Emirates' half-year travel demand 'beat expectations', driving hiring spree

Airline says a failure by Boeing to deliver 777X jets by mid-2025 would no longer be justifiable

Emirates chief operating officer Adel Al Redha. Photo: Emirates
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Emirates said air travel demand has beaten its expectations and lifted its first-half performance, fuelling its plans to hire additional pilots and cabin crew, return more Airbus A380s into service and rebuild its network to pre-pandemic levels.

The airline's seat load factors reached 80 per cent “and climbing”, with demand for its premium cabin from corporate travellers and holidaymakers exceeding 2019 levels, Emirates’ chief operating officer Adel Al Redha told The National, on the sidelines of the Bahrain International Airshow on Wednesday.

Emirates is aiming to hire an additional 400 pilots and 5,000 to 6,000 cabin crew by the middle of next year, recruiting to the maximum capacity of its training facilities, he said. This will swell its current workforce of 4,500 pilots and 17,500 cabin crew.

“Soon, Emirates will be officially announcing the performance of the last six months of the year … and demand for travel has exceeded our expectations, which obviously reflected positively on the results we see,” Mr Al Redha said.

“Demand is very positive and has raised our growth.”

The long-haul giant has restored its route network to 80 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels as international borders reopened and Covid-19-related restrictions eased. In terms of capacity, it currently operates the full fleet of 120 Boeing 777 aircraft and 78 of its 116 Airbus A380s, according to Mr Al Redha.

Emirates aims to return all the remaining double-deckers that were previously grounded during the pandemic back to service by the middle of next year, following maintenance checks, he said.

“We are in a very good situation with aircraft deployment.”

Boeing 777X delivery delays

Emirates has embarked on a $2 billion two-year programme to retrofit its A380s and 777s cabin interiors, phasing them out later than planned to cope with delayed delivery of its new Boeing 777X wide-body aircraft.

Emirates has a tentative delivery date of July 2025 to receive the first of its long-delayed 777X wide-body jets.

“If they don't deliver the aircraft by mid-2025 to us, then I would say Boeing has got a serious problem with the aircraft and that will open a bigger discussion,” Mr Al Redha said.

“There is no reason or justification whatsoever for Boeing not to be able to deliver by mid-2025. They have plenty of time to do all the certification, the flight test, the durability test and all of that.”

The 777X, of which the 777-8 and 777-9 are variants, has been in development since 2013 and was expected to be released for airline use in June 2020.

In the meantime, Emirates expects to receive the first of its Airbus A350 wide-body aircraft by August 2024.

“The time we set is very reasonable because we need to reconfigure the aircraft, arrange for the seats, the galleys and the in-flight entertainment,” Mr Al Redha said.

“For all these items to be certified and integrated, it does require a minimum of 24 months.”

The aerospace industry's supply chain woes will not affect this process, he said.

Second-half demand 'very healthy'

Emirates expects its forward bookings to remain “very healthy” into 2023, despite higher inflation levels and a gloomier global economic outlook, due to pent-up travel demand, Mr Al Redha said.

The Airline's fuel bill has doubled from 2019 levels on higher oil prices, and it has introduced a fuel surcharge on its ticket fares, he added.

Updated: November 09, 2022, 4:30 PM