INTERVIEW

AMER N. KHAN, COUNTRY MANAGER PAKISTAN, ETIHAD AIRWAYS

(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
June 21 - 27, 20
10

PROFILE

I started my career in the UK working with Unilever's cosmetic brand, Elizabeth Arden which is a world renowned make-up brand. Following my tenure there I went to work for Mercedes Benz UK which was a great experience. I then entered the aviation industry starting my career with the South African Airlines, after which I was recruited by American Airlines to establish the US carrier in the Middle East region. In addition to developing strategic alliances for the airline in the region I also had the honour of opening their offices in Saudi Arabia and Oman.

PAGE: STARTING OPERATION AS A NATIONAL AIRLINE, EITHAD HAS NOW EXPANDED ITS FLIGHT OPERATIONS TO MANY COUNTRIES. HOW HAS THE AIRLINE TRAVELED TO THIS POINT IN SUCH A SHORT SPAN OF TIME?

AK: Etihad Airways was established in 2003 as the national airline of the UAE by a royal decree issued by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Services were launched with a ceremonial flight to Al Ain on November 5, 2003 and on November 12, 2003 Etihad started commercial operations with the launch of services to Beirut. In the following months, almost one new route was added per month. Etihad now has over 60 destinations on its network and working towards more this year.

The airline has ambitious growth and development plans in the respective regions. Aside from continuous growth on the airline's part, Etihad continues to increase its services as well as quality. To Etihad, it's a challenge to create a luxury hotel in the air and hence caters to the needs of its guests the same way. Etihad has outdone itself in every way possible. Being a relatively new airline and being in its sixth year of operations, Etihad is classified as one of the top desirable means of travel. What appeals to me the most about Etihad is their ambition to bring the very best to its customers. Etihad promises class and comfort to all its customers be it the premium class or the Coral Economy. Passengers have access to world class luxury in-flight services as well as ground arrangements and services provided by the airline.

PAGE: A RECENT WAVE OF GLOBAL RECESSION HAS DRAGGED DOWN THE REVENUE PASSENGER KILOMETRE OF MANY TOP AIRLINES IN DOUBLE PERCENTAGE POINTS. YOUR FINANCIAL STATEMENT SHOWS THE ISOLATION OF ETIHAD FROM ONGOING DEVELOPMENTS? WHY IS IT SO?

AK: The global recession has affected every industry. However Etihad Airways is proud to have been able to come out of recessionary period successfully. The first quarter of 2010 has shown remarkable improvement for Etihad. Etihad Airways showed 25.4 per cent growth in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) in the first quarter of 2010. This growth of 25.4 per cent has far outpaced the industry average and increased passenger numbers by 11 per cent. Premium traffic has also increased by 5 per cent. Despite operating in the worst air transport recession in history, Etihad has persisted on its growth trajectory.

Basically, our investment in our product and in our brand has helped us to attract higher numbers of passengers in both economy and premium cabins. This was helped by the continued expansion of our route network with a total fleet of ten aircrafts and by the aggressive sales and marketing of our services. Etihad's first quarter figures build on its 2009 performance, which saw revenue passenger kilometres increase by 15 per cent and total passenger numbers rise from six million to 6.3 million. Those figures were boosted by eight new route launches through the year to Melbourne, Astana, Istanbul, Athens, Larnaca, Chicago, Cape Town and Hyderabad. Our long haul operations made important contributions to the performance in the first quarter.

PAGE: RECENTLY, EITHAD AIRWAYS HAS STRUCK A CODE SHARING AGREEMENT WITH US AIRLINES OUT OF PAKISTAN. THIS SHOWS YOUR COMMITMENT TO THIS REGION. CAN YOU ELABORATE YOUR PLAN FOR THIS GEOGRAPHICALLY VIABLE COUNTRY?

AK: Pakistan is one of Etihad Airways' key destinations. We have a healthy loyal customer base from this region and as time goes by the numbers keep growing. At present, we have daily flights from Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore and twice daily from Peshawar, that's 23 weekly flights with excellent onward connections to the rest of the Etihad network, especially North America and Europe.

Yes, Etihad Airways recently announced the first code share flight out of Pakistan with American Airlines. This is a major milestone in Etihad's commitment to promoting Pakistan as a destination. Etihad Airways also allows its passengers the convenience of checking fares, booking their ticket and paying for it online, via a credit card. Our recent alliance with Bank Al Falah Bank is yet another milestone for our Pakistani passengers, which allow Etihad guest members to convert their accumulated Bank Alfalah credit card reward points to Etihad Guest Miles.

PAGE: SINCE BUSINESS CLASS MAKES A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF ETIHAD'S MARKET SHARE IN PAKISTAN. DOES THE AIRLINE OFFER ANY INCENTIVE TO THIS REVENUE EARNING SEGMENT?

AK: Etihad is always eager to promote the business sector in Pakistan. Very soon we will be introducing Business Connect, our latest product for the business sector. Through Business Connect every 100 miles earned by an employee will automatically give an additional 30 miles to economy class passengers and 60 miles to Business class passengers' companies. This will enable the company to create a pool of miles to be used whenever required.

PAGE: WHERE IN YOUR PERSONAL OPINION IS THE AVIATION INDUSTRY HEADING TO?

AK: Competition is at its rise and all airlines are working hard to make their products better. I see this as healthy and progressive competition. New deals on different routes together with new products to make passengers travel comfortable are being taken seriously by airlines. On-ground facilities are also improving. The aviation industry is on its way to the peak of class and comfort. Newer models of aircrafts are also being opted for making travel safer for all concerned. For example, Etihad has ordered new aircrafts for long haul flights. In our Diamond business class, the seats transform into a fully flat bed giving the passenger more personal space than ever before. Apart from that our main focus is on getting better connections to our destinations. Keeping that in mind we have various code share agreements with airlines which allow excellent connectivity vice versa.

It's the collective growth which makes the aviation industry very promising in the future.

PAGE: WHAT ARE THE MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF ETIHAD AIRWAYS?

AK: Etihad has won almost 40 awards since its inception. Etihad's 2009 Skytrax accolade of "Best Business Class in the World" builds upon a series of top awards that Etihad received during 2008, including "world's leading first class airline" at the World Travel Awards; 'airline of the year' at the British Travel Awards; 'leading airline', 'leading first class' and 'leading travel website' at the Middle East World Travel Awards; 'best cabin staff' and 'best economy class' at the Business Traveler (Middle East) awards; and 'best website' at the Pan Arab Web awards. These awards are major accomplishments for such a young airline. Recently, Etihad has been voted the best in four separate categories at the 'Freddie' awards, organised by a US-based Inside Flyer magazine to recognise the travel industry's best frequent flyer programmes. Etihad Guest picked up 'Best Website', 'Best Member Communication', 'Best Bonus Promotion' and 'Best Award Redemption' awards for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

ETIHAD LAUNCHES "BUSINESS CONNECT" IN PAKISTAN

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has introduced a new program called BusinessConnect to help businesses in Pakistan get the most value from their travel budget when flying with the airline. This was announced at a formal lunch held at a local hotel in Karachi. The lunch was attended by Amer Khan, Country Manager, Etihad Airways Pakistan, Peter Baumgartner, Chief Commercial Officer - Etihad Airways and Shazia Marri - Provincial Minister for Tourism.

BusinessConnect members or a designated travel agent can manage the company's account online. All itineraries are kept in one place with 24-hour access and user-friendly features. Miles are earned on Etihad marketed flights, including those operated by the airline's codeshare partners.

Peter Baumgartner, Chief Commercial Officer, Etihad Airways, said, "We are proud to introduce 'Business Connect' in Pakistan, - a product designed to make travel easy, convenient and more rewarding for the local Pakistani businesses. We at Etihad are grateful for all the support received from here and will continue to depend on all of you to make Etihad the favourite airline of Pakistan"

Once registered at www.etihadbusinessconnect.com/pk, a company with up to 50 enrolled BusinessConnect member's benefits from the following exclusive features:

The business will earn 60 per cent of all Diamond First and Pearl Business class miles earned by employees, in addition to individual employees receiving their normal mileage accrual;

The business earns 30 per cent of total miles flown in Coral Economy class, in addition to individual employees receiving their normal mileage accrual;

BusinessConnect members can redeem their miles for free flights, upgrades and a choice of over 1600 rewards; and

All miles are added together to start earning rewards faster.

Etihad Airways is launching BusinessConnect with a5,000 miles bonus upon activation of the account. The offer ends on July 30, 2010.

Businesses in Pakistan will further benefit from their employees' membership in BusinessConnect. Linked to the Etihad Guest loyalty programme, the company can take advantage of a whole world of privileges provided to its staff on business trips. Etihad BusinessConnect cuts down expenses, saves time and enhances productivity by offering registered members all the benefits of the Etihad Guest programme such as lounge access; excess baggage allowance; limousine transfers; fast-track immigration; and priority boarding and baggage reclaim;


ETIHAD SUPPORTS EDUCATION PROJECTS IN PAKISTAN

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has announced that the 'Etihad Runway with LABELS' gala evening and fashion show held in Pakistan last week has to date raised over US$50,000 (PKR 4.2 million) for the charity organisation Developments in Literacy (DIL), in support of educating disadvantaged children across Pakistan.

During the event, Etihad Airways also announced that it will be entering into a long term partnership with DIL to continue its support of the important charity.

Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways' Chief Commercial Officer, said: "Etihad Airways strives to play an important role in the communities of every one of its destinations. In Pakistan, we have worked on various initiatives to support charity and non profit organisations and we are delighted to contribute to DIL's mission in providing education to disadvantaged children across Pakistan."

The gala event was attended by Pakistani celebrities and media representatives and was launched with a surprise performance from Etihad Airways' newly signed brand ambassador from Pakistan, Strings. Throughout the fashion show, top fashion models from Pakistan displayed exquisite creations by Pakistan's leading fashion designers: Ayesha Farook Hashwani; HSY; Nomi Ansari; Faiza Sami; Maheen Khan; and Elan by Khadija Shah.