‘Air Transport Liberalisation Would Benefit Consumers, Increase Trade Links And Stimulate Economic Growth’
Manoj Gopi Nair is the Regional Manager, West Africa, Emirates. In this exchange with OLAWUNMI OJO, he speaks on the operations of the Emirates Group on the continent, especially in the West African sub-region, how they have been fostering immense trade relationships and, in the process, helping to shape Africa’s future economic outlook.
COULD you give an overview of Emirates operations, routes covered and its unique offerings in the West African
Emirates Airline was founded as an airline in Dubai in 1985. Its operations commenced with just two aircraft—a leased Boeing 737 and an Airbus 300 B4. The airline’s first flight to Karachi took off on October 25, 1985 from a relatively rudimentary Dubai airport.
Today, however, with a fleet of over 230 modern, wide-bodied aircraft, and 279 firm aircraft orders pending delivery, the airline flies to 144 destinations in six continents, from its international hub of Dubai.
Emirates’ standing is now so much more than an airline. The company has evolved into a travel and tourism operation on a colossal scale, straddling numerous divisions and propelled forward under the umbrella of the Emirates Group.
Wholly-owned by the government of Dubai, Emirates is often asked about the secret of its success. A passion to be the very best, innovation, a strong management team and astute cost consciousness are amongst the factors that have played an important role.
Talking about the routes covered, today, Emirates serves 21 passenger destinations in Africa including West Africa. These destinations are: Abidjan, Accra, Addis Ababa, Cairo, Cape Town, Casablanca, Dakar, Dar el Essalam, Durban, Entebbe, Johannesburg, Khartoum, Lagos, Luanda, Nairobi, Tunis, Harare, Lusaka, Conakry, Algiers and Abuja. In addition to five cargo-only destinations: Eldoret, Lilongwe, Djibouti, Kano and Burkina Faso.
Emirates is dedicated to providing travellers with more destinations to choose from and is committed to expanding its fleet to achieve this. The airline continues to provide passengers with a superior aircraft product and the highest quality of service.
At every touch-point, we aim to give our customers the best value for their money through our offerings – On-board: modern fleet with an average age of 74 months compared to industry average of 140 months; the award-winning entertainment system, ice; international cabin crew representing over 160 nationalities; food prepared by gourmet chefs and award-winning wine selection. On-ground: convenience of online check-in, generous baggage allowances, chauffeur drive and lounge access for premium travellers. Connectivity: efficient hub in Dubai where the airport is a destination in itself, flight timings to maximise the day in Dubai or connect to popular destinations in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Given Emirates’ activities in the sub-region, how would you assess the demand for air transport in terms of growth?
We have seen successful growth in Africa in the past decade, in tandem with economic development across many markets in the continent including West Africa sub-region.
Africa currently represents 10 per cent of passenger, cargo, seat capacity and revenue share of the total Emirates network. We are continuing to play a part in the continent’s future economic story by opening new routes, increasing flight frequencies to existing points, and upgrading aircraft to cater for the increasing passenger and cargo demand.
Nigeria and Egypt are some of Emirates’ key destinations in Africa. Total hotel guests in Dubai from Africa were over 800,000 in 2013 including major visitors from Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan and South Africa. In addition, Ghana is considered one of Emirates’ successful stories in Africa.
In what specific ways would you say the Airline is impacting on the sub-region socio-economically and in terms of trade and investment?
On the trade front, we have been facilitating and enabling trade between Africa and the rest of the world through our network. We have supported the African economy since the launch of our first African point in Cairo in 1986; just a year after Emirates was established. Emirates SkyCargo has become a valued partner for many local businesses across the continent, carrying goods from various points on its global network to Africa. We facilitate exports from 26 African points to the UAE, supporting the foundations for a trade relationship worth over USD17 billion in 2012 according to figures from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Trade.
In terms of investment, Emirates’ fleet investment in Africa tops $7 billion with operating costs of over $2 billion. It plans to expand to 10 more destinations by 2025 with a jet fleet worth of $10 billion to $12 billion.
Statistics show that airline business is still not as profitable in Africa as it is in most parts of the globe. What has been the experience for Emirates in the sub-region, and if there are, how has the Airline been cutting its losses?
On contrary, Africa continues to grow exponentially each year, and we are well placed to capitalize on this growth, with over 160 flights across the continent each week.
In 2013/14 financial year, Emirates carried 4.3 million passengers. This represents an over ten-fold growth since 2000. We also carry 265,000 tons of cargo last year (over 700 tons per day), of which dedicated freighter services account for one-thirds (28 per cent) of total cargo traffic.
Some of the impediments to aviation business in this clime include low safety and environment standards, government control and lack of adequate aviation infrastructure. What operation model have you adopted to circumvent these in order to remain effective and efficient in your operations?
Many countries have not yet liberalised access to their skies, and where this has been done in other parts of the world, it has led to improved safety standard and an increase in trade and tourism, which has a positive impact on growth of local and regional economy.
While many markets have invested in aviation infrastructure and services, this needs to continue in order to meet the growth and demand of global aviation.
Emirates has always advocated an Open Skies policy and in fact was born in the Open Skies policy of Dubai.