June 10, 2013
Credit: Bill Hough
Emirates is already the largest international airline, and until now its competitors could rest assured that it would compete only on city-pairs that could sensibly be offered through a stop at the Dubai hub. But not any more.
President Tim Clark has revealed the first details of what looks like the next step in Emirates' march to become a truly global powerhouse. On the sidelines of last week's International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Cape Town, the airline outlined plans to set up a major transpacific operation. Its aircraft would be flying through intermediate points in Asia to destinations in North America. What is making the threat even more serious for Asian and U.S. airlines is that Emirates has another 67 Airbus A380s on firm order, which—like its large incoming fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs—has the range capability to fly from many points in Asia to cities far beyond the U.S. West Coast.
Emirates can choose from several geographic points that offer the necessary aeropolitical framework. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has an open skies agreement with the U.S. “It allows us to take passengers on a fifth-freedom basis from the West Coast and central points in the U.S. to points in Asia,” Clark says. In Asia, there are open skies agreements with Thailand and Singapore. Emirates also has similar rights for some destinations in Japan.
The plan “doesn't change the aspirations of the model, which have morphed into being a truly global airline. And the last piece of the jigsaw is the [transpacific],” Clark says.
He declines to disclose which market will be the first in the venture. Because of the shorter distances involved, the plan does not rely on the availability of longer-range aircraft such as the proposed Boeing 777-8X.
Emirates has already made one attempt at broaching the long-haul one-stop mode by opening a Dubai-Hamburg-New York route, but that ended quickly. “The timing probably was not right,” Clark concedes. The airline is about to open a Milan-New York flight that is an extension of one of the Dubai-Milan flights using 55 777-300ERs. Because of the high demand of the North Italian business community and the retrenchment of Alitalia's long-haul flying out of Milan, Emirates sees this as being more viable than its earlier try.
The transpacific operation would complement the link with Qantas, which also has significant exposure on the Australia-North America market, although the Emirates initiative would be geared more toward Southeast Asia or North Asia-to-North America flying, which would not compete with the Qantas network to the East.