Interview: Maher Salman Al Musallam
What are the steps Gulf Air is taking to improve the financial situation of the airline?
MAHER SALMAN AL MUSALLAM: Improving the airline’s financial situation is being accomplished by tapping into opportunities for revenue enhancement, cost reduction and contract renegotiations. Gulf Air’s strategic restructuring strategy is aimed at stemming financial losses to achieve long-term commercial sustainability. The goal is to create a stronger, more dynamic national carrier that is better equipped to function as a key national infrastructural asset. Since the start of the airline’s restructuring in January 2013, Gulf Air has continued to rationalise its operations as part of its mission to realise commercial sustainability. Progressively improving business results has reduced the airline’s financial losses by almost 75% since 2012, and today Gulf Air’s strategic direction reflects its ongoing recovery and a permanent and positive change in its financial trajectory.
To what extent is Bahrain’s global connectivity a high priority for the airline?
MUSALLAM: It is an ongoing priority for Bahrain’s national carrier to target its efforts at enhancing connectivity to various cities across the globe, further unlocking Bahrain’s economic growth potential. Gulf Air is focused on connectivity for convenience. We boast one of the largest networks in the Middle East and operate double daily flights to 10 regional cities, in addition to destinations on the Indian subcontinent and Europe, from our hub at Bahrain International Airport (BIA). Gulf Air’s regional stronghold is enhanced by direct links to key global destinations that are strategically aligned to the needs of the kingdom. The airline’s 10-year plan sees it striving for greater access to the MENA region and Europe. Once capacity allows for greater network expansion, Gulf Air will further grow, strengthening its five-hour radial network, and building on its regional focus and global reach.
Bahrain’s role as a strategic aviation centre in the MENA region is reinforced by its aviation heritage, which is deeply linked to Gulf Air’s history. BIA is integral to our operations and to our offerings. The ease, efficiency and convenience of procedures within the airport make entry, exit and transit through the kingdom highly attractive to travellers. BIA’s expansion will serve both Gulf Air and the aviation sector as a whole. By catering to increased two-way passenger movement and convenience, we can encourage and support economic growth over the coming years.
How would you respond to suggestions that Gulf Air needs either increased privatisation or more government oversight?
MUSALLAM: Gulf Air is making a clear and thorough recovery, through a combination of home-grown restructuring efforts, supported by its board of directors, and the government’s work in strengthening the airline’s position and its future outlook. It is important to note that this is Gulf Air’s first restructuring that has considered the views of all key stakeholders – customers, staff, government and parliamentarians – to create a balanced restructuring strategy and a sustainable business that effectively serves the demands of the people and economy. We believe the success of the restructuring so far, is a reflection of the balanced involvement of all stakeholders. We are pleased with the collaborative spirit of the government and its internal involvement and management of the airline’s business. Greater stakeholder engagement and oversight is key, and recent moves to consolidate the kingdom’s aviation assets under one group are critical to cementing Bahrain’s reputation as a synergistic domestic aviation hub.
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