- Vice-president for the country says company is looking forward to enhancing capacity and scaling up passenger services as airline eyes recovery path
Emirates could introduce its Airbus A380 fleet to the Pakistan market, conversations with officials suggest, with the airline hinting at the possibility through a guarded statement that it “would love for passengers to experience the service onboard the aircraft”.
The Dubai airline, which has championed the Airbus A380 as the backbone of its global airline network, has a total of 115 in its fleet with another five pending delivery, according to information available on its website.
The wide-body A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, has been described in the industry as a ‘hotel in the sky’, but many airlines see it as an inefficient and unprofitable burden on their income statement.
In a recent conversation with Business Recorder, Mohammed Alhashmi, Emirates Vice-President Pakistan and the de-facto CEO for the country, said Pakistan remains an important market where scaling up of services is in the offing, a statement that coincides with easing of the coronavirus pandemic situation as well as more relaxed travel guidelines.
“With the easing of travel restrictions, we look forward to enhancing capacity and scaling up our passenger services,” Mohammed told Business Recorder. “This is a very exciting market and we are confident travel demand will gradually bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.”
Pakistan recently allowed international flight operations at full capacity from November 10, revising also its earlier guidelines on travel restrictions.
The news was hailed by the airline industry that has seen a tumultuous 20 or so months, watching harrowing empty airports.
Emirates, like all airlines, endured the uncertainty. The airline flew 6.55 million passengers in the 2020-21 financial period, down over 88% when compared with 56.16 million in the pandemic-free 2019-2020, according to its latest annual report.
Its profit of Dh1.06 billion (around $290 million) in 2019-20 turned into a loss of Dh20.3 billion (around $5.5 billion) the following year, its first one in over three decades.
The situation prompted an injection of $3.1 billion from its owner, the UAE government, while dnata, part of the Emirates Group, tapped various industry support programmes and availed a total relief of nearly Dh800 million during 2020-21. The airline also got a further Dh2.5 billion ($ 681 million) in state support in the first half of 2021 — the third time since the pandemic started that equity was injected into the airline.
However, as the world recovers from the coronavirus horror, the numbers’ situation seems to be improving as well.
The airline still posted a $1.6-billion loss in the first half of the financial year, but revenue was up 86% to $5.9 billion, and the loss compares to $3.4 billion during the same period last year.
Mohammed said the airline was confident of a smooth recovery. “We are readying ourselves for the rebound of certain travel segments including Hajj and Umrah.”
While Airbus, maker of the wide-body A380 that is the world’s largest passenger jet, ended production of the plane in 2019, 12 years after it started, Emirates continues to place faith in the aircraft now being dubbed as too costly to operate, a situation worsened with the onset of the pandemic.
The aircraft has proven popular with passengers, which Emirates argues is a key attraction for its customers.
"Emirates will continue to be the largest operator of this spacious and modern aircraft for the next two decades," Emirates President Tim Clark said in a September 1 statement, reported by Reuters.
But while A380s on Pakistan runways could still take some time, with airport infrastructure being somewhat of a constraint, Emirates said that it is focusing on gaining back the passengers that were ‘locked down’.
“For now, we’re committed to restoring our network and to safely operating 60 weekly flights to five points in Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Sialkot,” said Mohammed.
“We would love for our passengers to experience the service we offer onboard the Emirates A380. We have recently deployed our Emirates A380 on more routes.”
Business model agility
The coronavirus, while exposing some countries’ fragile health systems, also put many businesses’ agility to the test. The airline industry, hardly known this quality, was among the worst-hit.
However, Mohammed said since the start of the pandemic, Emirates adapted operations to meet the needs of the changing business environment.
“This included ramping up cargo operations and introducing passenger freighter services, and ‘mini freighters’ - Boeing 777-300ER aircraft with seats removed from the economy class to make more room for transporting cargo and essential supplies worldwide.”
The annual report for 2020-21 also suggested the situation with the logistics and supply-chain business was not that dire. Emirates transported 1.87 million tonnes of cargo in 2020-21, compared with 2.39 million tonnes in the previous year.
Its business, said Mohammed, helped facilitate trade and transport essential medical supplies into Pakistan.