The Emirates Philosophy

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It’s been an interesting few months for Emirates in South Africa – a spat with the South African government, the launch of a seventh daily flight, and now a falling oil price to contend with, as the market wants to know why its flights to Dubai aren’t any cheaper. So, it was a good time for editor Dylan Rogers to catch up with Fouad Caunhye, Emirates’ Regional Manager Southern Africa: Commercial, over a coffee in Johannesburg.

Whichever way you look at it, the Emirates numbers are impressive.

2014 saw the Middle Eastern airline receive 13 Airbus A380s, and it’s currently the world’s largest A380 operator (57), with a further 15 due to be delivered in 2015. There were also 10 new A380 routes in 2014, bringing to 34 the number of destinations Emirates flies the A380 to.

That’s just the A380 – never mind the strides made in its onboard product, a prominent new African route in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and now a seventh daily flight for the South African market to take advantage of.

That latter route, though, wasn’t a foregone conclusion, with the South African government disputing Emirates’ rights to a fourth daily flight between Johannesburg and Dubai.

“There were issues with the South African government, but we have worked through them,” says Caunhye. “We believe we are adding much-needed seats to the country on a global network, and these seats bring value – commercial, economic, trade, cultural, and social interaction.”

No sooner had this issue been resolved than the global oil price took a dive, with the International Air Transport Association saying in December that lower fuel prices are expected to help airlines post a collective global net profit of $25 billion in 2015, up over 25% on last year.

Great news for airlines like Emirates, but the consumer may need to wait a while before he or she sees the benefit.

“Much of airline fuel trading is based on hedging of the fuel price,” says Caunhye. “At the moment, the cost price of the fuel in our tanks is very much the one obtained three or four months ago. But, if we have to adjust our prices, we’ll come to the party. However, you also have to take into consideration other variables, such as the rapid depreciation of the rand. Our sales are made up in local currency, but our costs are not.”

According to Caunhye, there’s currently an approximate 50-50 split between business and leisure, with regards the travel that Emirates is seeing between South Africa and Dubai. But what he has been able to identify is a change in the type of business traveller on this route.

“Premium travel is no longer monolithic and made up only of high level CEOs, individuals who travel on their own or with a small entourage, or high level government officials,” he says. “In the past four, five years we’ve seen an evolution in the South African market, with new entrepreneurs in the export market.”

That hasn’t stopped Emirates from continuing to evolve its premium cabins, and there’s no doubt that, along with fellow Middle Eastern airlines Qatar and Etihad, Emirates has raised the bar, in terms of onboard luxury.

“We’ve been a trendsetter by introducing private suites, wider screens, onboard telephones etc,” says Caunhye. “The additional features now are seamless connectivity, but also ensuring that a journey is not only the aircraft you travel on. For instance, included in your total fare, there is a pick-up chauffeur drive ahead of your trip, there’s a seamless check-in experience, a lounge offering, and we ensure that on your exit you are fully refreshed and able to concentrate on business.”

If that business is in Africa, then you’re bound to be aware of the Emirates presence on the continent, with an African footprint that now totals 24 destinations. Caunhye won’t say where the next new African route will pop up, but what he will commit to is the Emirates approach.

“If we operate a new route, we won’t do it on a lower sum frequency value,” he says. “Otherwise there’s no worth. You don’t do three or four flights a week. If you do it, you would have to adhere to your customer requirements, and the minimum is daily operations. That’s the Emirates philosophy.”