Emirates President Sir Tim Clark Talks Boeing, Politics, and Indian Protectionism 

Skift Take

As president of the world’s largest international airline, Sir Tim’s comments on a series of hot topics carry extra relevance and cut through. 

When it comes to international scale, airlines don’t get bigger than Emirates. The Dubai-based operator has an all-widebody fleet, composed of both Airbus and Boeing planes. It also has a company president who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Sir Tim Clark has been on hosting duties this week during the IATA Annual General Meeting. 

Speaking on the fringes of the event, Sir Tim had a freewheeling discussion with reporters that covered everything from Boeing to the ballot box.  Here are six of his most notable insights: 

1. Boeing Took its ‘Eye Off the Ball’

“The message to Boeing is absolutely crystal clear. They must get their production capability and their quality issues sorted out. I think Boeing needs to step back and say, ‘What did we get wrong’? Where they find themselves today is a result of taking the eye off the ball and the governance, shifting its focus into other areas. Now they need to go back to where they were. And if they do that, the whole process is salvageable.

“Only [Boeing] is going to get itself back on track, it needs to look at the whole process of design, engineering, production rates, and supply. You just need the right people to lead the business. Drive it at the shop floor level, make sure you communicate what’s going on, and if necessary, deconstruct and reconstruct your processes.”

2. Sir Tim is ‘Exasperated’ with Boeing 777-9 Delays

“I’m probably one of the most vocal in the industry about Boeing. Why do I say that? I’ve got 210 aircraft on order: freighters that are delayed and the 777-9, which I have no visibility on. The business [Emirates] has had to take on a $3 billion cash program to retrofit our aircraft.

“In 2019, I got on our first 777-9 in Seattle. On board was the business class product. In that time, all of these components have gone through hoops in terms of design change. I get extremely exasperated that we are unable to move at the pace that we want to. We cannot face constant delays. 

“We’ve got a business to run, and if we’re having to pay the bill for refurbishing all these aeroplanes, it should be put at Boeing’s door. Because by the time we get our first aircraft, It would be six years of delays. They told us in 2017-2018 that they were going to be able to deliver it to us in December 2019. But in the end, we need Boeing to produce the airplanes. It must get done. I think everybody’s on the same page with regard to that.”

3. People are ‘Abandoning Politics’

“We have about five elections going on. As we speak, from Mexico to India to South Africa, and Britain is coming up for elections. Normally, political changes like this see a diminishing demand. For the first time in my career, it’s almost as if people are abandoning the politics and just getting on with their lives.

“I think Covid was such a traumatic experience for most people on the planet [that] the demand for travel and the importance of air travel within their own personal agendas is now very strong.”

4. Indian Protectionism ‘Not Such a Smart Move’

“India is clearly protecting the merger of Air India and Vistara. I know from years of experience that protecting your national carriers to the detriment of the economy of the particular country is not such a smart move.

“So, in India’s case, it is trying to give Air India and the Tata Group some measure of time, but you cannot do that forever. In the end, you’re compromising the strength of your economy by restricting access. Not only Emirates, but all foreign carriers. There are many people who want to engage with them.”

5. Travel Demand ‘Continues to Grow’

“So long as we don’t have major geopolitical upheavals, demand continues to grow. Flights in the course of this year are equal to the number of flights prior to the pandemic. It’s fairly optimistic now for a 4% growth in demand annually.

“We’re not seeing any evidence at all of this being the last great rebound. I know that demand for air travel continues to grow, as the global population continues to grow. In multiple sectors of the global economy, things are moving, notwithstanding that we’re in a troubled place.”

6. Emirates is in ‘Modest’ Growth Phase

“We’ve had clearly defined start-up phases. We got to the maturing phase, where we had up to 270 aircraft. Then came COVID, which was a seminal point not just for us, but for everybody. We demonstrated that the airline not only could survive that but also did very well after that.

“By the time Al Maktoum [the new Dubai Airport] opens in the early 2030s, we will grow to 330 aircraft in our fleet. Today, we have 270 and see modest growth until this airport is opened. See what happens when I look at the cities and towns in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe that are not well served and could be well served with the right tools.

“The Airbus A350 is the ace there, the route opener. Working with [local airline partner] flydubai, we have tools from the Boeing 737 on one end to the A380 on the other.”

Quotes have been edited for clarity and length

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