Long established and highly respected Emirates President Sir Tim Clark wants a new A380 design – just twice as big!
Last week, he was at IATA’s annual general meeting in Doha, then Berlin, to try to wrest landing rights in the German capital from the government, which he failed to do. get for a decade and a half.
And again, the chancellor and his cabinet gave Emirates the cold shoulder, engaging in pure “Lufthansa language”, as Clark calls it. Between meetings at the Chancellery and in other ministries, the President of the Emirates took the time to speak exclusively with Andreas Spaeth, European Editor of AirlineRatings.com, on some broader personal and professional issues.
How did aviation get into the post-pandemic mess it currently finds itself in across Europe and other parts of the world?
Mr Tim Clark: I’ve said it many times over the past two years: the bow wave is coming. You have to prepare, there is a tsunami of demand coming. No one was listening, and now we are facing big problems with airports like Heathrow and Amsterdam down. We have prepared in Dubai and in the airline for this, we have prepared our fleet, we continue to bring in crews, but we opened the five terminals of Dubai airport in October last year. And I could see for myself that Hamad International Airport in Doha was packed in the morning this week, with not enough seats available and I wasn’t even admitted to the overcrowded lounge. They see the same bow wave as we do.
How do you see things going?
Demand is strong and sustained, we are looking at our July to September and Christmas bookings, they are soaring above 2019 levels, even at the prices we now have to charge due to soaring fuel prices. The question is how long is it going to be before the world economy starts to rock with rising interest rates and rising inflation and fuel prices to these ridiculous levels , it’s unsustainable, it shouldn’t be anywhere. But I’ve had recessions about 50 times in the 50 years I’ve been here I’ll deal with it if it happens rather than restricting capacity before because someone says there’s going to be a recession.
READ: Qantas to launch JoBurg and Jakarta flights from Perth
Speaking of your long experience in aviation, can you sketch out some of the major underlying storylines of the industry over your half-century as an integral part of it?
From all facets, whether it’s fleet, aircraft design, aeropolitics, commercialism, things like the shift from the predeterminist aeropolitical models that guided everything, to full sweep to multilateralism of 1990s led by the Clinton administration, which said let’s break down all these old barriers and whose mantra was open skies, it was transformation. Not just for Emirates. Luckily, Americans told the world: if you want to fly to America, you have to make an open skies agreement with us. That’s what set the pattern for the whole world. It gave us exactly what we needed to grow our business at a rapid pace. It was the best thing that could happen to this small airline of 10 or 15 planes, and that’s how we started. I remember remodeling the business plans. Emirates was a child of the new world order when it came to liberalisation. In the late 1990s, the more we evolved, I realized we weren’t going to meet the demands we thought would come in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium.
How was your reaction?
That’s why we entered the A380 debate in February 2000. The A380 was so transformational then, just like the Boeing 777-300ER. When all of these barriers came down, all of a sudden there was this ocean of opportunity that opened up aeropolitically, we could pretty much go anywhere. So we created the largest sixth freedom model the world has ever seen. And it caused all kinds of damage. I guess Emirates was at the right time in the right place. For me personally, the aero-political drop was most important, as was our ability to engage with manufacturers to design the aircraft we wanted for the medium to long-range. We have our say on this, illustrated both by the latest Boeing 777-9, but also by the Airbus A330-200, the A340-500 of course, and the A350-900 because it was built for us. I asked them to build a 777-200 look-alike, which they did, but it just came out eleven tons too heavy so we dropped the contract. But now we are going back. We didn’t try to influence the industry, we just changed the way the industry thought.
You define your work in a much more universal way, being practical on so many fronts down to drawing detailed design sketches yourselves…
Yeah, I do that, and I’m always designing, always changing products and all that kind of stuff. The guys in our company know how I think, they can be just a little nervous because I’m at the top of the chain, I can do them and I can execute them. These guys may have some really great ideas, but fear I don’t like them. I look from micro to macro, having done the A380 wall coverings, the shower redesign, the showers themselves and many more. It’s been a journey for me that has been so fascinating. These other CEOs, my peer group, don’t care.
Was that kind of creative bent rarely seen in airline executives, something you already had in the beginning?
When I turned 22 and looked around as a young planner, I thought the way we did things at British Caledonian back then couldn’t last. All this is false, it is not sustainable in the next twenty years. That’s one of the reasons I left and went to Gulf Air, I was frustrated. When I then came from Gulf Air to Emirates, I was given a blank sheet of paper with Maurice Flanagan and Sheikh Mohamed saying, There you go, carry on, and they never intervened. When I arrived on the A380, I felt like an artist with an empty canvas. You could actually go out and do it.
It looked recently that you would stay in your senior position until at least the start of 2023, is that true?
By the end of the current fiscal year, March 31st, 2023 Hopefully we close with a profit and money on the balance sheet. I’m not saying my job is done, but I didn’t want to go. I was torn even though I said I was going to go I felt really worried about going at the time so I said I would stay until we were successful again . But we are not there yet. It was really kind of a personal thing for me, there was all kinds of issues with my family and what I was going to do and what I promised them all, but OK, it happened, I’ll stay, and after that, we’ll see what happens.
A big gap that you see and have raised with Airbus is the lack of any new very large aircraft projects on the horizon. Will it backfire at some point?
What have you got there, A380 gone, 747-8 gone, 777-9 looking decidedly flaky, not sure what’s up with that, that leaves you with the A350-900s and -1000s as your biggest jumbo jets , what else is there ahead? You have to look at the mid-2030s, and if you’re a bigger beast, and you have to believe that, then I’m saying, extrapolate and go back to the pre-2019 growth chart, take it out to the mid-2030s , unconstrained, 4% growth per year, where does that take you? Eight billion people traveling. How are you going to house these eight billion if you leave them to the single-aisle and small twins? You won’t be able to meet it and you suppress the demand and the prices of airfares are going to skyrocket so the days of cheap airfares are going to be gone because the prices will be so high because that’s all what we can do.
What do you suggest?
The trick is to come up with an aircraft that does all of that but is so technologically advanced that it can adopt synthetic fuels and work on them in the mid-2030s. an answer to the question: guys, is that it? He sold on the single aisles, he will probably sell on the A350s because of the disappearance of what is happening at Boeing, I do not know what is happening there. Ultimately, you have to think about the future.
In which direction should the reflection go?
If you have environmentally friendly propulsion using synthetic fuel, then you have to ask yourself what size aircraft would you need to meet the medium to long haul demands of super connectors like us and others carriers. Don’t tell me everyone is going down to 234 seats in four classes on the 777-9 while they have 519 seats on the A380. You have to do something or you will go bankrupt. I hope that collectively we can find a way to come together to decide what this plane will look like? Lighter, faster and less expensive to operate, you then have propulsions that possibly run on synthetic fuel, in part or possibly 100%. I would build another A380 twice as big because of the zero-emission engines we have now, with four or even three engines.