Published on November 1st, 2015 | by Jim Lee


Emirates celebrates 30 years of service – from first small steps to a global leader in aviation

On 25th October 2015, Boeing 777-31H(ER), A6-ENB operated the EK600, from Dubai to Karachi, a route first flown 30 years earlier on 25th October 1985, by Captain Fazle Ghani Mian, which was the airlines inaugural service. Emirates flew its first routes out of Dubai with just two aircraft – a leased new Boeing 737-340 (AP-BCD) and an Airbus 300B4-103 (AP-BBM) on wet lease from Pakistan International Airlines, and Captain Mian was amongst that pioneering team involved in the successful launch of Emirates’ inaugural services. The two aircraft arrived in Dubai on 20th October in advance of the initial services. Further support came from Pakistan International Airlines in the form of technical and administrative assistance.

Emirates owes its origins to the situation in the mid-1980s, when Gulf Air began to cut back services to Dubai. Gulf Air was concerned that it was only providing regional feeder flights for other carriers. As a result, Emirates Airline was conceived in March 1985 with backing from Dubai’s royal family. However, it was required to operate independent of government subsidies, apart from $10 million (around €9.09 million at today’s rates) in start-up capital. The Royal Family’s Dubai Royal Air Wing also provided the airline with two used Boeing 727–200 Adv., A6-EMA ex A6-HRR and A6-EMB ex A6-HHM.

Recently, Captain Mian shared his memories of that historic inaugural Emirates service to Karachi, and the subsequent growth of the airline.

Emirates Inaugural flight

Emirates Inaugural flight

He said: “I came to Dubai on the 1st of October 1985 and met with HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and then Emirates Airline Managing Director Maurice Flanagan and their teams. We discussed the tasks ahead and how we wanted to proceed. On the 18th of October a group of 100 pilots, flight and aircraft engineers, maintenance staff, among others all came to Dubai to initiate the planning stages, and we began test flights from then on to ensure everything would operate to plan. I was also tasked to train UAE National pilots. They were trained in Dubai and got their commercial licenses from the Civil Aviation Authority in Pakistan.

We had some great memories from the first flight. Some of the flight caps were oversized for some of our pilots and they looked quite funny with them on their heads. However, that was a minor detail. We pushed back and took off on time, and this signalled a great achievement for the airline in such a short period of time.”

Maurice Flanagan (1928-2015)

Another significant force in the development of Emirates Airline was Maurice Flanagan. An Englishman, he was born in Leigh, in Lancashire, on 17th November 1928. He joined BOAC as a management trainee in 953, subsequently working for the airline in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Peru, Iran, India and the UK. In all he spent 25 years with BOAC and British Airways, until he was seconded from BA’s senior management to Dnata, the organisation appointed by the government of Dubai to run its travel and airport interests. He was therefore the obvious choice to launch fledgling airline in 1985 and it was an immediate success being able to repay the initial $10 million start-up capital the year following its launch. After more than 60 enterprising years in aviation, including 35 years in the Emirates Group, the then Sir Maurice Flanagan, Executive Vice Chairman, Emirates Airline & Group, decided to retire in April 2013. He passed away just two years later on 7th May 2015.

Emirates Cargo

Emirates Sky cargo Boeing 777-200F

Emirates SkyCargo

Emirates SkyCargo was established in October 1985, at the same time as Emirates was launched, operating as a separate entity from its parent company. In its first year, SkyCargo handled over 10,000 tonnes of freight. SkyCargo leased the entire freighter fleet from Emirates, as well as taking over management of the cargo holds in all of Emirates’ passenger aircraft. Using the bellyhold capacity of Emirates passenger aircraft offers flexibility and the capability to carry more cargo to more places around the globe. Emirates is now the world’s largest international air cargo carrier by freight tonne-kilometres flown. It carries more than 45,000 tonnes of cargo per week on all six continents, ranging from clothing, textiles and perishable foods; to Formula 1 racing cars, concert equipment and pets.

Earlier this year, Emirates SkyCargo relocated its hub freighter operations to Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai South, where it offers 50 scheduled freighter routes from its new cargo terminal. Its new state-of-the-art facility features an advanced storage system and cool-chain area, which can handle approximately 140,000 tonnes of perishable cargo per annum with temperatures of 18°C to 25°C.

It has a dedicated fleet of 15 cargo aircrafts, including two Boeing 747-400Fs and 13 Boeing 777Fs. Since being introduced to the SkyCargo fleet in 2009, the airline’s 13 Boeing 777Fs have logged an impressive 30,250 flights totalling more than 175,000 hours.

Emirates SkyCargo will expand its Italian cargo network when it launches daily non-stop flights to Bologna from 3rd November. The daily service will be operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, offering 23 tonnes of belly-hold capacity departing Dubai as the EK93 at 08:45 arriving in Bologna at 12:20. Flight EK 94 departs Bologna at 14:40, arriving in Dubai at 23:30. This latest SkyCargo service is Emirates’ fourth gateway in the country which is the home to some of the world’s most famous car manufacturers, including Lamborghini, Ducati, Ferrari Maserati and Pagani. It is also an emerging centre for the agriculture, fashion and retail industries.

Emirates Airline today

In the 30 year period since those early days recounted by Captain Mian, Emirates has grown to become the world’s largest international airline, with a reputation for innovation and service excellence. Then as now, its goal was quality, not quantity, and in the years since taking those first small steps onto the regional travel scene, Emirates has evolved into a globally influential travel and tourism conglomerate known the world over for our commitment to the highest standards of quality in every aspect of its business. Emirates currently serve 147 cities, including Dublin, on all six continents. It has a fleet of almost 240 aircraft, and as noted in our last report on Emirates, posted on 28th September, (see here)  it reached the landmark figure of 150 Boeing 777s on 3rd September. On that date it welcomed the arrival of two Boeing 777-300ERs (A6-EPA/B) and one Boeing 777-F1H Freighter (A6-EFS). Since then, the airline has taken delivery of two more passenger 77731H (ER)s, A6-EPC (on 30th September) and A6-EPD (19th October), but has taken three 777-200s out of service, leaving the active fleet at 149. It is also the largest operator of the Airbus A380 with its 67th aircraft, A6-EOO having been delivered on 19th August. It has another 73 on the way having ordered a total of 140 out of a total of 317 of the type ordered to date. 169 A380s have been delivered so far, with Singapore Airlines being the next largest operator with 24 firm orders, one on option and 19 delivered.

Emirates A380-2Emirates’ truly international workforce represents the diverse talents of passionate men and women from 160 countries, united in a common goal to deliver the best possible customer experience in every aspect of the business. However, it is keen to see UAE Nationals assuming key roles in the airlines management, to support the airline’s growth in the Middle East and Far East. On 12th October, Emirates announced a number of management changes in its Commercial Operations department that will see two UAE Nationals assuming new roles. Badr Abbas has been named Senior Vice President – Commercial Operations Far East, and will be responsible for the development of commercial operations in the region, while Khalid Bel Jaflah has been appointed Divisional Vice President – Commercial Operations UAE & Oman, a market which comprises Emirates’ hub and the largest single market in terms of passenger revenue for the airline. Emirates say that the Commercial team promotions are also a further testament to the airline’s dedicated focus to the strategic direction and roader development of its business within these regions.

The Emirates Group

As can been seen from the above, the Emirates Group has spread its wings into every aspect of travel and tourism to become a leading global corporation in its field. It has one of the youngest fleets in the sky and has won more than 500 awards for excellence worldwide making Emirates airline is one of two key divisions in the group.

The other is dnata, which provides services in ground handling, cargo, travel, IT solutions and flight catering. Established in 1959, today, dnata is the one of the world’s largest combined air services provider with a global footprint extending to 74 countries.

Propelled forward by their united strength, the two have evolved at a phenomenal rate to establish the Emirates Group as an immense organisation, spanning a portfolio of more than 50 brands and employing over 75,000 people.

Emirates Group embarks on enterprise-wide transformation strategy

On 20th October, the Emirates Group, unveiled its plans to undertake an enterprise-wide transformation initiative aimed at placing data at the heart of the organisation, re-inventing business processes using smart technology and underpinning decisions with big data and real-time analytics. The goal is to transform Emirates and dnata into the leading customer-centric, technology enabled travel experience enterprises.

This enterprise-wide transformation strategy will see benefits cascade every area of business from customer experience, to commercial, to several back-office functions.

In order to execute on this transformation, the Emirates Group is establishing a centralised Enterprise Change Management team that will be headed by a seasoned senior executive with the mandate, resources and funding to drive this long term strategic change across the organization.

“The unique skills that we’re looking for to head this team and overall initiative will involve an extensive global search for the best candidates,” said Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline. “We require someone with an extreme outcome and delivery orientation. This individual will be a proven leader with extensive experience in large scale enterprise transformations and be a true and passionate believer in the power of technology to shape business strategy” he added.

Emirates B777

Emirates Boeing 777

Emirates has also launched a data science lab in a five year partnership with Oxford University. Employing a team of world-class scientists, engineers, social scientists and domain experts from Emirates and Oxford University, the Oxford-Emirates Data Science Lab will examine new ways of forecasting demand and optimising seat inventory across the airline’s global network driving immediate, tangible benefits to the Emirates Group. Longer term, the lab’s focus will be to redefine the customer experience through improved personalisation with individual customers.

Located at the Oxford Centre for Information (OCI) at the University, the Oxford-Emirates Data Science Lab will draw on data science, machine learning, mathematics and big data to help place data at the heart of the organisation and streamline business processes. Part of the recently-launched Emirates Group Enterprise-Wide Transformation strategy, the Lab will support the whole Group, including Emirates airline, Emirates SkyCargo and dnata, the air services provider.

Ongoing row with US carriers claiming ‘protectionism’

On 28th October, Delta announced that it would no longer fly between Atlanta and Dubai, effective 11th February 2016. The 777 aircraft used to operate on the route will be redeployed to other Trans-Atlantic markets where Delta says “it can compete on a level playing field that’s not distorted by subsidised state-owned airlines”. It also claims overcapacity on U.S. routes to the Middle East and the decision comes less than a month after Delta reduced service between Atlanta and the Middle East’s largest hub. In a statement Delta adds “between 2008 and 2014, about 11,000 daily seats were added between the U.S. and Dubai, Doha, and Abu Dhabi – more than 95 percent of which are flown by Gulf carriers Emirates, Qatar and Etihad airlines. Of the 14 daily flights between the U.S. and Dubai, only two are operated by U.S. carriers. Despite the increase in passengers traveling on these flights, the number whose journeys actually originate or end in the Gulf has essentially remained flat”.


Emirates Economy class interior

The statement goes on: “Delta, along with American and United through the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies have asked the U.S. government to open consultations with Qatar and the UAE to address the issue of $42 billion in government subsidies given to the Gulf carriers, which violate the Open Skies agreements between the U.S. and those nations. In August, the Partnership submitted a nearly 400-page document to the U.S. government clearly outlining the harm subsidized Gulf carriers are doing to U.S. airlines. The request to open consultations has broad support from government officials, mayors, community leaders and airline employees. Between 2008 and 2014, about 11,000 daily seats were added between the U.S. and Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi – more than 95% of which are flown by Gulf carriers”.

Emirates contends, that although wholly owned by the Government of Dubai, it has grown in scale and stature not through protectionism but through competition – competition with the ever-growing number of international carriers that take advantage of Dubai’s open-skies policy. Not only does it support that policy, but it sees it as vital to maintaining its identity and our competitiveness. After making its initial start-up investment, the Government of Dubai saw fit to treat Emirates as a wholly independent business entity, and today they are thriving because of it, with the airline recording an annual profit in every year since its third in operation.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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