Emirates banks on cargo to increase capacity

The airline has a healthy mix of cargo goods from Malaysia, including PPE that makes up a large part of the airfreight


EMIRATES airline is currently relying more on its cargo business, which is currently experiencing steady growth, to offset the passenger segment that has remained uncertain as a result of the relentless Covid-19 pandemic.

Emirates country manager for Malaysia Mohammad Al Attar said the airline has to recalculate a lot of its plans pre-Covid-19 and take greater account of its cargo operation.

“The angle that we have taken now is to put more focus on the cargo aspect. When we plan to resume operation to a country or increase frequency to a country, we always look if there is a strong cargo demand behind that.

“Based on that, with a combination of passenger demand from market intelligence, we then take the call as to how we operate, when, how many flights, what capacity. Of course, capacity restrictions are also subject to government regulations,” Mohammad told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview recently.

He said Emirates has a healthy mix of cargo goods from Malaysia, including personal protective equipment (PPE) that makes up a large part of the airfreight besides e-commerce, foods and other perishable items.

Emirates returned to Malaysia in June with four flights a week and increased it to five a week in September, primarily driven by cargo demand.

The Gulf carrier stopped flying to Kuala Lumpur from Dubai in March when the virus broke and international travel restrictions were imposed.

The group also had to put on hold its plan to fly to Penang, a second city for the Malaysian market, following the spread of the virus infection.

Before the pandemic, Emirates operated three flights a day to Malaysia with approximately 10,500 seats a week.

At present, the number of seats has been reduced by almost 86% to 1,500 seats a week.

Mohammad said the airline is optimistic about growth both in passenger and cargo, but the market situation is very dynamic and requires daily assessments.

“The reason for the increase (from four flights a week in June to five in September) was due to customer and cargo demands. We are optimistic as we are seeing the growth that is reflected in the increase in capacity. InsyaAllah, we hope to see more of these in the near future. But as of right now, we are taking things on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Mohammad said although disruptions have persisted in the passenger demand such as in the leisure market, certain segments in government, business, corporate and education still drive the air travel market.

“One of the things we can say from all the segments, businesses do go on depending on what industries you look at. But right now, we are seeing expatriates leaving Malaysia either to find different opportunities back home or in another country or just going back to their home country and planning to return to Malaysia when things improve,” he said.

The Air Transport Action Group projected that some 4.8 million aviation workers’ jobs would be at risk as a result of air travel demand falling more than 75% in August 2020 compared to the same month last year.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation have called for urgent government intervention to prevent an employment catastrophe in the aviation industry.

IATA said in a recent statement that September data for global airfreight markets showed that air cargo demand, though strengthening, remained depressed compared to 2019 levels.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres, was 8% below previous-year levels in September (-9.9% for international operations).

That was an improvement from the 12.1% year-on-year drop recorded in August.

Month-on-month demand grew by 3.7% in September.