x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Carriers target American markets

Booming cities of South America also being considered for new routes with five years

Emirates Airline is planning to add up to seven destinations in the Americas over the next five years as it looks to the developed and developing economics there for growth. An expansion could speed up the long-running trend of global air traffic patterns moving over the Middle East, as carriers based in Europe and Asia yield market share to some of the Gulf's largest long-haul airlines.

"The US is an important market for us," said Nigel Page, the Emirates senior vice president of commercial operations for the Americas and Africa. "And if you look at a country like Brazil, very few people realise just what a huge country it is. The only thing that is really holding us back is aircraft availability." The Dubai-based airline, which is the largest in the Arab world, flies to four cities in the US - New York, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco - along with Toronto in Canada and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The airline could add four US cities over the next five years, plus three destinations in South America, Mr Page said. The airline is scheduled to receive 11 new wide-body aircraft this year, including Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s. In choosing new destinations, the airline generally looks for routes with strong cargo demand, seat occupancy levels in excess of 75 per cent and a healthy mix of economy, business and first class travellers. An Americas expansion will help the airline continue its push to connect city pairs via a single stopover in Dubai. Brazil has thriving Lebanese and Japanese communities, the members of which often travel often back to their countries of origin. In both instances Gulf airports offer the shortest transit options.

Other Middle East airlines, such as Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, also see the potential for new service in the region. "Chicago and New York have been very successful [for Etihad]," said James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad. "In our planning in the next five years, we would expect to fly to at least two to three more US destinations, such as Washington DC, and either into [Los Angeles] or San Francisco. And also on the drawing board is South America."Qatar Airways is also opening new routes to the Americas. It serves New York, Houston and Washington, and will inaugurate Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires flights next month.

The economic downturn is showing signs of abating in the US and demand for air travel is growing, Mr Page said. This has encouraged Emirates to reintroduce its Airbus A380 to its New York service later this year. The superjumbo was withdrawn last year when demand dropped low enough to warrant the use of Emirates's smaller wide-body workhorse plane, the Boeing 777-300ER. As for other US destinations, Mr Page described Miami as strong for leisure and other economy class traffic, but limited for corporate travellers. He said Seattle was an "interesting" destination with a number of large corporations based there, such as Starbucks and Microsoft, and it had potential for good cargo demand and feeder services to the Alaska market.

The biggest challenge Emirates faces in the Americas is in Canada, where the government has blocked efforts by Emirates and Etihad to increase service beyond the three weekly flights allotted to them. The issue is before senior levels of government and Emirates is hoping for a positive decision this year, Mr Page said. igale@thenational.ae