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Ghana should learn from Emirate Airlines on how to start an airline

by Atqnews
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A GNA feature by Belinda Ayamgha; Courtesy Emirates Airlines

Emirate flyAccra, Feb. 14, GNA – The only reminder for Ghanaians today that Ghana once had an air carrier that flew high the national flag and that was the pride of the West African sub-region is, perhaps, the recently opened La Tante DC 10 Restaurant at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA).

Certainly, this initiative which has made good use of the decommissioned aircraft that once flew in the Ghana Airways fleet is laudable and would help boost the nation’s tourism industry, but at the same time it is a sad reminder of the failure of the airline and its successor, Ghana International Airlines.

Many experts and non-experts alike have given several reasons for the collapse of the airline, most of which point to mismanagement of public entities; the tendency for people at the helm of affairs in public organizations to assume that it is their right to take their share of the national cake without recourse to the well-being and success of the organization, among other factors.

However, this should not be the case. There are public or state-owned organisations that have been run successfully in other parts of the world and from which we can learn a few lessons, especially with recent calls for the establishment of another national airline.

I had the pleasure of visiting and interacting with officials at one such organization. Emirates Airlines is the national carrier of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and like the country it represents, Emirates is an exemplification of the results of vision, hard work, focus and determination.

The airline, less than 30 years old, has been able to achieve so much that it was declared the world’s best airline in 2013.

Emirates Airlines was established on 25th October, 1985, with two leased aircraft from Pakistan International Airlines—a Boeing 737 and an Airbus 300 B4, plus a $ 10 million loan from the government of the UAE. Since then, through competent management and hardwork, the airline has grown and continues to grow its business with remarkable success.

From two leased aircraft, Emirates now operates one of the world’s youngest fleet with 212 aircraft, 200 passenger and 12 freighters. From its first destination of Karachi, the airline now flies to about 140 destinations in 79 countries worldwide.
Although wholly owned by the Government of Dubai’s Investment Corporation of Dubai, Emirates airlines unlike the defunct Ghana Airways and Ghana International Airlines or other airlines on the African continent, has remained remarkably successful over the past 25 years, recording profits every year since its third in operation.

Secrets of Success

Speaking to the GNA at the airline’s headquarters in Dubai, Adil Al Ghaith, Emirates Vice President Commercial for North and West Africa, attributed this growth to the airline’s commitment to constantly add value to its products and services and focus completely on what their competitors do.

Another distinguishing feature to which Mr. Ghaith attributes the success of Emirates airline is its strong Management team comprising experienced and long-standing members, chaired by Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the head of the department of Civil Aviation of Dubai. He said the airlines operated in line with a laid down strategy according to which things are done including strategic planning and meticulously calculated routes.

Very important to its success, he further explained is the flexibility in the decision-making process within the organization. The Emirates Group, of which the airline is a part, does not have a board of directors, unlike other companies. Instead, its leadership consists of the Chairman and CEO and a president who make the decisions.

This takes away the bureaucracy and allows for quick decision making. “The business, although government owned, is run as an independent and autonomous entity” Mr. Ghaith stressed.

Emirates Airlines does not receive any subsidy or protection from the Government of Dubai, which pursues an open skies policy and thus competes freely and fairly with over 150 other airlines in its quest to offer the best services on all its routes and to provide bridges between Dubai and the world, while contributing towards its development as the Middle East’s commercial centre and aviation hub.

Emirates’ distinctive business model means that it is not part of any airline alliance. According to the airline, it “believes that competition and consumer choice are paramount, not the protection of market share for any airline. State aid to any airline is absolutely unacceptable, whether through financial subsidies of any type or through restrictive air services agreements that protect flag carriers…”

From the above success story, it is certain that we can have a wholly-owned national carrier but we first need to learn lessons from our past failures, and take a cue from the Emirates example.

Most importantly, we need to have visionary leaders who would decide to do something and commit to make it work. Leaders, management and employees who are not self-serving, and whose sole motivation will not be that of getting their share of the proverbial ‘national cake’.

To borrow the words of HRH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Leader of Dubai: “The word impossible is not in the leader’s dictionary. No matter how big the challenge, strong faith, determination and resolve will overcome them.”

We need a clear and well-defined strategy and complete commitment to actually build Accra as a hub for aviation – which implies improving infrastructure and building up the supporting sectors such as tourism.

In a nutshell, if we would have a carrier that is successful and sustainable like Emirates has been able to achieve, then we should emulate them and run any national airline that would be established as an “independent and autonomous entity”.

That way, we may be able someday to adopt the slogan “Hello tomorrow” because we would be sure that that airline would still be there when we wake up.

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