Travel Story Biggest can still be the best, says Emirates chief

Photo of Geoffrey Thomas

Sir Tim Clark says the giant Airbus A380 is integral to the future of aviation.

As a child, Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates, the world’s biggest international airline, tied palm fronds to his arms and tried to fly. And he’s been obsessed by aviation ever since. From check-in agent at Gatwick Airport, he’s enjoyed a stellar rise in the airline industry built around his belief in mass travel.

In Australia to celebrate the airline’s 20th year Down Under, Mr Clark took time out to chat to Travel.

Emirates has the biggest fleet of the world’s biggest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, and Mr Clark says the industry needs more of the super jumbo because a serious runway capacity shortfall looms.

“The A380 is streets ahead of anything else when it comes to capacity and is the only solution to congestion at airports such as Heathrow," he says.

“And we are getting congestion now at airports such as New York’s John F Kennedy, at Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Boston and many others. When we first went to JFK we could have any slot we wanted — now there are hardly any.”

Airbus figures support Mr Clark’s concerns that 39 of the world’s 47 mega-cities are congested. 

And the issue at the biggest cities is only going to worsen as traffic doubles in the next 20 years.

But he concedes that there is “a reluctance at some airlines to commit in the current economic conditions.”

However, Mr Clark says that with manufacturers keen to fill production spots for their bigger aircraft now is a “great time to buy”.

Airbus and Boeing have both slowed the production rates for the A380 and Boeing 747 to a trickle with warnings from analysts that the end is possible for both giant aircraft. And a number of airlines, including Qantas, have said they will not be taking outstanding commitments for the A380. 

Mr Clark has another warning for traditional carriers. “Watch out for the new long-haul, low-cost airlines.”

He cites the likes of Norwegian and Scoot which are re-writing the long-haul rule book offering much cheaper fares.

The A380, with its economics, is a great tool to compete with this new generation of carriers says Mr Clark.

For Emirates there are some new passenger enhancements in the works such as a new first class next October and a new business class for the 777X in late 2019.

“We are also looking at premium economy and will most likely move ahead sooner than later,” says Mr Clark.

Emirates and its partner Qantas are also focused on strengthening their alliance and improving the connectivity between the airline’s frequent flyer programs.

Mr Clark would not elaborate but the feeling is that it will be good news for Qantas frequent flyers travelling on a Qantas ticket on an Emirates aircraft.

At top: Sir Tim Clark 

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