Runway work to clip Emirates' wings
Emirates concedes disruptions to its worldwide network will be inevitable next year, due to urgent runway repairs at Dubai Airport, but has yet to determine the extent of the impact on routes to Australia.
About 2500 departures - or 31 services a day - will be cancelled at the world's second-busiest international airport for 81 days next year while repairs are carried out on two runways. The cancellations represent about 14 per cent of flight departures from Dubai.
The airport is yet to finalise allocation of slots for scores of airlines during the outage but Emirates executive Barry Brown said it would inevitably lead to disruptions.
"We're trying to manage whatever slots are being handed out to us. If we have to make cancellations on certain routes we will do that," he said. "There will be a bit of pain."
Emirates has 84 services a week between Dubai and Australian cities, which makes it the third-biggest international operator after Qantas and Singapore Airlines.
Mr Brown refused to say what impact the work was likely to have on Emirates flights to Australia. However, the addition of more A380 superjumbos, which carry more passengers, to Emirates' fleet would help reduce flight numbers in the three months.
Dubai has also become Qantas' main hub for flights to Europe since its alliance with Emirates began in March.
Qantas believes it will be able to retain all of its 28 weekly landing slots at Dubai but has said the closures may require changes to timing of its twice-daily flights to Europe.
Mr Brown said neither Emirates nor Qantas would receive preferential treatment from Dubai Airport authorities in allocation of landing slots. Between them, Qantas and Emirates control more than half of the market share of air passengers between Australia and Europe.
Due to the strain from an influx of large aircraft such as A380s, Dubai Airport will carry out extensive repair work from next May.
Like other airlines, Mr Brown said Emirates faced a "mini perfect storm" on international routes worldwide with excess flight capacity, heavy discounting of fares and high jet fuel prices.
"Fuel continues to be a red spike on the balance sheet ... and trading conditions are very difficult, and because of that prices have come down, particularly with capacity increases into Australia," he said.
"Airlines are vying for market share. You are seeing bigger, wider-body aircraft come in."
But, he said, the Qantas alliance had boosted passenger numbers in Emirates business and first-class cabins to and from Australia, helping to offset lower margins on economy tickets, although he would not put a figure on the financial gains.
While Emirates might consider flying to more Australian destinations in the longer term, Mr Brown said, it was more likely to use larger planes than increase frequency.