Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum
In 1985, when the ruler of Dubai announced the formation of Emirates, the country’s first commercial airline, he summoned his [...]
March 1 1995 by Lisa Coleman
In 1985, when the ruler of Dubai announced the formation of Emirates, the country’s first commercial airline, he summoned his nephew, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, to head the operation. Talk about winging it: Sheikh Ahmed, who had graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in political science and economics just four years before, knew next to nothing about the airline business,
But the young chairman proved himself a quick study, reading trade publications and surrounding himself with seasoned personnel such as Maurice Flanagan, a former British Airways executive then living in Dubai, one of seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates. The sheikh learned to fly, mastering a variety of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and microlights. And perhaps most important, he brought to the business his not-inconsequential experience with luxury, insisting that Emirates provide a range of creature comforts in all classes, including personal video systems in each seat, in-flight cakes to celebrate special occasions, and access to Polaroid cameras to capture such occasions on film.
“We aim to have a firstclass operation-to set rather than follow marketing trends,” says Sheikh Ahmed, who was born in a traditional Arab fort in Shindagha, a narrow spit of sand near the Persian Gulf, “So in addition to providing these services, we’re ensuring our cabin crews have training in Microsoft software and PCs, and we’re looking at interactive media.”
Seven months after startup, working with $10 million in seed capital from the Dubai government, Emirates launched two Boeing 727s servicing Bombay, Dehli, and Karachi. Today, the airline serves 34 destinations in Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and the Far East with a $1 billion fleet of 16 Airbuses, seven Boeing 777s on order and seven on option, and 4,000 employees. Revenues for the government-owned airline increased 21 percent to $643.4 million in the fiscal year ended March 30, 1994. Net income jumped 842 percent to $24.4 million.
Projected growth is for 5 million passengers by the year 2000, compared with last year’s 2 million, Aircraft financing comes from international banks, including the British Bank of the Middle East; Japan‘s Nichimen Corp.; and two French banks, Credit Agricole and Credit Lyonnais.
Emirates bills itself as an international carrier based in the Middle East, rather than an Arabic airline that flies internationally. In line with that thrust, it recently completed a $9 million advertising campaign with the slogan “the finest in the sky,” a claim it backs up with six-course meals served on Royal Doulton china in the first-class cabin. Sheikh Ahmed, 36, says nearly $2 million will be spent on advertising in Britain, which the airline considers a “growth” market.
Emirates likely will endure a period of consolidation through 1996; then it expects to begin bringing seven new Boeing 777s on line through 1997, But nothing quite matches the choppy going it encountered while flying during the Gulf War in 1991, “We were the only airline to operate during those last 10 days, flying an extra 10 hours to get to our destinations,” Sheikh Ahmed says. “Our commitment was to prove we were far away from that conflict.”