Emirates and Africa

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Manoj Nair currently heads up Emirates’ operations in Ethiopia and is responsible for the growth of the airline’s business and operations in the region. Prior to heading to Ethiopia, Manoj led Emirates’ operations in West Africa, where he oversaw overall management, control and administration of the airline’s assets and fiscal and marketing policies. Since joining Emirates in December 2009, Manoj has successfully built and maintained country- wide relationships with political representatives, government officials, regulatory authorities and stakeholders across the region. Manoj brings a wealth of experience in strategic and operational management within a competitive international aviation business environment. Before joining Emirates, Manoj held several positions in South African Airways (SAA), including regional manager of Middle East and North, West, East and Central Africa regions and Manager Kenya, Middle East and Gulf. Manoj Nair caught up with Capital to talk about his airlines strategy in Africa and Ethiopia. Excerpts;

 

Capital: The COVID pandemic has profoundly impacted the aviation industry, changing passenger needs and expectations globally. How are you rebuilding your global network connectivity?

Manoj Nair: This year saw more international borders reopen and travel restrictions ease, and we’re seeing travelers resume their pre-pandemic travel routines, creating a surge of demand for travel. We continue to see robust traffic across our network, in spite of external challenges, and healthy seat load factors well above industry average in every cabin class.
At Emirates, our focus remains on recovery – through rebuilding our network and capacity to pre-pandemic levels; helping the industry recover through close cooperation and meaningful partnerships and investing for the future to position ourselves on an even stronger footing.
Emirates is currently operating at more than 80% of its pre-pandemic network capacity, and we’ve also been adding flight frequency to meet customer demand and improve network connectivity through our Dubai hub. As travel restrictions ease or are being completely removed, we are expanding our network to serve demand. In Jan 2022, we were operating about 2,100 weekly departures network-wide, and by the end of December 2022 we’re expecting to expand our flying schedule to about 2,900 weekly departures.
Today, we fly to over 130 passenger destinations (including DXB). This represents 94% of our pre-COVID route network. We launched a new daily service to Tel Aviv in June, and restarted flights to London Stansted in August 2022, and reconnected Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires in November.

Capital: What are your plans for post-pandemic recovery and expected return to pre-pandemic levels of operations in Ethiopia and Africa?

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Manoj Nair: Emirates has rapidly rebuilt its network in tandem with the easing flight and travel restrictions in Ethiopia and across Africa. Addis Ababa is one of our most important destinations in East Africa, evidenced by the fact that we operate daily flights for passengers to Ethiopia (seven flights a week), returning fully to our pre-pandemic schedule. The route is served through our wide-bodied Boeing 777 and offers considerable cargo capacity to our customers on every one of our flights.
Rebuilding our operations – we announced additional services to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The ramp up of flights to these destinations are part of our ongoing commitment to support South Africa’s economic and tourism recovery through enhanced connectivity across all of our gateways.
The reintroduction of the flights between Dubai and the Emirates’ three gateways in South Africa will enhance our schedule to 42 weekly services vs. the 49 flights we had weekly pre-pandemic. We are hopeful by May 2023 we will be able to bring back all 49 flights subject to market demand and our operational capability.

Capital: The world is in turmoil, has the uncertain global economic environment affected Emirates’ strategy at all?

Manoj Nair: Despite the challenging economic environment, we continue to see robust demand across our network and we anticipate this momentum to continue into 2023. Our investments in forward planning, agile business response, and the efforts of our talented and committed workforce have proven successful for the airline and Group.
We were ready and amongst the first movers to serve the strong customer demand thanks to our robust business plans, the support of our industry partners, and our ongoing investments in people, technology, and products and services. We had a head start on recruitment and had our aircraft and operations lined up, ready to serve this demand. We were ready, Dubai was ready.
Emirates announced record half year profit of US $1.2 billion, reflecting the strong turnaround and recovery. It continues to focus on restoring its global passenger network and connections through its Dubai hub, restarting services and adding flights to meet customer demand across markets. Emirates’ network is global, and our business model enables us to adjust quickly to make sure we are in the right markets with the right product mix and offer. In addition, we have the advantage of being based in Dubai.
Remaining committed to its Fly Better Strategy, we are currently undertaking the largest-known airline retrofit programme to refresh and refit 120 aircraft, have rolled out a new hospitality strategy in June 2022, and have enhanced menus across all cabin classes.
However, the horizon is not without headwinds. There are a lot of forecasts around inflation, high energy prices, and the strong US dollar, driven in part by the war in Europe and supply-side challenges. These factors do impact the cost of business and could potentially dampen consumer confidence and travel spend. Like everyone else, Emirates is keeping a close eye on costs and working closely with our suppliers. We’re also ensuring that we continue to attract and retain customers, by offering value for money and great travel experiences.

Capital: What challenges do you face in your planned expansion?

Manoj Nair: As stated above, external headwinds such as inflationary costs, other macro-challenges such as the strong US dollar, and the fiscal policies of major markets pose challenges in planned expansion. We’re also working hard to reintroduce capacity to meet demand across our network. Demand continues to overstrip supply, and that’s a challenge we continue to work through.

Capital: As 80% of African skies are covered by non-African operators, how do you see the competition between airlines serving Africa?

Manoj Nair: There exists sufficient untapped growth potential in the African continent. As per estimates from IATA, the continent will see an additional 274 million air passengers by 2036 to reach a total market of 400 million passengers. The potential growth of the African air transport is further showcased by the fact that Africa is home to 16% of the world’s population and yet only has a share of 2.2% of global air passenger traffic. In the long term the sector will likely expand quickly on the back of economic growth, tourism and trade.
Africa is more than just one of many regions where Emirates operates, it’s a strategic focus and a very important anchor of our future network. We have successfully grown our operations in the past decades, and we’re committed to further growth and creating more connectivity for travellers on this continent.
Non-African carriers, such as Emirates, continue to be the main driver of connectivity between Africa and the rest of the world.
We’ve been operating to Africa for over 35 years (Cairo first destination). We have a long history on the continent and many deep relationships with stakeholders across the travel and tourism industry, having progressively grown our services in line with real, tangible demand.
Prior to the pandemic, we enjoyed double digit growth across Africa, operating to 21 passenger destinations in 18 countries.
While we may have briefly suspended operations, we have been able to build back our African network to close to pre-pandemic levels. We are also ramping up frequencies to provide more choice and connectivity for customers to and through our home and hub of Dubai.
Since the resumption of travel, we have continued to increase flight frequencies as demand picks up – examples include Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Accra, Abidjan, Casablanca, Cairo, and we will continue to put more capacity in support of trade and tourism to the region.
We’ve also forged strategic partnerships with other African carriers based on mutual commercial benefits, leveraging each carrier’s network strength within Africa regions and providing real value to our customers through the connectivity provided.
Examples include long-standing partners South African Airways, Air Link, FlySafair, Royal Air Maroc and Cemair, as well as a number of interline partners across Africa.
With our codeshare and interline network we provide connectivity to 79 cities, offering customers more flights, greater access to regional destinations, and a better experience when traveling.
These strategic partnerships and strong collaborations also support the tourism recovery amongst many smaller leisure destinations, served by smaller regional airlines, that have partnerships with carriers like Emirates that enable stronger passenger volumes through major African gateways.
All of these efforts have been pivotal in supporting increased airlift and connectivity for travellers in and out of Africa, as well as support for African tourism and trade.

Capital: What is the state of current operations and how is demand shaping up the market?

Manoj Nair: Emirates is fully focused and committed to its network, and we have been working hard to rebuild it to pre-pandemic levels over the past several months as most airports and cities have reopened.
We are working towards getting back to pre-COVID capacity and continue to expand operations. Our operations recovery has accelerated, we expect customer demand across our business divisions to remain strong in H2 2022-23 and have been adding flight frequency to meet customer demand and improve network connectivity through our Dubai hub. We’re expecting to expand our flying schedule to about 2,900 weekly departures. Currently, all of 145 of our Boeing 777s are in active service, including 11 freighters. We expect this utilization to continue through the year. More than 80 of our A380s are in active service and our aim is to bring all our A380s back into the sky by Summer 2023. Of the 123 A380s delivered to Emirates, we’ve retired 5 so far, with 2 more to leave our fleet by end of December 2022.
We’ve also launched new routes, hired additional cabin crew, forged codeshare partnerships and invested more than $2bn to retrofit aircraft. Emirates is undertaking the largest-known airline retrofit programme to refresh and refit 120 aircraft with the latest Emirates interiors and Premium Economy cabins.
Emirates is also now in a healthy financial position with group revenue of AED 56.3 billion (US$ 15.3 billion) for the first six months of 2022-23, up 128% from AED 24.7 billion (US$ 6.7 billion) last year. This was driven by the strong demand for air transport across the world with the further easing and removal of pandemic-related travel restrictions.
As for demand, Dubai remains a highly popular destination for leisure and business, with its world-class infrastructure and visa policies for international visitors, and ever-growing list of attractions and activities for every visitor segment. In the first half of 2022, Dubai attracted over 7 million international visitors (up 183%), according to Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism.
We are looking forward to what the future may hold.

Capital: How do you see travel trends in Ethiopia?

Manoj Nair: We have largely seen pre-pandemic patterns for travelers in and out of Ethiopia resume. The reopening of borders and a wave of travel restrictions easing in countries across our network have helped accelerate what was already there- tremendous pent-up demand for air travel. Traffic across all consumer segments, including leisure, VFR and business and corporate travel continues to grow.

Capital: What are the market potentials of African Countries including Ethiopia?

Manoj Nair: For Emirates, Africa continues to be a strategic focus and accounted for about 8% of the revenue in 2021-2022. Since the reopening of African routes in February 2022, we have seen a strong rebound in demand. Tourists have been returning to destinations such as Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa. We recently increased the frequency of our services to Algiers with the addition of a fifth weekly flight starting October 7. In Kenya, we went double-daily increasing our services and restoring our pre-pandemic frequencies. Ethiopia is a strategic market for Emirates in East Africa, and we’ve reinstated our operations to pre-pandemic levels due to healthy demand in and out of Addis Ababa. The trade links between Ethiopia and Dubai remain strong and we expect the demand momentum to continue.

Capital: Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is now a must for low-carbon travel. How are you planning to implement it?

Manoj Nair: Emirates supports initiatives that contribute to the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels. Our first flight powered by SAF was in 2017, operating from Chicago O’Hare. Emirates is on the Steering Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow initiative, which seeks to promote SAF deployment worldwide. We have also contributed to the UAE government’s work on a SAF roadmap and the WEF-supported Power-to-Liquids Roadmap for the UAE. We are working with GE and Boeing on a test flight program to fly an Emirates 777-300ER using 100% SAF in one of the engines.

Capital: Do you have any plans to serve Addis Ababa twice daily?

Manoj Nair: We constantly monitor the performance of our existing routes and evaluate the addition of frequencies and other services. This is contingent upon demand, market dynamics, and available aircraft, along with a number of other factors. We remain committed to Ethiopia and will continue to look at ways to meet customer demand as long as operating and commercial conditions allow.