Power Letters 2019: Sir Tim Clark, Emirates president

The President of Emirates talks innovation, growth and how to cope with headwinds in the aviation business

Sir Tim Clark Emirates Airlines

For Emirates, 2018 has been about making flying ‘better’ for our customers. This continual drive for improvement has always been a part of our DNA, and underpins our current and future success – whether in terms of delivering ever better customer experiences or enhancing the way we operate across the business.

Over the course of 2018 we introduced a number of product and service enhancements on our Boeing 777s and A380s, and continued to deliver a full customer journey that is comfortable and enjoyable in every cabin class. This builds on our history of setting benchmarks that today have become the customer experience blueprint for the industry. There will be more to come in the next two years, as we introduce Boeing 777Xs to our fleet and receive the newest generation of the A380s that were ordered earlier this year.

We also announced internal trials for an advanced ‘biometrics path’ at Emirates Terminal 3 in Dubai, among other innovations. When launched, this will hugely improve our customers’ experience on the ground, allowing them to simply walk from curb to gate while biometric technology automatically scans, verifies, and clears them through check-in, immigration and other airport check-points.

On the network front, we offered better connectivity to our customers through expanding our menu of destinations. As we received delivery of new aircraft, we launched four new routes, added frequencies to 20 destinations and upgraded capacity to eight cities.

We expanded our UK footprint with London Stansted and Edinburgh, and launched Santiago in Chile, opening more corridors for increased long-haul connectivity to South America. Our partnership with flydubai continues to grow as we expand access to our combined network of over 200 unique points. Over the next 12 months, we will continue to ensure that we structure our capacity and leverage our competitive advantage to unlock further growth opportunities on even more routes, as well as further enhance inter-terminal transfers for our customers in Dubai.

Our Dubai hub’s attraction as a ‘must visit’ destination has grown even further and this is demonstrated by Emirates carrying 9 per cent more customers to Dubai in 2018, a testament to the city’s appeal to both first-time and repeat visitors from around the world. As we inch closer to Expo 2020, we will see a boost in tourism and infrastructure development, and the benefits will trickle down to other industries. Emirates’ plans for Expo 2020 are starting to take shape and pick up momentum, and we look forward to being part of exciting times ahead.

Emirates hit two fleet milestones in 2018. We celebrated 10 years of A380 operations this summer, carrying over 115 million passengers since our first A380 flight. We also took delivery of our last Boeing 777-300ER, and in the coming months we will begin preparing for deliveries from the Boeing 777X and 787 programmes.

Business in 2018 was not without headwinds, and there were a few key wild-cards at play. Oil price pressures and currency volatility in key markets eroded our profits, with trade tensions between the major economies and ongoing geo-political tensions in our backyard adding to the challenge. Luckily, overall passenger demand continues to be on the rise, presenting opportunities to push our revenues higher and partially offset our yield pressures.

The oil market is in a current state of suspense and no one will be surprised if 2019 proves to be another volatile year with signs that major economies may be in for a rough ride.

As always, the Emirates business model allows us to be flexible and agile when responding to change and disruptions, especially as Dubai’s open economy and our own global footprint means we have no respite from the impact of macroeconomic trends.

In 2019, one of the runways at our Dubai hub will shut for 45 days for renovation. The necessary capacity reduction will impact our revenues during that period. As we did in 2014, we are working strategically to slim down our operations, and are collaborating closely with stakeholders to ensure we continue to deliver a superior customer experience. The infrastructural investment will pay off and we will be ready to ramp up our operations again during the summer travel season.

We continue to be watchful of the escalation in protectionist rhetoric, on both the aviation and geopolitical fronts. But aviation has a unique selling point and has always been a force for good – it shrinks distances and satisfies the world’s thirst for connectivity, it links businesses and ultimately creates jobs and opportunities. Raising barriers will benefit no one.

In spite of the challenges, I am forever an optimist. We will buckle down and navigate through the difficulties that lie ahead, and will also continue to explore opportunities that make commercial sense for us.

Our strategy will remain as it always has, focusing on our organic growth, growing linkages between cities, while delivering a superior experience for our customers.