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in Air Transport / Features

Dabbas on the right track

Posted 7 July 2021 · Add Comment

The revival of the airline business across the Middle East in the post-pandemic era will depend on carriers being able to fly cost-effectively. One manufacturer, Embraer, has a solution.

Hussein Dabbas: “If you put the right aircraft at the right time, people will travel.” Picture: Embraer.

Hussein Dabbas knows what it takes to make an airline financially successful. His CV includes time as CFO and CEO of Royal Jordanian Airlines, as well as regional vice president for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) across Africa and the Middle East.

He has taken that experience to Embraer, the third of the three western commercial airliner manufacturers.

But nothing prepared him for the impact of the Covid pandemic.

“It’s something that we will remember for ages to come. This was really the worst issue to hit the aviation industry ever, and no airline has escaped that,” he said. “It’s going to take us some time. Nothing’s going to come back to 2019 levels before 2024.”

Dabbas believes airlines need to be addressing a capacity issue if they are to survive the post-pandemic recovery period.

“Airlines are realising that they need to right-size, and they need to be at the right market with the right aircraft,” he said. “Not every airline can have, and operate, at the very high seat factors, whether with wide-body aircraft or even the single-aisle jets that are becoming bigger and bigger.”

Dabbas said more than a quarter of Middle East regional flights depart with less than 70% of seats filled, with the region’s carriers sometimes using wide-body aircraft to make short hops.

“We do a lot of studies and we show airlines the numbers, and they share with us their forecasts, their cost, their revenues, and so on. And we come back to them with a study that clearly indicates that, in order for them to make money to generate more business, they must be operating on this kind of a schedule on that kind of a frequency.

“And again, let’s be honest, if you build it, they will come. If you put the right aircraft at the right time, people will travel.”

Dabbas said he had seen the difference at Royal Jordanian, when the airline bought Embraer regional jets. “It was a major game-changer. Instead of just flying Tuesdays and Fridays, we were flying every day.

“Nowadays, with the high cost of operation, unless you really have an 80-plus seat factor or load factor, you’re not covering your costs,” he added.

The E2, with its new wing and new engines reducing fuel burn and emissions, has more than 500 improvements over the original E-Jets, and offers a real opportunity for airlines and passengers, claimed Dabbas.

“We have new engines, new wings, new avionics, new stabilisers, new interiors, and new landing gear for the new generation fly-by-wire aircraft. So everything is new. When you go into the cabin as a passenger, you will notice the great feeling of entering an aircraft that is roomy; there are no middle seats, so it’s either window or aisle, and that’s what passengers like all the time.

“We have worked on the overhead bins so that they are much larger, and every passenger on board has the chance to put a carry-on bag up there, and there is the quietness of the aircraft. When it’s taking off and while it’s flying, you don’t hear the noise, you don’t hear the vibrations. It’s a very quiet and beautiful aeroplane.”

The aircraft has been dubbed ‘The profit hunter’ because of its favourable operating economies. And it even works when it comes to the growing requirement for business-class seats. “The new E2s have the option of what we call staggered seats, giving you 56-inch distance between the other seats in front of you,” Dabbas said. “The airlines are just flabbergasted when they see the layout.”

Alan Peaford reports.

 

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