Friday 20 September 2019

Australia the battle ground for airlines as Ireland looks east

Emirates 777 business class
Emirates 777 business class

Mark Evans

For a man who's facing even stiffer competition in the coming fortnight, Enda Corneille is looking remarkably relaxed.

The head of Emirates in Ireland will be pitted against Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific going east, while across town, just hours after his Emirates briefing with this column, Hainan was trumpeting its new service from Dublin to Beijing. Throw in embedded local rivals Etihad, Qatar and then add Turkish, Air France KLM and the Nordic carriers and that's a lot of seats to be filled from Ireland to Asia-Pacific.

It's a boon for the business traveller, with a slew of conferences held in Dublin recently for companies eager to break through the bamboo curtain.

"If you asked anyone six years ago how many flights there could possibly be east from Ireland every day you wouldn't have said eight. You mightn't have even said one," Corneille told the Sunday Independent.

But he believes his carrier has advantages for the business traveller. One is a free limousine service in a 50km radius for business class and 70km for first. The other is connectivity. "Don't forget that the range of destinations is wide," he said. "Emirates would cover everything but if you look at Cathay and Hainan they're overflying India and not participating in the India market. They're barely participating in the Thai market. The battle will be Australia, there's no doubt. That's a market we know well - we have a lot of A380s on Australia and that's a real selling point for the customer."

He said that globally, Emirates recorded "good results for the year", with "stellar results from Ireland in a very competitive market". Load factors [passenger numbers] are at 80pc, and he added: "If I look out to the future over the next five or six months our advance bookings are eight to 10 points ahead of last year."

Emirates boss Enda Corneille.
Emirates boss Enda Corneille.

But plans to increase frequency from double daily to three a day have been put on hold for now. Corneille explains that while the airline has a "terrific relationship" with Dublin Airport, the gateway is a victim of its own success. "There are a number of pain points already in T2. One of which is around the US customs. We believe that can be sorted through more intensive security technology to smooth people through. The other pain point, which also doesn't affect Emirates, is that 6-7.30 window in the morning where the short-haul carriers need to get the first wave out on time."

He expressed surprise that the chief executive of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), Dalton Philips, feels that Dublin can accommodate almost double its present number of passenger - rising to 55 million a year - on just two terminals, especially with a new runway planned.

"You only have to go to Dublin Airport on a Saturday in July or wait for your bag on December 23 to see what's going on. I've heard the 55 million figure and it's great, it's a testament to the economy and the country - but it won't be a pleasant experience unless the facilities and infrastructure are put in place."

He believes that a third terminal - or even a bolt-on extension to T1 or T2 - should be run by the DAA, and added: "We've always believed that a third terminal is a natural consequence of the second runway. The challenge for Emirates is that we're operating in Terminal 2 - we like it, believe it's utterly conducive to our product, our customers like it, but it's a busy place and the third flight we were looking to bring in would have probably run up against the busiest time, being early morning."

And he said airlines are always impatient for progress and any talk of bringing the super-jumbo A380 into Dublin isn't a runner for now: "We don't tend to stand still - if something is profitable we want to pile capacity in, so the oft-asked question about the 380, that's an infrastructure issue into Dublin... we need a double air bridge to be able to handle it. That would remove four current air bridges for six months - if your airport is already at peak you can see the issue.

"You don't see it in Dubai where we have 65 gates for 380s. Some of those were built before the aircraft arrived, so when the aircraft was delivered we were ready. In European airports - you see it at Heathrow as well - you see that lag between the infrastructure keeping up pace with the airlines' wish to grow."

But he says with infrastructure you have to take the long view: "I stood beside Michael O'Leary at the opening of Terminal 2 in 2010 and he was dressed in black in an undertaker's outfit and he had a cardboard coffin. And emblazoned on the outside of the coffin was 'Terminal 2 - the death of Irish tourism'. Now how funny is that now?"

For now, Irish business passengers just have the double-daily service, with Corneille insisting: "Aviation is not about vanity, it's not about how many planes we can operate a day. How many examples are there of airlines launching a route in a fanfare and closing it with a whimper? When we tend to open a route, the work that goes into it is intense and we don't tend to cancel routes."

Sunday Indo Business

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