Emirates recently resumed flights to Uganda, albeit with a scaled down frequency. We caught up with John Gemin, the Emirates Uganda Country Manager to give us insights into what the aviation sector is currently going through and what it is that they have done to make passengers confident enough to fly again. Below are the excerpts.
- Following the restrictions imposed by several countries due to the coronavirus pandemic, how do you view the future of the aviation industry?
The COVID-19 crisis offered not just Emirates, but the industry as a whole an opportunity to foster more efficiency and resilience to respond better to near and long-term challenges, including restoring traveler confidence and more efficient air connectivity. For Emirates, post-pandemic operations that help support the rebound of air travel include harnessing more technology and digital solutions that enable us to plan and align our resources to passenger and cargo demand, in turn optimizing our operations. We are also evaluating further measures that ensure the highest standards of health and safety at key touchpoints, using as much contactless technology solutions as possible, for a seamless on the ground and onboard experience.
Alongside optimizing and supporting operational activities, we are continuously looking at business continuity activities as well as different ways to reduce our costs, enforcing fiscal discipline across the board, revenue management and smart network planning, among other initiatives. As we resume our operations in a scaled manner, we are confident that through different initiatives that demonstrate our preparedness and adaptability, we will successfully recapture demand and revive our revenue growth.
- You have only just resumed flights to several destinations, how do you envision the coming months?
We are confident in our business model and with Dubai as our hub, our proposition is as strong as ever, and Emirates will continue to lead the way in the aviation industry with superior products, service, comfort and network. Emirates has been gradually restoring its network connectivity. In November, we will be serving almost 100 cities, with safe and convenient connections via our Dubai hub for customers travelling between the Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia Pacific.
Emirates is fully focused and committed to our network, and we’re working hard to rebuild it to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months as more airports and cities reopen.
3. You currently operate three flights a week to Uganda, a drop from the daily flights that used to operate on the Dubai-Entebbe route. Do you see yourselves resuming the daily operations soon and what would inform that decision?
Uganda is an important market for Emirates in East Africa. At the moment, we operate three flights a week to Entebbe and we hope to resume to our pre-Covid schedule to daily flights to Dubai as passenger demand progressively continues to grow. Our objective right now is to maintain and grow load factors. In the longer term, we will continue to assess and carefully analyse the market, its performance and needs, which will show if there are more opportunities for us to further expand our presence.
- We saw Emirates continuing to operate cargo flights to Uganda even during the lockdown. How important is the Ugandan market to your operations?
Emirates rapidly adapted its operations and re-grew its cargo network to meet the needs of customers and communities. From just over 35 destinations at the end of March, Emirates SkyCargo quickly expanded its network to over 130 scheduled cargo destinations across the world by October. From transporting urgently needed medical supplies and food, to materials required for manufacturing and other industries from origin to destination, Emirates SkyCargo continues to help reconnect cities to international trade lanes as manufacturing and other economic activities recommence.
Emirates SkyCargo utilised the cargo capacity on its Boeing 777-300ER passenger freighter aircraft to facilitate the movement of goods to and from Uganda, ensuring continuity to local businesses with dedicated cargo flights, starting with bi-weekly flights before scaling it up to three following increased demand. Emirates SkyCargo exported perishables such as chilled fish (Nile Perch), fruits and vegetables, such as, bananas, pineapples, avocado, chilies, hot pepper, white egg plants and sweet potatoes, among others. Imports to Entebbe included general cargo and pharmaceuticals.
- Upon resumption of passenger flights to and from Entebbe, what measures have you put in place to ensure the health and safety of passengers? What is new?
We have implemented a comprehensive set of measures at every step of the customer journey to ensure the safety of its customers and employees on the ground and in the air, including the distribution of complimentary hygiene kits containing masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes to all customers.
On the ground, Emirates provides complimentary hygiene kits to be given to every passenger upon check in at Dubai International Airport and on flights to Dubai. Protective barriers at each check-in desk and immigration counter have been installed to provide additional safety reassurance to passengers and employees during interaction over the counter.
Virus carrying droplets are also unlikely to reach neighboring passengers, as cabin air flows downwards and all passengers are seated facing forwards. Cabin air is changed entirely every 2 to 3 minutes, and all Emirates aircraft have HEPA filters which are proven to remove 99.97% of germs and viruses – just as it is in a hospital theatre.
All cabin crew on board are fully kitted out in PPEs. To uphold the highest standards of safety and hygiene, Emirates has added a cabin service assistant (CSA) to the crew complement on flights over 1.5 hours to ensure lavatories are cleaned at frequent intervals of every 45 mins.
In premium classes, single use menus and wine lists are provided to passengers. Comfort items such as mattresses, pillows, blankets, headphones and toys are hygienically sealed. Emirates continues to serve hot meals, using high quality, cutlery and crockery, sterilised before each use.
Emirates was the first airline to provide free cover on COVID-19 related medical expenses should a customer be diagnosed with COVID-19 during their travel while being away from home. Passengers flying from Uganda to and through Dubai, are required to have negative COVID-19 PCR test certificates before they can board.
- What do you think governments should do to improve on travel during the pandemic? Some passengers are complaining about the ever-changing travel restrictions across countries and that they are missing flights due to expired PCR COVID-19 test certificates.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation industry are unprecedented. A concerted and coordinated effort from industry and governments alike is required to ensure that recovery is sensible – the many gains made to date should be maintained while also placing consumer interests and efficiency at its heart. As the world learns more about this virus, Emirates continues to work closely with international and local authorities to responsibly and gradually resume passenger operations to meet travel demand, but always putting as our top priority the health and safety of our customers, our crew and the communities we serve.
- Has the Entebbe route picked up? Are passengers leaving and coming to Uganda using your aircrafts? Do the numbers reflect a rebound or something else?
We are happy to report that forward bookings for our flights to Entebbe are looking good and we are seeing encouraging signs of a gradual return in demand.
Our aim is to maintain an operation that is ahead of the game ensuring high safety and hygiene standards across every customer touchpoint to instill more confidence in travel.