Not pulling any punches, Robert Milton criticised those who attack the likes of Emirates and called for a radical industry shake-up.

Robert Milton, chairman of ACE Holdings, the umbrella company for Air Canada, and this year’s IATA chairman, has hit out at airlines for their constant sniping at Emirates and instead has held up the Dubai-based carrier as an example to be followed.

Robert Milton Air Canada W445


He may not have made many friends among his fellow airline leaders during his speech at the Aviation Club in London in February, but he has certainly provoked a re-examination of the way legacy carriers operate in today’s changing environment.

He acknowledged that Emirates has many advantages. “It is no secret that Emirates is well-funded, enjoys one of the world’s most modern hubs, is well served by government policy and is extremely ambitious. In addition, Emirates is able to operate in a lower cost environment with more flexible work rules and lower pay rates,” Milton said, but added that no one could have predicted its phenomenal rise. “But it is a fact and to start accusing this airline and others for ‘not playing by the rules’ does not address the fundamental problems of the industry.

“This is one indicator of an industry in turmoil where some airlines accuse others of being artificially sustained, while the other airlines accuse them of being more or less incompetent.”

Quoting Emirates’ president Tim Clark, who said, “the main reason we have so many detractors is because they realise the game is up”, Milton said it is no wonder the industry is angry. “The truth is that the game is indeed up. We have to start addressing the fundamental problems of the industry if we want to survive and make money next year or 10 years from now.” Emirates may be the one to show the way at the moment, but Milton also warned that Chinese carriers with their “fantastic home market, stunning rates of growth and lower labour costs could become the next Emirates”.

It is now payback time, Milton emphasised. Airlines and governments have to determine if, in the future, “the face of aviation looks more like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, as opposed to the old-line, legacy, national flag carriers.

“Governments around the world have a choice. They can block carriers like Emirates from accessing their markets…or they can open up the skies and allow airlines to operate like other businesses – free from economic and political regulation. Emirates is running an excellent airline. We need to stop accusing companies like Emirates of breaking the rules and instead focus on changing those rules so that we can all operate on the same playing field – if that is truly possible.

“These are unsettled days for the industry,” he said, but having repositioned Air Canada as a major global carrier, “it should come as no surprise that we see the need for free and fair market competition, open market access and a modernised regulatory environment.” With collective will and vision, the industry can create a new “shared template for modern air services, which is predicated on a truly free market system beyond today’s Open Skies.” ■


Source: Airline Business