Interview: Maen Mahmoud Razouqi

How can national carriers in the Gulf capitalise on opportunities stemming from emerging dynamics in the global travel industry?

MAEN MAHMOUD RAZOUQI: Although 43 airlines around the world have declared bankruptcy since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the overall outlook for the industry is positive. The industry expects that by 2035 passenger numbers will double from 2019 levels, increasing from 4bn to 8bn globally each year. Two billion of those passengers are expected to come from the Asia-Pacific region, specifically from India and China. Therefore, Gulf airports and airlines can benefit substantially from transit traffic.

At the same time, jet fuel prices are higher than they were before the pandemic. As a result, the post-pandemic strategy is to create efficiency models and projects around total cost reduction.

What initiatives is the sector pursuing to help establish Kuwait as an aviation centre?

RAZOUQI: The new terminal at Kuwait International Airport provides the aviation industry with the impetus to expand, especially in cargo. It is one of the biggest development projects in the country, covering 180,000 sq metres. It can serve 25m passengers annually and offers 51 aircraft gates. This is a great opportunity for Kuwait to position itself as an aviation centre.

The February 2022 restructuring of Kuwait Airways’ order book with Airbus aligns with positive growth prospects in the short to medium term. The aim is to expand passenger capacity and increase profitability with fuel-efficient, single-aisle aircraft. The fleet restructuring will result in 41 aircraft, with the aim of expanding annual passenger volume from 5m to 7m people between 2022 and 2025.

The restructuring programme also comes with new initiatives to improve customer experiences, such as online check-in services, a platinum-level tier for frequent fliers and a new airport lounge area including airport-home transfer services for premium class passengers. Overall, the industry is trying to modernise and increase national content.

To what extent might greater compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles benefit airlines and their employees?

RAZOUQI: The industry is focused on increasing its ESG commitments, and this depends on using the latest technologies and introducing procedures to reduce the carbon footprint. For example, the NEO aircraft (A320neo) in the revamped Kuwait Airways fleet will deliver a 20% fuel savings per seat and offer additional environmental benefits, such as a 50% reduction in noise footprint compared to previous generation aircraft. The new aircraft increases seating capacity while reducing bottom-line costs and carbon emissions.

Another important aspect of complying with global ESG standards is gender equality in a sector that has been traditionally dominated by males. In this context, we have a global programme aimed at increasing the proportion of women in senior management positions by a minimum of 25% by 2025.

In what ways might artificial intelligence (AI) or big data analytics increase operational efficiency and optimise the passenger experience?

RAZOUQI: Big data analytics and AI help airlines measure performance across all operations and functions, which creates performance metrics and targets based on asset utilisation as well as company productivity, therefore enhancing overall customer experience.

Since the industry is people centric, there are opportunities to invest in technology to improve customer experience across different business segments in the global air transportation industry, not only in aircraft design but also within airports and in ticket sales. There is a need for more resources to be channelled towards digital transformation and to increase opportunities for stakeholders who would like to get involved in the field.