In Focus: Andrew Bunn, Emirates

Emirates’s Country Manager of its markets in Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia shares with Vipanchi the latest trends in the aviation industry.

By Vipanchi Dinavahi


What challenges is the aviation industry facing today?


More people are travelling now than ever before, which has resulted in many different types of traveller profiles seeking different types of travel styles. The one-size-fits-all norm no longer applies. Meanwhile, the skies are getting crowded, and some governments have been pressured by airlines to maintain domestic interests. Hence, the challenge is two-fold: to keep up with the new generation of travellers, and to stay ahead in a fast-growing global industry that’s still quite restricted by aero-politics in many aspects.


Oil prices have gone down and this has helped the industry. How long do you think this will last?


Oil prices have been falling since last year. Given that fuel accounts for a substantial portion of the overall cost structure in many industries, lower oil prices have been a boon for airlines as well. It would be rather impossible to accurately predict the fluctuation in oil prices, given that there are so many factors affecting fuel demand and supply.


Singapore has a robust tourist footfall. Increasing competition between regular and budget airlines has had a significant impact. How is the industry coping?


Singapore has an enviable geographic location and strong infrastructure, particularly in terms of its airport facilities. This naturally encourages high volumes of transit traffic, which actually allows budget airlines and full service carriers to work together, feeding each other’s networks and working in ways that are complementary.


For example, passengers can redeem their Skywards miles (our frequent flier programme) on Jetstar and fly to destinations not serviced by Emirates, thus giving our passengers more options.



What is the outlook for the industry in Q4 2015 and early 2016?


Travel is a robust industry and global demand for international travel continues to grow among both corporate and leisure travellers. If there’s a particular trend I would identify, it would be connectivity. Twenty-first-century travellers want to remain ‘always-on,’ staying connected to people as they connect to places. Airlines need to constantly innovate, to look at how they can provide a more integrated and seamless point-to-point travel experience.


Digitisation is being adopted by many companies. How is Emirates’ experience in this area?


In today’s connected world, technology plays an increasingly important role in the overall travel experiences of all passengers.


Most of our flights are equipped with Wi-fi, offering passengers the first 10MBs of data for free that’s sufficient for most travellers to check their social media accounts and remain connected as they fly.


Earlier this year, we became the first carrier in the Middle East and Africa to launch an app for the new Apple technology: the Emirates app for Apple Watch.


Passengers with an Apple Watch and the Emirates app installed on their iPhone will be able to review their list of upcoming trips, gain access to real-time flight information— including terminal, gate number, flight status, baggage collection details—and get timely notifications should changes in, say, gate number or baggage belt should occur.


What are your views on the Internet of Things and its impact on the airline industry?


No doubt, the Internet has had a very positive impact. Personally I’m huge fan of the opportunities this has created for our industry. It has brought a whole new dimension to travel and travel planning. Sites such as TripAdvisor have become a recognised part of the travel landscape and help to shape people’s decisions. Also, social media in general, while bringing certain challenges, has also increased education about travel and places, and broadened our minds, resulting in demand for more destinations and service levels. There’s no doubt the Internet has contributed to growth in air travel.


Describe your Emirates experience thus far.


Emirates is a truly international, dynamic and fast-paced organisation, always looking for new growth opportunities, improving customer choice, expanding our network and developing products. We take a lead role in aviation, and everyone is encouraged to participate at all levels. It is an exciting place to be.


A lot of companies are embracing diversity. Give us some insight into your diversity agenda and policies for Emirates.


As an international company on a growth path, we offer plenty of opportunities for people all over the world. The talent we have in Emirates is not bound by geography or nationality, and this is underlined by the fact that the airline has hired staff from more than 160 different nations. Diversity is our strength; the people who work in Emirates bring new ideas and thinking. This has shaped the airline’s success.


What challenges do you see in attracting and retaining talent? How has Singapore’s Fair Consideration Framework affected you?


We are in a good place, as the Emirates brand and our strong reputation continue to attract talented people from around the world, including Singapore. In fact we currently have 277 Singaporeans working for us in various fields across the company. The challenge is keeping people fresh and motivated, and giving them opportunities for career development. In Singapore, even when the economy is somewhat muted, there are still a lot of jobs out there, so retaining talent is high on every manager’s agenda. While I completely support the principles of Singapore’s Fair Consideration Framework—where Singaporeans are the first-choice hires, all things being equal—it should also be borne in mind that we are operating in a tight labour market.


Singapore currently has many major infrastructure projects in progress, including a fourth passenger terminal (soon to be followed by fifth), the Project Jewel development, as well as the third runway development at Changi Airport. Huge volumes of manpower will be required to staff these facilities, much of which will inevitably have to come from neighbouring countries. We have seen during the recent SG50 celebrations what a proud nation Singapore is.


Going forward, we should all look to play our part in the continued development of Singapore, whether we are Singaporeans or visitors with a vested interest in Singapore’s long-term goals.


It’s been a while since the Emirates-Qantas merger. How has this worked out for the two airlines?


Our partnership with Qantas has helped both airlines open up an extensive network to customers, and provide them with a seamless travel experience. Emirates’ customers have one-stop access to most parts of the combined Qantas-Emirates networks; Emirates gains access to around 50 points in Australia through Qantas’ domestic network; Qantas connects onto Emirates flights to more than 70 destinations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


The partnership has been doing really well, and our customers are leveraging Qantas’ domestic network. There is also strong demand on the Dubai-Australia route that we hope to continue to grow.



What does the future hold for Emirates? What can consumers look forward to?


We recently announced the addition of our second daily A380 flight to Singapore, effective 1 Mar 2016. The service will complement our sixth daily A380 service to Australia with the up-gauge of the current service between Dubai and Melbourne via Singapore. EK404 and EK405’s existing Boeing 777—300ER aircraft will be replaced by Emirates flagship A380 aircraft, and the up-gauge will offer more customer options, additional seat capacity, and another seamless A380 connection option when travelling from Singapore to Europe and Middle East destinations via Dubai.


Apart from greater comfort and choice, as the world becomes increasingly globalised, customers can also look forward to greater connectivity. We are launching new routes, including services to Mashhad, Orlando, Bamako and Bologna, which will allow customers the choice to fly with us to these destinations, be it for business or leisure.


We will continue to bring our passengers superior flight experience, leveraging our global network, partnerships and technology to make air travel more convenient, more comfortable, more customised, and more of an experience to enjoy.