and economy. With more flights and passengers coming in, business activities will flourish and generate greater incomes for the locals.
How do you compare your airline with other airlines like PIA and Airblue?
While we take all competition seriously, especially those carriers with a profile similar to our own: global reach, full service and commitment to excellence but we do not spend time and energy monitoring them. We believe that we are best served by developing our own strengths. Our approach has been to find out what customers want and to focus on delivering it. We continually challenge ourselves to set new service standards and offerings.
Globally, what are the investment opportunities available in the airline industry?
The airline industry has a number of opportunities which in a short period of time has enabled us to achieve robust growth. Different aircrafts are being designed to better facilitate the needs of the passengers and there is an advanced technology allowing sustainability. Emirates recently placed the largest order in the history of Boeing at the Dubai Air Show which came to $26 billion. With increased trade and business, not only the passenger traffic is increasing but there is also room for expanding the air cargo industry.
What would you like to say about the spare parts business of aircrafts, is there any opportunity in it in Pakistan for that business in Pakistan?
We cannot comment on the feasibility or scope of the air craft spare part business in Pakistan without the necessary research involved. Our own fleet is maintained by an engineering facility. Emirates Engineering primarily supports the extensive fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft operated by Emirates airline and the aircrafts of 30 other airlines operating at Dubai International Airport. The division can manage and implement all aspects of aircraft engineering support, such as maintenance, safety and logistics. The facility has the capacity to meet the service requirements of an Emirates fleet which is growing at the rate of one new aircraft every month.
How can the government improve policies for the airline industry?
The Pakistani government and the relevant regulatory authorities have been very helpful. Major factors affecting airline operations such as rising fuel prices or the economic recession are beyond the control of the government. The government has always taken steps towards facilitating us.
Where do you see Pakistan’s airline industry in the next decade?
Emirates is deeply committed to the region. We hope to see an increase in our flights as well as increase in daily frequencies from the Northern parts of Pakistan as well. Pakistan’s economic landscape and businesses are thriving which will give rise to cargo operations in the future.
What would you like to advice new entrepreneurs or investors who want to be a part of the aviation industry?
Like any other industry, the aviation industry also has potential and room for investment. While there have been shifts in trends but considering the economic decline over the world, we have not seen any negative impact on our business. In fact, Dubai airport is continuing to record the increase in the number of passengers. In order to be successful and optimize opportunities available, an organization must prioritize what is most important to them. As a leading airline, we place great value on corporate citizenship and social responsibility and believe our business ethics are integral to our continued success. We firmly believe our employees are our greatest assets and their contribution to the staggering pace at which we have developed cannot be underestimated. This dedication to the welfare of our employees does not distract from the fundamental economic role of our business – to reward stakeholders. As a leader in aviation innovation, we are devoted to expand our business while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution.