The Middle Eastern-based Emirates has grand ambitions in Australia, plotting a course to become its biggest international carrier.
Will Emirates overtake Qantas to become Australia's biggest international airline? The Middle Eastern carrier certainly has that ambition.
As we come to the end of the financial year, a lot of businesses will be looking back on a tough year and hoping for a better one ahead.
Advertisement: Story continues below Airlines are among those feeling nervous about what the future holds, with a weak global economy and high fuel prices biting into profits.
One airline cruising at high altitude is Emirates, which continues to grow rapidly.
The United Arab Emirates airline, which works on a financial year ending in March, recently reported a net profit of $US629 million - its 24th consecutive year of profit.
Despite "a difficult operating environment", the airline added 11 destinations, bought 22 aircraft and invested $US3.8 billion in product developments over the course of the year.
Emirates is already the world's largest airline in terms of international RPKs, the number of kilometres flown by revenue-generating passengers, and is showing no signs of slowing.
The carrier has an eye firmly on Australia, which is its second largest revenue-generating market (after the UAE and Gulf region).
"We've surpassed the UK and Germany [which] puts us in a very good place in terms of global presence with Emirates," says the vice-president Australasia of Emirates, Barry Brown.
"It's a very solid and important piece of revenue for the company."
The Australian market is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion a year to the carrier and Brown says it is just getting started.
Emirates operates 70 flights a week to Australia - to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth - and has another 14 approved slots yet to be taken up. The airline's chairman recently stated his intention to apply for operating rights to boost the Australian market to 100 flights a week.
Emirates has also stated its intention to seek a commercial relationship with Qantas, although there is no certainty this will go ahead.
According to government statistics, Emirates represented 8.3 per cent of the market out of Australia in March, snapping at the heels of Air New Zealand at 8.6 per cent and not far behind the long-established Singapore Airlines at 9.2 per cent.
Qantas, which until recently represented more than a fifth of the market, was at 19 per cent, although its subsidiary Jetstar accounted for a further 8.4 per cent.
Brown says he is targeting Qantas and Singapore Airlines and expects that Emirates, which has only been in the market since 1996, will soon become No.1 in terms of passengers out of Australia.
"I'm setting my sights to overtake them, starting with Singapore Airlines," he says. "Once we add those 14 flights, let's see who's No.2 in this marketplace."
An aviation consultant with CAPA Consulting, Ian Thomas, says Emirates has the ability to boost its share through taking up its extra slots and bringing in larger aircraft, but its growth will depend foremost on its ability to negotiate further operating rights.
Any application is likely to be challenged by Qantas, unless the two airlines form a commercial relationship. Thomas says both airlines have indicated a closer relationship is something they would like to explore but there is "certain animosity" to overcome.
He believes Emirates will one day become the biggest foreign airline operating out of Australia, but its ability to take the No. 1 spot from Qantas remains to be seen.
Brown believes Emirates' sponsorship of big-name events such as the Melbourne Cup has helped it win brand recognition and acceptance in the Australian market, where there was once reluctance by many to fly on Middle Eastern carriers.
"I think that stigma is well and truly gone," he says.
He says the Australian market is being allocated more Emirates seats to fill as other markets struggle and the strong Australian dollar is fuelling plenty of demand.
About 60 per cent of travellers out of Australia are flying economy class, the remainder filling business and first-class seats.
For those flying economy, Brown believes the airline's inflight entertainment system, which has 1200 channels, is one of the biggest drawcards.
Source; Sidney Morning Herald, Jane E. Fraser
Gravity always wins!