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A four-airline flyby makes for a statement to be proud of – and possibly a future to expect
I’D EXPECTED A THUNDERING of aircraft engines in the afternoon skies on December 2nd. Perched on top of my apartment balcony I waited a half hour for the “historic surprise” that Emirates and Flydubai had told us to watch out for. I hadn’t gotten the timing wrong. I was just excited.
When 13:54 rolled by, though, and all four UAE carriers – Air Arabia, Emirates, Etihad and Flydubai – emerged from the horizon to fly past the Atlantis on the country’s 47th National Day, the scene was as unassuming to the untrained eye as the UAE’s size on the world map. And yet two A380s, a pair of Boeing 737s, trailed by seven Al Fursan stunt jets vaping the UAE flag was, to me, an unimaginably surreal sight.
I’ve spent the better part of two-thirds of my life in the UAE. One of my first memories of what is now Terminal 1 at DXB is seeing people slip and fall as they attempted to maneuver the slick ramp that spiraled down on to the tarmac before they boarded their flights.
Sitting on an Emirates flight to Karachi, I was five years old when I was perplexed by what flying on a plane meant; it didn’t feel like we were moving. Could it be that someone was changing the set outside the window? It was probably a thought only a child could dream up – although years later while re-watching The Truman Show on an Emirates flight, I wondered if the film’s creators had the same thought.
Now, nearly three decades later and having read some books and gained some experience, it was still hard to hold back a child-like fascination with seeing four airlines, all from a country that when I was born had none, flying past together. It’s all happened so fast. There must be so much more on the horizon, right?
Signalling the future
The flypast was intended to radiate solidarity and harmony with the UAE’s ideals; to show that the airlines and combined aviation industry were punching above their weight as they aspired to be much better than great. And they did it with a swanlike synchronicity.
A day earlier, while hanging out with Emirates’ PR team, having discovered they were up to something, I couldn’t help but ask about the one word that’s popped into the mind of every aviation journalist covering the region: merger?
I was fortunate to get just an eye-roll and a smile. When I’d last pushed the question with the ever-patient Flydubai CEO Ghaith al Ghaith, after the carrier had just confirmed the Middle East’s largest singleaisle aircraft order followed by a codeshare partnership with Emirates, he’d said, “You can’t help yourself can you?” There’s a video of me asking Air Arabia’s Adel Ali the same question, and if you watch closely there’s a bit of a laugh in his response as well.
So, maybe a temporary abstinence from mention of mergers is in order. Fair enough, it does sound a bit simplistic at times: like using Newtonian physics to explain quantum mechanics.
However, it was Emirates’ CEO Sheikh Ahmed who spun the wheels in motion in our heads when he dropped in conversation that other forces that could find room to play: ground handling, maintenance, talent, etc.
Learning to cooperate
In the time since, Etihad and Emirates have already decided to share pilots; could Emirates Group’s Dnata handle
Etihad’s ground operations at its destinations in Europe? Could Etihad Airways Engineering provide services for the UAE’s other airlines? Air Arabia is doing well over in Sharjah, but like physicists attempting to align gravity with the standard model, is someone somewhere wondering if it could fit into a combined strategy and do even better?
At some point in the coming decades, a closer alignment is all but guaranteed. Some matters take time to become apparent. However, if you put it into perspective, all of the current aviation industry emerged in the last 30 odd years, and a key feature of late has been cooperation. So in terms of looking ahead at what’s next? It’s something we’ve all learned to expect.
And thank you, by the way, for that beautiful fly-by. It made my long weekend.
Q AT SOME POINT IN THE COMING DECADES A CLOSER ALIGNMENT IS ALL BUT GUARANTEED. BUT SOME MATTERS TAKE TIME TO BECOME APPARENT”
A national display: The four airlines combined for a dramatic show