Airline Leadership in Challenging Times: Emirates and IATA

Airline Leadership in Challenging Times: Emirates and IATA

Two of the most experienced and respected leaders of the airline industry will be amongst our guests for this year’s ATM Virtual event.

Though due to have stepped down early in 2020, Sir Tim Clark is still at the helm leading Emirates through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and it will be as valuable as ever to get his take on how his airline is faring.

It goes without saying that Emirates has faced a tough time since the pandemic, however it has adapted.  While its passenger services were grounded for some months last year it was able to turn its large Boeing 777 fleet to cargo operations which have proved buoyant and kept the fleet heavily employed.  It has managed to return to some passenger services allowing it to use a small number of its large Airbus A380 aircraft but the operation of these flights is more volatile, being subject to the constantly changing quarantines and border closures around the world.

There are many questions about the future of the passenger popular A380 aircraft.  Due to its sheer size, at a time of weak and unpredictable future demand, a number of airlines have decided to retire the type permanently.  Sir Tim has always been incredibly positive about the A380 and remains optimistic now for the role which he sees it continuing to play.  This is certainly something we will discuss in the interview.

Emirates is also beginning to roll out its premium economy product which may come at the right time as airlines wonder how they will fill their more expensive business class seats.  Again, Sir Tim is optimistic about the future of business class cabin occupancy levels and Emirates is adapting its product offer and pricing approach. We will explore his reasoning on these points.

Where future demand is potentially lighter, Emirates has large orders in place for smaller wide bodied Boeing 787 and Airbus 350 aircraft.  These will provide it with more flexibility to adjust capacity on its network or to open new routes.  In a further move to broaden its options, Emirates will develop its partnership with Fly Dubai, who’s CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith will also be one of my guests at this year’s ATM Virtual.

As usual there is never a shortage of topics to discuss with Sir Tim Clark! 

Willie Walsh retired in September 2020 from his post as CEO of IAG but didn’t rest up for long before announcing he would accept the Director General position at IATA, which he commenced in April this year.

He takes on the role at a time when the industry needs clear direction and leadership to steer it through the worse crisis it has ever known.

As airlines wrestle with the grounding of much of their capacity, their lives are made much more challenging by the constantly changing border closures, quarantines and testing requirements across the globe.  There is an urgent need for more effective engagement with governments and greater consistency in their approach to the economically important aviation sector

In an effort to build customer confidence and facilitate travel, IATA has led the development of a digital travel passport to allow customers to upload any test results, vaccination certificates and other important information.  Technology will become an increasing focus of future travel and managing different challenges.

While the crisis remains the immediate pre occupation as Walsh gets his feet under the table, there are numerous others which will make calls on his attention. 

The airline industry has to establish better credential on the critical issue of the environment and this is something which Walsh is highly aware of.  Linked to this is the challenge of air traffic congestion, which is a particular problem in the US, Europe and the Gulf.  Technology is already there to improve this dramatically but progress has faced a political logjam.

In his time as an airline CEO at Aer Lingus, British Airways and IAG, Walsh was never afraid to tackle the toughest issues assertively and effectively.  I would expect him to continue to do so at IATA in order to move forward the agenda on these and other important topics.

On top of this, the airline industry is diverse and very much like a family, it faces many localised issues and differences of opinion.  Walsh will need to reconcile some of these issues while seeking to achieve unity in the community which IATA represents in order to represent its interests.

I’m looking forward to speaking with Willie Walsh at this time of critical importance for the airline industry.   

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Director, John Strickland, is a graduate of the University of York and has held senior positions with a number of airlines including British Caledonian, British Airways, KLMuk and Buzz. John was instrumental in the decision by KLM to establish the low cost operator Buzz and in its selection of new routes. His 40 years of experience have exposed him to the business models of regional, global, legacy and low cost carriers. JLS Consulting was established in 2003 and now serves a growing range of clients including airports, airlines, investors and those whose businesses require strategic insight on and advisory services concerning the air transport sector. John regularly devises and chairs panel discussions and interviews senior executives at industry conferences and events. Media work is undertaken for numerous global media organisations including the BBC, CNN, Sky, Al Jazeera, and business specialists Bloomberg and CNBC. John also contributes to a wide range of respected written publications including the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Newswires, Business Week, The New York Times, Gulf News, Reuters and AFP.

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