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Interview: Samer Majali, Gulf Air CEO
The local airline boss on how the aviation sector is shaping up, the impact of the Qatar World Cup, and governments helping out airlines.
March 14, 2011 3:45 by shafeer
How do you see this year shaping up with regard to the aviation sector?
We saw some dramatic improvements in 2010 compared to 2009 from the developmental perspective in terms of traffic coming back, passengers, and cargo – particularly passengers. We are cautiously optimistic this progress will improve and continue throughout the year. Obviously, it depends on which part of the world we are looking at. Primarily, the blueprint is within the region itself – the Middle East and Far East Asia – and other parts of the world. It’s still a bit weak in Europe and North America.
What is your focus when it comes to the Gulf region?
We see a lot more improvements in the Gulf. It is a very active region in terms of offering more capacity with the expansion plans of various carriers, and that in itself generates much more traffic.
Do you think Qatar’s hosting of the soccer World Cup in 2022 will benefit other countries in the Gulf, as far as aviation is concerned?
[There was hope that] the event would be shared in a similar way to what happened between South Korea and Japan [in 2002]. I hope this happens. They [the Gulf states] can participate in the effort and share the load of the development that is required for successfully hosting the World Cup. But, irrespective of that, I think there will be a lot of movement in the region. Bahrain’s proximity to Qatar is important in terms of having excess hotel capacity to serve the influx of tourists.
Is the Gulf aviation sector in a good position?
Yes. There is a lot of funding available from Gulf governments regarding investments in the sector – not only for carriers, but also for infrastructure projects and airports.
Airlines and governments in the West say that Arab governments, especially those in the Gulf, provide too much help to their carriers such as Emirates and Etihad. Do you agree?
In developing countries, the aviation sector has been the target of state development and support. That is still a significant factor in the region. Whether other airlines of other countries agree with that or not, that’s the fact.
What is on your ‘To Buy’ list?
We have embarked on a strategic plan to make Gulf Air a commercially viable entity and reach targets within the next few years. Part of that is re-aligning our networks, getting in the optimal planes to service that network, improve service levels, and reduce costs. These are the elements of our strategy and we are moving ahead with that. Specifically, we are modernizing the fleet, and getting planes that are appropriate for that.