Expansion plans are taking off for the Middle Eastern carrier. Sam Ballard highlights the regional hubs in which key connections are being made
From humble beginnings to establishing itself as one of the world’s leading carriers, the story of Emirates in many ways mirrors the story of Dubai itself. Founded with just two aircraft in 1985, and ultimately owned by the Dubai government, the airline now has a global fleet of more than 265 aircraft flying to 155 destinations around the world. Such a high number of flights – an incredible 1,500 departures out of Dubai every week to more than 80 countries – means that the Middle Eastern carrier now has one of the biggest networks on the planet.
The company began operating out of the UK in 1987 with flights from Gatwick. Today, it has a presence in seven UK hubs: Heathrow, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and, as of last month, Stansted. It is this focus on regional departures that makes Emirates such an interesting prospect to the many people for whom Heathrow is not a particularly convenient airport.
Hubert Frach, Emirates’ divisional senior vice-president of commercial operations for the West, says: “As a company, we are very passionate about connecting people and places, nations and communities. We decided to add Stansted to our network because we saw a very strong opportunity to directly connect the community in northeast London, and the corridor between Peterborough and Cambridge, with some of the world’s most popular leisure and business destinations.”
The move is a shrewd one. Not only will the route service a leisure market of about 7.5 million passengers, but a booming pharma hub has developed around Cambridge, with multi-billion-pound companies such as AstraZeneca and Napp establishing themselves just outside one of the nation’s top seats of learning, while the region is also home to 25 of the world’s largest corporations including Airbus, ARM and GSK. Because of this, Emirates has allocated a brand new Boeing 777-300ER to the route. The wide-bodied aircraft comes fitted with Emirates’ renowned first-class private suites, featuring floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, and an updated business-class cabin. Each flight is also capable of carrying 20 tonnes of cargo, crucial for opening up the area to Middle Eastern business.
The new route provides a significant opportunity for both Emirates and the region’s travel agents, according to Richard Jewsbury, the divisional vice-president UK for Emirates.
“It’s a natural progression of our strategy,” he tells ABTA Magazine. “We’ve always been committed to the regions of the UK as much as we have to Heathrow and the London market. We’ve got two flights a day to Glasgow, one a day to Newcastle and three times a day to Manchester. It’s about giving customers choice and options as much as geographic convenience.
“Dubai is a wonderful destination, but the new route will give passengers access to places beyond that. Between us and our partner flydubai, we’ve got 75 connections across Asia, Africa and the Indian subcontinent.”
The move to open up Stansted is Emirates’ first regional launch in the UK since it began flying out of Newcastle in 2007. Now, the carrier will be sitting among departures from the likes of Ryanair, easyJet and Jet2 on the Stansted departure board. How will it maintain an “Emirates experience” among those low-cost carriers?
“Most of the airports we operate from have low-cost airlines operating out of them, too,” Jewsbury says. “There’s nothing particularly different about Stansted, albeit that the wide-bodied Boeing 777 is a new operation here.
“We’ll work hard to make sure we can provide the same standards and service that customers expect from us to make it work. The airport has been super-supportive. They want to make it work.
“Take our premium customers, for example; they will be given complimentary chauffeur drive to and from the airport. That’s already in place. So the Emirates experience will be baked into the facility from day one and will grow and develop from there.”
From a leisure point of view, forward bookings are already strong, with Dubai, Australia, Thailand and Bali among the most popular routes being booked. The business sector is seeing stronger bookings in Dubai, Shanghai and India.
Ultimately, the success of the route will be gauged on its profitability, with a mix of cargo and passenger load being taken into account. Emirates’ UK flights currently operate with a load factor in the high 80 per cent, and forward bookings for Stansted do not appear to be bucking that, although Jewsbury is quick to point out that the airline’s success is in no small part down to the travel trade.
“We have our own channel, but we couldn’t have grown and been this successful without [travel agents] and we recognise that,” he says. “We have strong working relations with them and we expect that to continue. Having this flight in Stansted gives a lot of opportunity to local travel agents.”