A top Middle Eastern airline executive has warned European airlines to get their act together or continue to lose more business to their rivals due to their political negligence.
Thierry Antinori, former Austrian Airlines executive who went on to join Emirates, said airlines guilty of taking customers for granted are bound to lurch into a downward spiral of investment, while Gulf airlines continue their expansion due to their excellent customer service.
“I think with our geographical position and the quality of products and networks we are offering, there is clearly an opportunity for the Middle East airlines to strengthen their position on the global industry map,” the Executive Vice President, Passenger Sales Worldwide, of Emirates told Reuters in an interview.
“I even consider the next years as an opportunity for Emirates to increase the gap with some of our competitors, because we are just looking at what the customer wants.”
He also denied rumours that Dubai-based Emirates would extend its hand to bail out troubled European airlines and insisted that the airline will not join any of the major alliances.
“We prefer to rely on our product, so we prefer to buy airplanes than airlines,” the Emirates official said.
“We do not lose time in discussion with alliances, which are not very clear for the customer to understand. They say ‘we offer you seamless travel’ but in the end they offer seamless trouble,” said Antinori, who joined Emirates in September.
The Frenchman surprised the aviation industry worldwide by opting to leave Austrian airlines days before he was due to become its chief executive and joining the world’s fastest growing airline.
“Aviation was made a strategic industry in Dubai 20 years ago. In Europe it is not strategic and it is not important for politicians to win elections. That is why airline lobbying is not heard, investments are blocked, taxes are increasing and as a result airlines do not have modern fleets and then they save money on products,” he said in his blunt remarks while taking a swipe at the European airlines.
“You cannot stop the Middle East airlines because they are in the centre of the world; they have the best infrastructure… and never save money on product,” Antinori said.
“That is the big difference with Europe (where) there is no strategy, and because of that they reduce the quality and the infrastructure, and the fleets become older.”
European aviation policy has come under intense criticism from both airlines and critiques at a time when the industry is facing tough battles over airport expansion in the UK or a new EU scheme which charges airlines for carbon emissions – two controversial issues that are having an adverse impact on airlines in the Gulf and elsewhere.
Antinori disclosed that the EU’s emissions trading scheme would cost €40 million in 2012, rising to half a billion in 2020, ultimately leading to higher ticket prices at a time when airlines are already grappling with rising fuel prices.
Meanwhile, Emirates remains locked in a battle with Germany over access to Berlin and Stuttgart airports as well as access in Canada.
“We understand that governments need time to think. We are patient; I am sure we will find a solution,” Antinori said while adding that the airline has been able to increase its load factor in comparison with previous years.
“The revenue increase at Emirates is higher than the percentage increase in seats.”
According to an IATA report released in January, passenger traffic grew 14.5% in Middle East, compared to 5.3% in Europe.