Interview: Kamil Al Awadhi
What priority routes are being considered as part of the airline’s ongoing expansion, and what is the rationale behind this expanding network?
KAMIL AL AWADHI: Our transformation has been centred on increasing the size of our fleet in a very short period and phasing out all our old and leased aircraft. This has led to us having one of the youngest fleets in the region, with most aircraft being between two and three years old, which is a major investment for any airline. Given that new equipment experiences fewer failures, a new fleet has a direct impact on customer satisfaction as it enables on-time performance. It also allows for more passengers and, most importantly, it cuts operating costs through fuel efficiency and reduced maintenance.
This plan is in line with our long-term strategy, which involves overhauling the airline’s schedules, routes and network. Our focus will cover depth and breadth. For example, we are set to expand in popular markets like India and London, solidifying established routes with higher frequencies or passenger loads.
Following this, we will widen our scope, especially as there is only so much frequency that can be added through existing bilateral agreements. We are looking at China as a new, promising destination that we aim to beef up significantly. On a national level, there have been growing bilateral ties between Kuwait and China, particularly surrounding the development of Silk City in northern Kuwait, and we are well-positioned to benefit from and strengthen these ties. Thanks to our new aircraft, we are also rolling out seasonal tag flights to destinations like Nice. This allows us to test the waters in different markets, observing the percentage of flights and the value proposition of the destination.
How have improvements in air transport infrastructure helped boost industry growth?
AL AWADHI: The biggest challenge for the aviation industry is infrastructure. Pressure on existing facilities has been relieved by the opening of Terminal 4. However, there need to be further improvements in and outside the airport, which will require multiple entities to work synergistically together. As part of the airline’s transformation, we are moving very fast and pushing other relevant entities to match this pace.
Improvements are not limited to infrastructure. We have already invested around KD9m ($29.6m) in ground equipment, focusing on better air-conditioned buses for VIP, business class and economy. This amount is double what ground-handling companies typically invest in their start-ups. These investments serve two purposes: they enable us to run more efficiently, so aircraft are grounded for less time, and they allow bags to be delivered on time. A passenger might have a great airline experience, from booking online to the flight crew, but that experience can be ruined at the last leg if bags take too long. By focusing on passenger experience, an airline can deploy IT solutions, digital applications and innovation to deliver improved services and react to real-time passenger feedback.
In what ways is the aviation segment leveraging human capital and local employment?
AL AWADHI: Manpower represents roughly a third of our operating budget and is a critical part of any airline’s business plan. In 2019, as part of the airline’s re-fleeting and growth plan, we have to develop a new manpower plan. As aviation moves into the 21st century, there is an increased need to invest in better-trained staff, who are in tune with the industry’s latest developments. It is counterproductive to invest in new and more modern equipment if it is operated in the old way. With this in mind, we have large investment plans to train, educate and upgrade our staff, whether managerial or technical, so they can stay abreast of advancements in the industry. Alongside this, given the large opportunities for private companies to support aviation, the more market share that local airlines get, the more local businesses are attracted to contributing to the sector’s growth.
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