Bangladesh needs to upgrade its airport facilities and relevant infrastructure without further ado to keep up with the country’s fast-growing air traffic brought about by its rapid economic growth in recent years, said a top official of global airline giant Emirates.
When Emirates started flying to Bangladesh back in 1986, it ran only two weekly flights. Now, it flies thrice a day from Dhaka, with over 90 percent load factor on average.
“This has happened due to the faster and consistent economic growth of the country,” Ahmed Khoory, senior vice-president of Emirates’ commercial operations in West Asia and the Indian Ocean, told The Daily Star in an email interview recently.
Bangladesh logged in more than 7 percent GDP growth in the past three fiscal years and is on track to clocking in more than 8 percent growth this fiscal year. This tremendous growth momentum means it will be among the top three fastest growing economies in the world next year too.
“As one of the fastest developing countries in the world, Bangladesh is attracting attention of many foreign investors, traders, multinational companies and international organisations,” said Khoory.
As a result, air travel to and from Bangladesh has been growing at a very encouraging rate — and higher than the global average.
“We can forecast an economically very strong Bangladesh in the next few years. These all point towards further growth in demand in the air travel sector.”
Amid the fast-changing global scenario, improved airport facilities and infrastructure and hassle-free services will definitely put Bangladesh in the centre of attention in the region.
A modern airport provides thrust to the economy, boosts travel and tourism and encourages foreign investors and business partners to travel to the country, according to Khoory.
“A world-class airport will further brighten Bangladesh’s image.”
The carrier presently operates all wide-body aircraft to Bangladesh, each with an average capacity of more than 400.
“We consider Bangladesh as one of the most important destinations in our global network and Emirates is considered to be one of the preferred carriers among Bangladeshis.”
Asked if Emirates has plans to increase its frequency to Dhaka or fly to a second city in Bangladesh, he remained non-committal.
“Increasing frequency depends on many factors, and if those factors are met, the airline will definitely do it. But we want to grow here further.”
At a time when other airlines are squeezing their network or cutting passenger facilities, Emirates has continued to offer the best to its flyers.
On the areas of strength for the airline, Khoory said the carrier always puts emphasis on customers and the quality of service.
“Everything we do is to give the customers the best value for money in each class. We pay very high attention to food and fleet quality.”
Emirates also offers more in-flight entertainment and channels than any other airline, he said.
It operates a simplified fleet of only two basic aircraft types — Airbus 380 and Boeing 777 — both iconic and well-received airplanes by customers.
“Modern wide-body aircraft also mean more comfort for passengers. So, we have a winning combination of good resources, motivated employees and wide network for our customers.”
But the airline’s profit slumped 69 percent in the 2018-2019 financial year that ended on March 31 as the Dubai-based carrier faced higher fuel prices and slowing travel demand in regional economies.
The largest international carrier reported a profit of Dh 871 million ($237 million), its weakest earnings in a decade.
The collapse in oil prices in 2014 has hit Gulf economies, inflicting a broader economic slowdown that has affected the region’s carriers.
Etihad, owned by the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi, in March reported a loss of $1.28 billion for 2018, its third successive yearly loss, on lower passenger numbers and freight traffic.
Qatar Airways has also warned that it will report a full-year loss for 2018 for the second consecutive year because of fuel prices and currency rates.
High fuel costs as well as currency devaluation in markets like India, Brazil, Angola and Iran hit Emirates’ profit, according to Khoory.
Asked if they foresee any improvement towards the end of the year, he replied in the affirmative.
“Demand for our high-quality products and services remained healthy as we won new and return customers across our businesses and this is reflected in our revenue performance.”
The airline’s revenue grew 6 percent to Dh 97.9 billion in 2018-19 financial year.
The carrier is keeping a tight leash on controllable costs and will continue to drive efficiency improvement through implementation of new technology and business processes.
“We are proactively managing the myriad challenges faced by the airline and travel industry, including the relentless downward pressure on yields, and uncertain economic and political realities in our region and in other parts of the world.”
In a promising development, the airline has observed a remarkable increase in Bangladeshi tourist numbers following the relaxation of visa procedures by the United Arab Emirates.
“Dubai has always been on the top of the list among Bangladeshis. Every time you visit Dubai you always find a new attraction to visit and explore something new for memorable experience.”
And in preparation for the Expo 2020, a massive international exhibition that is scheduled to be held in Dubai in October next year, huge number of projects are on way to give the city a more modern and attractive look, Khoory said.
The international fair will see participation of 192 countries and will run for six months.
As many as 11 million foreign visitors are expected at the Expo 2020 and Emirates, as the official airline partner of the exposition, will play a key role in bringing them to the event via its route network to over 150 destinations in 86 countries.
Of the 192 countries that have confirmed their participation in the world fair, Emirates currently provides nonstop air links to 67, and if its sister airline flydubai’s network is taken into account the number grows to 80.
“We have just unveiled our pavilion; our focus will be around the future of commercial aviation and we are planning ultra-futuristic experiences for our visitors in areas of cabin design, engine efficiency, futuristic materials and composites, and new biometric technologies.”
The airline will be supporting Expo 2020 by helping to attract visitors from key global markets through marketing and other outreach efforts across its network.
And to help build awareness around Expo 2020, Emirates has branded 40 aircraft in its fleet — Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s — through to the end of the exposition.