Doing just fine

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Emirates recently announced its 25th consecutive year of profit. According to the airline, group profit increased by 34% on the previous year and Emirates also added 34 new aircraft and 10 new destinations. All of which adds up to a healthy state of affairs and lunch on the airline’s sales manager in South Africa – Hendrik du Preez.

If there’s one thing Hendrik du Preez would like to clear up, it’s this.

“We don’t receive a fuel subsidy from the government, even though that’s the perception in the market.”

There, he said it. Not me. And if you don’t believe him, you’re welcome to take it up with him.

The fact remains that fuel subsidy or no fuel subsidy, Emirates, along with its fellow Middle Eastern carriers, Etihad and Qatar Airways, have shaken up the African aviation market, with their high class products and their insatiable desire for bigger route networks.

“The Middle Eastern carriers haven’t just shaken up Africa, they’ve shaken up a lot of the world,” says Du Preez. “One of the main things is Dubai as a hub, being just four hours’ flying from two-thirds of the world’s population.”

It’s not just the geography, though. With African aviation still battling concern over its safety record and not appearing capable of keeping up with what the likes of Emirates have to offer in First and Business Class, the Middle Eastern airlines are grabbing market share.

“I also think the guys at Emirates have been visionary – on average, we’ve got the youngest fleet in the industry, something like six-and-a-half years,” says Du Preez. “So, all our planes are very fuel efficient and it’s all wide-bodied aircraft. With fuel making up about 40% of your operating costs, that’s very important.”

Some may argue that Africa’s airlines and governments have been far too welcoming in handing over some of that market share, with codeshares just about commonplace nowdays. Du Preez is intrigued by this (notwithstanding the Emirates-Qantas deal earlier in the year), citing SAA’s recent announcement of codeshare agreements with both Etihad and Air Seychelles.

“What’s also interesting is the model of some of the other Middle Eastern carriers, who are buying equity shares in certain airlines,” says Du Preez. “Etihad, for example, buying shares in Air Seychelles, Air Berlin, Virgin Australia etc.”

With that in mind, shouldn’t Emirates be more aggressive in Africa, if the continent really is the last remaining slab of unchartered territory? Not according to Du Preez, who isn’t fazed by the fact that Emirates last announced new African routes – Lusaka and Harare – at the beginning of 2012.

“Well, we’re covering most of Africa at this stage – 13 destinations – and South Africa predominantly. We’ve got six flights a day coming in here – three in Jo’burg, two in Cape Town and one in Durban,” he says.

But what about countries north of South Africa’s borders?

“Nigeria is big for us, as is the whole of West Africa, along with Angola,” says Du Preez. “But, another focus for us is developing our offline points, where we don’t fly into directly. Like from here, we’ll look after Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique, because there’s a lot of traffic that we pick up.”

“Basically, it’s looking for growth opportunities where there is demand.”

That demand is currently coming from South Africa, and is the reason why Du Preez is grinning from ear to ear over his cappuccino!

“Our Business Class is doing very well out of Johannesburg,” he says. “It’s been a focus for us, and it’s probably an indication of your corporate market going back into the premium cabins, although there’s still a focus on cost. There’s always that in South Africa, but it’s also a very intelligent market.”

Intelligent it may be, but Du Preez says he has a job on his hands, keeping the local travel trade up to date on what Emirates has to offer.

“You have to keep educating the market,” he says. “A lot of the market might not know that we offer complimentary strollers at Dubai Airport, for example. There’s also the complimentary chauffeur drive for First and Business Class passengers, at most of our destinations. We’ve got fantastic products like these, but we’re playing catch-up to try and educate the market.”

Wishing him well, as I pencil in 2014’s lunch, off the back of what is expected to be another good year for Emirates.

Dylan Rogers