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The Airline Industry will have to “tough it out”

Emirates president and aviation industry veteran Tim Clark will retire this month after more than three decades at the world’s biggest long-haul airline, whose growth he took to dizzying heights.

Mr Clark, who turned 70 in November, will continue as a consultant to the airline, according to the memo. There was no information of the company’s plans to find or appoint a successor, the spokeswoman said.

During his 35 year-service at Emirates, Mr Clark helped to transform the Dubai airline into an intercontinental connector that siphoned traffic from well-established legacy airlines and dictated aircraft specification to global plane makers Boeing and Airbus, as per its operational requirements.

Emirates has helped transform Dubai into a major global travel and finance hub.

“It is the end of an era,” independent aviation consultant John Strickland said. “He was a true visionary: without Tim, I believe Emirates would not be the success it is today and the aircraft manufacturers owe him a debt of gratitude for pushing them to make market-leading aircraft that have seen wider success thanks to Tim pushing for greater specification capability.”

Mr Clark is stepping down after conducting what he called a “root and branch” review of the airline’s fleet and network following an end to its flagship Airbus A380 double-decker.

As a result, he has overhauled the Emirates fleet to embrace smaller wide-body jets amid a backdrop of slower travel demand and sluggish economic growth. This culminated in a series of restructured deals at the Dubai Airshow in the 2019 that included the mid-sized Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 Neo jets, charting a new strategy for growth for the company.

While the airline has been profitable during the past three decades, it has recently grappled with a series of challenges ranging from geopolitical tensions to lower oil prices, currency fluctuations and trade wars that have hurt the global economy’s growth.

The most difficult challenge he has been faced of is Covid-19.

Yesterday, during the Arabian Travel Market celebrated virtually, the leading global event for the Middle East inbound and outbound travel industry for the last 27 years, Clark  says that the airline industry will have to “tough it out” for the remainder of this year as it reels from the coronavirus pandemic, but is optimistic that business will begin to improve gradually during 2021. However a full recovery could be several years away and will likely be driven by the availability of a vaccine, he warns.“We had targeted that the second half of May, believing things would start moving. But clearly they haven’t. So we’ve had to consider what the sizing of the airline was going to be”.

Clark believes the concept of introducing social distancing in passenger cabins “doesn’t stack up for anybody” as the industry operates on high volumes and low margins. “And equally on the environmental side, it makes no sense to fly half-empty aircraft,” he says.

“When in doubt follow your instinct, which is telling me that by the summer of next year…my bet is falling on the vaccine. If we can get a massive global inoculation programme going by the first quarter of next year…we will start seeing things coming back to normal. In that way, by the summer of next year we will start to see quite a large uptick in the demand for travel,” he says.

“I’m not overly optimistic about what is going to happen in the meantime. We’re just going to have to tough it out.”

Clark forecasts that demand will recover “to some degree of normality during 2022-24 by which time “Emirates will be operating its network as it was”.

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Patrizia Marin

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