Emirates eyes surge in flights

EMIRATES hopes to increase its flights to Australia to 100 a week, after a $US500 million rise in net profit of $US1.6 billion.

Emirates chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said the airline would lift its services to Australia from 63 to 70 each week from October 2 and would work towards its limit of 84 a week. That limit is set by a bilateral agreement between Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

''You will see growth,'' he said. ''When we reach that [limit of 84], I'm sure we will try to bring that to 100. I hope Australia will not mind because it is good business for both of us.''

The Dubai-government-owned enterprise shrugged off volatile fuel prices to record an increase in passengers from 27.5 million to 31.4 million in the past year, up by about 14 per cent.

Emirates is still under investigation in Australia by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau for an incident at Melbourne Airport in March 2009.

Group revenue increased from $US15.6 billion, up 26.4 per cent while the airline's revenue grew to $US14.8 billion, an increase of 25 per cent.

Planes flew at 80 per cent capacity, four per cent higher than the industry average for Middle East carriers, and well above the break-even point of 64.4 per cent.

"The airline group has come through another challenging year, which started off with the Pacific volcanic ash cloud... with natural disasters to follow in Europe, the UK and US, followed by the destructive earthquake in New Zealand and Japan," Sheikh Ahmed said.

"Increased fuel prices... also impacted aviation, along with political instability in the region."

Despite going it alone rather than relying on alliances, Emirates increased its network footprint, adding Amsterdam, Prague and Madrid routes this year, with Switzerland and Copenhagen set to launch in July and August and bring to 27 the number of European destinations. Other new destinations are Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.

Emirates now flies to 111 destinations in 66 countries, including 63 flights per week to Dubai from Australia, although it has approval by regulators to operate up to 84 a week, as well as 28 trans-Tasman flights.

It has a large fleet already, with 148 planes including 15 Airbus A380 super-jumbos, and plans to grow to 169 next year, with six more A380s and 13 Boeing 777-300ERs.

The airline has another 200 planes on order, including 75 more A380s and 48 long-range Boeing 777-300ERs.

Australian government figures show that last year Emirates' share of international travellers carried to or from Australia grew to 8.1 per cent, the same as Jetstar. Air New Zealand (8.2 per cent), Singapore Airlines (9.2 per cent), and Qantas with 18.9 per cent of the market were the three airlines with a bigger share.

Latest government travel figures released yesterday for international arrivals and departures for March show international arrivals to Australia slumped 5.1 per cent compared to the same month last year, while departures fell 4.7 per cent. The Tourism and Transport Forum said Australians deferred travel to the extended Easter break last month.

But for the 12 months to March, the rate of Australians travelling internationally was almost four times more, at 9.6 per cent, than overseas arrivals.

Emirates has already opened its exclusive Terminal 3 at Dubai airport, with plans to move into a second, dedicated opulent airport, the Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport.

It is expected to be ready by 2020, and is being promoted as the last word in luxury. It will be the world's largest airport, and part of a $US33-billion, 140-square-kilometre business, residential and recreational development. All of Emirates operations will move there, but the airports will be linked by rail.

Andrew Heasley is in Dubai as a guest of Emirates.

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