Emirates’ Tim Clark explains why the airline went against Heathrow

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Sir Tim Clark has received valuable support from Willie Walsh, the head of the International Air Transport Association, for the Emirates airline’s stance on cutting passenger numbers at Heathrow.

Heathrow last week asked airlines to stop selling some tickets for summer flights, limiting the number of passengers departing from the hub to 100,000 a day to ease pressure on operations that have not been in able to meet demand.

“We said we couldn’t do this and we won’t,” Sir Tim told a panel at the Farnborough Airshow on Monday, days after Emirates and Heathrow Airport released a joint statement on the crisis engulfing the UK’s passenger hub.

Sir Tim criticized Heathrow officials for not anticipating the rebound in travel until it was too late. He said Heathrow had given Emirates 36 hours from Wednesday to reduce capacity on its six daily flights, which are operated by the Airbus A380 superjumbo.

The Dubai-based airline’s chairman believes the heavily disrupted airline industry could return to equilibrium in 2023, but airlines must “resist” by then. Emirates could possibly consider moving one of its six daily flights from Heathrow to London Gatwick as part of a deal to ease the pressure.

Mr Walsh, who represents the industry in his post-International Airlines Group career, said Heathrow management was “a bunch of idiots” for not planning for post-pandemic recovery and opening up for business and global tourism. “All you had to do was count the tickets,” he said. “Tim was selling six A380s [tickets] per day.”

“I’m surprised Heathrow hasn’t been able to pull itself together better than this. The airlines predicted heavier traffic than Heathrow expected…they were clearly wrong,” Mr Walsh added. “Telling airlines to stop selling – what a ridiculous thing for an airport to say to an airline.”

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The pair commented after Emirates angrily rejected Heathrow’s demands on Thursday to cut capacity, despite the threat of legal action. “The way we left it with Heathrow (is that today we still have our six flights in operation,” Sir Tim said of the possibility of Emirates transferring one of its six daily flights from Heathrow to London Gatwick “What I had to do with them was to see how we could possibly switch one of the flights to Gatwick.”

Last-minute airport curbs are more complicated for Emirates than for many European carriers due to the wide variety of destinations served beyond its Dubai hub. This means passengers traveling from all over the world may be affected, Sir Tim said.

“Anyone who does this to us is obviously going to incur our wrath…it’s totally unacceptable,” he added.

“We still have to fight some of the draconian measures (that they) insist on taking and I don’t really want it to get any uglier than it has been.”

The airline and the airport then announced an agreement to limit additional sales on flights departing from Heathrow until mid-August. “[Emirates] is ready and willing to work with the airport to remedy the situation over the next two weeks, to maintain a balance between demand and capacity and to provide passengers with a smooth and reliable journey through Heathrow this summer,” says the joint press release. “Emirates has capped additional sales on its flights from Heathrow until mid-August to help Heathrow increase its resources, and is working to adjust capacity.”

Heathrow criticizes the airlines for not having secured enough providers on the ground. Emirates says its own ground handling unit is ready and blames the problems on a lack of central staff at Heathrow.

“Heathrow is well prepared for this summer,” said an airport spokesperson. “We started recruiting security guards last November and will soon have as many security people as in the summer of 2019.

“The fact that Heathrow’s cap is 50% higher than a similar cap in Amsterdam, our closest rival, shows how much better we have planned than our competitors.”

Updated: July 18, 2022, 4:20 p.m.

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