Monday, September 20, 2021

Emirates in Brussels: the tale of a success

Emirates at Brussels Airport © Philippe Touwaide

Emirates came to Brussels after its rival from the United Arab Emirates, Etihad Airways. But it has now largely overtaken it and is the leading company of the Persian Gulf serving Brussels Airport. And the Brussels-Dubai route is again profitable despite the coronavirus crisis.

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Jean-Pierre Martin, Emirates country manager for Belgium and Luxembourg © André Orban

Jean-Pierre Martin, Emirates country manager for Belgium and Luxembourg, has invited Aviation24.be along with members of the Belgian press to the newly opened five-star Juliana Hotel Brussels to explain how the airline has overcome the Covid-19 crisis.

When the coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown struck Europe in March 2020, Emirates completely halted its twice-daily flights between Brussels and Dubai. Only a few repatriation flights were operated, but cargo flights never stopped.

Passenger flights restarted at a low frequency in July 2020, to serve essentially the VFR market (Visiting Friends and Relatives), but one had to wait until January 2021 before daily flights were reinstated, operated with a Boeing 777-300ER. Some flights were pretty empty, carrying no more than 25 passengers, but the company felt it had to keep them to progressively relaunch the market.

July 2021 was the month when the route became interesting again, with even some flights being fully booked. At the end of October, the start of the winter season, the frequency will increase to 10 flights per week, with three additional flights on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The recipe for success

Jean-Pierre Martin explained that the survival strategy during the crisis was based on four pillars:

  • Safety: Among other measures, Emirates strongly encouraged the vaccination of its staff, without making it compulsory.
  • Innovation: Emirates has over 30 biometric cameras in active operation at its Dubai airport hub, including at check-in counters, at the entrances of its First and Business Class lounges, and select boarding gates. The contactless measure was very appreciated by customers.
  • Agility: the frequencies were regularly and rapidly adapted to demand and cargo flights were operated with passenger planes; cargo represented 53% of the revenues during the crisis.
  • Passenger confidence: refunds were promptly credited in case of cancellations. Full travel insurance covered all passengers, and all flights were re-bookable or refundable.

The company lost a lot of money and also some people (e.g. 8 employees in Brussels, out of 29), but has become stronger through the crisis and sees the future with confidence. Emirates carried 15.8 million passengers as the largest international airline in 2020.

An Airbus A380 in the foreseeable future?

From end-October, the frequency on the Brussels-Dubai route will increase from 7 to 10 weekly flights operated by Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The aim is to have twice-daily flights as soon as possible, and if the market justifies it, an Airbus A380 could replace the Boeing 777 on one of the two daily flights. The route is already profitable again, with nice load factors and even fully-booked planes.

Initially, the company preferred to fly two daily 777s rather than one A380 because it gives better connectivity in Dubai, where there are three waves daily.

The  Expo 2020 in Dubai, which should have taken place from October 2020 through March 2021, was postponed by one year. Emirates counts on the event to fill its aircraft and offers a free entrance to all passengers overnighting in Dubai.

October is also the start of the cruises seasons. 7-day cruises through the Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman are very popular in winter.

The fleet and the network

Emirates has a fleet of 264 aircraft, among which 118 A380s. The three last ones will arrive at the end of November, equipped with the new premium economy cabin. The rest of the fleet is essentially Boeing 777-300ER, but the airline has also ordered the Airbus A350 and the future Boeing 777-8 and 777-9.

The pre-Covid network comprised 150 destinations, of which 120 are currently available, although not always with the same frequencies as before.

Interesting observation: the premium leisure market is picking up. People are booking business class, and even first class for holiday travel because they want some luxury after a long period of lockdown or other restrictions.

Lounges at Brussels Airport

Brussels Airlines has closed its lounge in Pier B for more than a year. There is only one other lounge in that terminal, the Diamond Lounge, but Emirates does not want to use it because it is not up to their standards. Therefore, the airline is in discussion with Brussels Airport to try and find a better solution for its premium travellers. A new lounge?

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