Emirates Airline Cutting Staff Numbers Through Attrition

By Robert Wall Features Dow Jones Newswires

Emirates Airlines sees a recovery in U.S. demand after Washington imposed a ban on use of electronics on some inbound flights and expressed optimism it could be lifted.

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When the U.S. in March imposed a ban on the use of laptops and other electronic devices on flights from 10 Middle East and North African airports, Emirates Airline saw a slump in demand. The airline cut some flight frequencies on U.S. routes.

The U.S. said it imposed the ban because of concerns terrorists were trying to smuggle bombs onboard planes.

"The markets are coming back to us now," said Tim Clark, President of Emirates, the world's largest airline by international traffic. The airline has restored its daily Orlando service and may also restore others.

Mr. Clark said he visited Washington recently to talk to U.S. security officials to discuss the issue. He told them that Dubai's airport had advanced security facilities but was willing to make any upgrades the U.S. would demand. U.S. officials could even oversee processes in Dubai, he said.

"They were hugely sympathetic to the problems it is giving us," Mr. Clark said. He expressed optimism the U.S would issue guidelines on what security measures it would require in return for lifting the ban.

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Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said this week said he had invited U.S. officials to audit his Doha hub. The airport also is on the U.S. list affected by the electronics ban.

At a meeting in Malta last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke presented their European counterparts with a list of extra security measures that includes improved information exchange, random testing for explosives and acquiring more advanced airport screening devices to forestall a ban, said a European Union official who participated. The Americans gave no deadlines when presenting the measures, this person said, and many already are in place.

Emirates Airline and its regional rivals Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways had enjoyed a period, using their Persian Gulf airports as transfer hubs for long-haul flights between Asia and the U.S. and Europe. Now they have hit a rough patch. Low oil prices have depressed business travel. An oversupply of seats has depressed ticket prices. The laptop ban was only the latest hit.

Emirates Airline last month said full-year net profit plunged 82%. Mr. Clark said business in the first few months of this year is ahead of the same period last year. Still, he said, "we have to adapt our business model."

On the agenda is working more closely with its budget sister airline, FlyDubai.

"We could do things better together than apart," Mr. Clark said. The move is being pushed by Emirates Group's government owner, he said.

When FlyDubai was founded in 2008, 23 years after the more widely known Emirates Airline, it didn't do enough to enable cooperation, Mr. Clark said. Details of the cooperation are to be rolled out in the coming 18 months, Mr. Clark said, adding that nothing is off the table.

Emirates Airline, known for its lavish service, has already introduced elements more associated with lower-service airlines such as paid-for seat selection. "There are other things coming," Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Clark said Emirates, which operates big planes such as Airbus SE (AIR.FR) A380 superjumbos and Boeing Co. (BA) 777 widebodies, has been considering also buying some short-haul planes. That remains under study, Mr. Clark said, though the cooperation with FlyDubai could serve some of the need to fly narrowbodies to smaller markets.

-Write to Robert Wall at robert.wall@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 21, 2017 05:08 ET (09:08 GMT)