The Business Year

Habib Fekih

UAE, DUBAI - Transport

By All Means

President, Airbus Middle East and North Africa


Habib Fekih has been President of Airbus Middle East and North Africa since June 2006. In tandem, he was also appointed President of Airbus Corporate Jet in January 2012. In addition, he is the President of the Board of Directors at two other Airbus subsidiaries. Born in Tunisia, he began his career at Tunis Air in 1977, having graduated in Mathematics from Sadiki College in Tunis 1970. He then studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications in Paris and finally at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse.

"The Al Maktoum International Airport, in parallel with World Expo 2020, will be excellent for the Emirates."

What are the main advantages of being in the Dubai Airport Free Zone?

As an international, global company, under the Airbus Group umbrella are Airbus Aircraft, Airbus Helicopters, and Airbus Space and Defense. The first task is to be present and have an industrial footprint where we do business. We employ talented individuals from all over the world, and not only rely on European manpower. We need to be open to joint ventures and to industries being developed in countries where we have our main business activities. Our home companies are in France, Germany, the UK, and Spain, but if we were only present in those four countries and dealing with the world from there, you can image the limitations we would come up against. That is why the decision was taken a long time ago to go international. If we have significant business in the Middle East, we have to have offices as close as possible to those markets. This in turn will generate interest from other countries to engage in industrial endeavors. At that point you can begin to deal with these countries not merely as supplier, but also as partner. Such exchange fosters a climate of loyalty and established relations. In that spirit, and to better coordinate and support our clients, we opened a full subsidiary of Airbus in 2006 covering the Middle East and North Africa region. We handle all aspects of business including marketing, sales, contracts, and customer relations. It also includes all customer service activities such as spare parts, pilot training, and technical support. The customer base now includes over 40 airlines in nearly 30 countries in the region.

What is the Airbus strategy for 2014?

We now have a backlog of 5,559 units, which is about eight years’ worth of production; this is unique in the industry. In 2013 we broke a record in terms of deliveries, achieving a new record of 626 aircraft. We also had a very successful air show, with a total of 160 orders and commitments worth $44 billion. Overall, 2013 was an excellent year. It will be difficult in 2014 to reach the same heights, because when a company orders 100 aircraft one year, it can’t repeat the order the following year. However, there will be more orders and I am convinced that we are going to sell more aircraft than we produce per year. In 2013, we sold around 1,619 units and this year we aim to do better. This year will be significant with the entry into service of the A350 XWB and the first flight of the A320neo, which has developed and proven to be very successful, with over 2,600 units sold since its launch.

“The Al Maktoum International Airport, in parallel with World Expo 2020, will be excellent for the Emirates.”

How will the Al Maktoum International Airport help your business?

The Al Maktoum International Airport, in parallel with World Expo 2020, will be excellent for the Emirates. First of all, the World Expo will arrive in 2020 and Dubai must gear up to get ready for the massive amount of tourists attending. Therefore, the airport has to be ready. This is a tight deadline and Al Maktoum needs to shoulder its part of the burden. Al Maktoum will act as a magnet for greater traffic and business, and will in turn demand additional aircraft. UAE carriers will most probably review their plans according to the Al Maktoum airport and World Expo 2020, but this will not materialize immediately—it is still six years away but since our delivery is premium and we have a backlog of eight years, some of the orders must take place in 2014 or 2015. Unfortunately, I don’t think Al Maktoum will be fully complete by 2020 given its huge scale. Therefore, it will live in parallel with the existing airport. For a while, we will see two airports bring traffic to Dubai, which will be one of the top two hubs in the world based on the number of passengers transiting through the two airports. Then, Al Maktoum will generate an additional requirement for capacity over the coming year or two. Companies have to order now to receive delivery by 2020.

What solutions is Airbus bringing to Al Maktoum International Airport?

We have subsidiary called ProSky, which is dedicated to the development and support of modern air traffic management (ATM) systems globally. The goal is to achieve the highest operational efficiencies with more direct routings, resulting in around 10% less aircraft fuel consumption and significant reductions in CO2 and noise emissions. Airbus is interacting with, and helping to develop, ATM programs such as Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) in Europe, and NextGen in the US. A major Airbus ProSky goal is to accelerate the implementation of both systems and link them together to capitalize on technological and operational synergies. The number of aircraft to be absorbed in the region will depend on Al Maktoum International Airport and also on the restructuring. This will be our challenge for the next five years, and we are here to help them by all means through all of our companies.

What kinds of partnerships are you planning for 2014?

We’ll be focusing on the A320neo and A350 XWB, because we believe this to be the aircraft needed in the region. Of course, we will continue with the A380, too. This is obvious—it is our iconic product, and we will be pushing it hard. Of course, we still have the A330, too. People thought it would fade away, but in 2013 we sold 77 of them. For an aircraft that is “dying,” we are still producing it and people are buying it. It is a miracle. In 2014, we have to deliver our first A380 to Qatar, as well as the first A350 ever in the world. This is the first delivery, and it is to be made to Qatar in 2014.

© The Business Year – February 2014



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