Emirates Airline president Tim Clark believes long-haul carriers need to brace for an inevitable threat from low-cost competition, but argues that the Middle Eastern airline has flexibility to counter the challenge.
Speaking during the Aviation Festival event in London on 7 September, Clark said he had "often banged the table" regarding the emergence of long-haul, low-cost operators, and added that their encroachment onto legacy carrier territory was "only a question of time".
While the economic models were different to those governing short-haul services, Clark says there is a "clear place" for long-haul budget operators.
He points to the development of Norwegian and AirAsia X, adding: "We can expect more of these and, as a competitor, [have to] deal with it."
As a result Emirates is re-examining delivery of its product, says Clark, adding that the carrier will capitalise on its flexibility. It is capable of "stripping out" and "reconstructing" its services to passengers, he states.
Emirates will be able to match long-haul, low-cost operators in their base price, says Clark, but will be left with "plenty of space" to offer enhancements.
The carrier has a fleet of 97 Airbus A380s and can afford to "compartmentalise", he says, offering "three or four economy classes" on the main deck alone, and adds that the increasing analysis of passenger data can provide tailored and refined services such as dynamic pricing.
"We want to take a hard look at how we run our processes, and extract data to see what we can do better," he says.
Emirates is already addressing the issue of transfer between its own services and those of low-cost operators, through its network combination with Flydubai, a tie-up which will be "pushing 250-300 destinations at all levels", says Clark.
He acknowledges that Flydubai operates more as a hybrid carrier than a true budget airline, and this makes the assimilation "far easier", adding that the number of passengers transferring across the two carriers has increased to some 17,000 per week.
Clark also warns that regulatory authorities will need to prepare for the impact of long-haul, low-cost services. He cites Emirates' limited Canadian access as a case in point.
"They're worried about us," he says. "They seem to think we're a terrible threat, and we're going to wreck the aviation scene.
"What happens when the long-haul, low-cost carriers start hitting Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary?"