Emirates has grown enormously in Australia as the national flag carrier has struggled to keep its passengers. At the same time, the foreign airline has a Down Under flavour.
Richard Vaughan, Emirates divisional senior vice-president (commercial), has gained much of his professional experience in Australia.
He is among a coterie of Australians now using their experience in senior roles at Emirates and its regional competitor, Etihad.
Mr Vaughan is a regular visitor home, sometimes seeing friends and family but more often doing business - and making contacts as a genial host of events sponsored by the airline.
From its Melbourne Cup sponsorship to the backing of Collingwood, the Australian Open golf and state symphonies, the airline has spent up big and ensconced itself in Australian life.
Welsh-born Mr Vaughan emigrated here 30 years ago and built up a travel company in Perth, Consolidated Wholesalers.
He was approached by Emirates after he sold out of the business "and it seemed quite a good fit". "In all facets of our business we have Australians working in important roles," he says. "Emirates has 3600 Aussies in Dubai in a variety of disciplines -- pilots, cabin crew, engineers, sales and marketing."
In Australia, the airline has its own catering operation, owns the Hudsons Coffee chain and the luxury Wolgan Valley resort in the Blue Mountains.
"Australia is extremely important to Emirates. It is now our third biggest market, and an important trade and tourism destination with the United Arab Emirates becoming an increasingly important partner," he says.
Since starting with three weekly flights to Melbourne in 1996, Emirates now flies 70 services weekly and has about 11 per cent of the Australian market.
A keen supporter of Australia's "open skies" policy, Mr Vaughan takes a swipe at the protectionism of German and Canadian regulators restricting Emirates' landing rights.
"Protectionism comes at the expense of tourism and trade. If you own a hotel in Toronto, do you really care who the guest flew in with?" he asks. "We've had a good relationship with various Australian governments since 1996. We've not pushed too hard to get more than necessary in regard to traffic rights and we've been treated fairly."
Emirates has consistently spoken officially about access to Adelaide, but Mr Vaughan said he was satisfied with existing cities for at least two years.
"Australia's been good to us, but we've been good for Australia too," he says.
Emirates flights are generally 80 per cent full, and the airline will not be harmed by the introduction of the Airbus A380 service to Melbourne later this year.
A keen rugby man, Mr Vaughan tackles head-on industry suggestions that Emirates leverages the wealth of its Dubai Government owner to gain a commercial advantage.
He points out the airline buys its aviation fuel from Singapore at the same market rates as everyone else, plus pays full landing charges at its Dubai base.
"We give value for money but that doesn't mean discount crazy. As a company we are expected to be profitable," he says. Emirates made a record net profit of $1.5 billion last year.
"In Australia, we're not in this business to undercut what Qantas are doing. Our strength is the number of points we fly to - and our competitors don't."
Emirates serves more than 110 cities, including 29 in Europe. It has the priceless natural advantage of being based within eight hours' flying time of three quarters of the world's population. This will hold it in good stead with the expected rise of Chinese carriers in coming years.
Partly to combat the threat of Emirates, Qantas and Virgin Australia have based future strategy on alliance networks -- Qantas with British Airways, American Airlines and Malaysia.
"To us, alliances are anti-competitive," Mr Vaughan says. "They can get grips on certain markets and in the end the consumers suffers.
"Alliances are like having 10 wives or husbands - if you have to make a business decision you're hindered by the number of people affected by it. When we make a decision, it's our decision and what's good for us is good for our customers."
Source: Neil Wilson Herald Sun
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