Aviation Business Awards 2010: Meet the winners

In-depth profiles of this year's award winners.
A group shot of this year's award winners.
A group shot of this year's award winners.

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The Aviation Business Awards 2010 took place last month in a glittering ceremony at the prestigious Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

The awards recognise excellence and leadership in the aviation industry. A panel of independent judges, comprising industry experts, selected the winners in a secret ballot.

The event was attended by close to 200 people, representing airlines, suppliers and government bodies including airport authorities and regulators.

The Aviation Business Awards 2010 were sponsored by Waha Capital, a provider of leasing services, and Royal Jet, an executive airline and service provider.

Here, we bring you in-depth profiles of the 14 corporate and individual winners.

Technology Implementation of the Year: Oman Air for OnAir

A number of technology innovations have been introduced in the aviation industry over the past 12 months to improve the efficiency of passenger processing, airport operations, aviation security, baggage management and passengers services, amongst other areas.

This award recognises a specific technology implementation within the Middle East over the past year, with evidence that the implementation was smooth and resulted in limited service interruptions, that the project was successful in meeting business objectives and was unique for the region.

Oman Air’s implementation of OnAir in-flight entertainment technology is unique, perhaps not only for the region, but also the world. In the first quarter of this year, Oman Air claimed to be the first airline in the world to implement the full package of mobile phone and wi-fi connectivity services on its commercial wide-body planes.

The move has allowed passengers in all classes on its new A330 planes to use their own wireless devices to make and receive mobile phone calls; send texts and e-mails; and browse the internet.

Training and Education Provider of the Year: Gulf Centre for Aviation Studies

With increasing demand for qualified professionals in the Middle East aviation sector, this award recognises the achievements of a leading training provider or education institute that offers a flagship course or series of courses for the industry. A number of factors were taken into account, including range of courses on offer, the quality of teaching facilities, faculty and international affiliations.

Gulf Centre for Aviation Studies (GCAS), operated by Abu Dhabi Airports Company, was a winner on this category. It is an International Civil Aviation Organisation-endorsed training centre, created to serve the specific training needs of the Middle East.

It has developed and delivered proprietary courses and lectures certified by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority. A total of 56 courses have been developed, with an additional 28 courses set to be delivered by the end of the year. GCAS courses, all developed with the region in mind cover a range of aviation topics and fields, including aviation safety, air traffic control, international aviation law, executive leadership and professional airport management.

Corporate Social Responsibility Award: Maximus

With growing pressure to operate within a socially responsible manner, this award is dedicated to the organisation that has taken responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations. Nominations were invited from all corners of the industry, including airlines, airports, MROs and suppliers.

Maximus Air Cargo has made CSR a cornerstone of its operations. Its Care by Air initiative, launched with Etihad and Abu Dhabi Airports Company gives cargo space at cost to relief organisations.

With the support of the Red Crescent and World Food Programme, Maximus hopes that more companies will become involved, providing cargo space and fuel at cost and waiving or reducing handling, landing and parking fees.

The airline is the UAE Red Crescent’s official partner. This year, it flew three free relief flights to help flood victims in Pakistan. Planes were flown into Peshawar, Multan and Quetta carrying tents, blankets and drinking supplies.

Maximus has also sponsored the events of Special Care Centre (SCC), an Abu Dhabi school established to help develop skills in children with special needs.

Ground Handling Provider of the Year: Dnata

The growth of aviation activities within the Middle East has resulted in a growing number of regional and international ground handling providers. This award recognises exceptional performance in the provision of diverse airport services, including cabin replenishment, catering, ramp services and field operations.

Dnata Airport Operations started 50 years ago with five staff and now has 6056 employees providing a range of passenger, baggage, ramp, technical and cargo services to 135 airlines at Dubai International Airport. With more A380s and B777s coming into service, the company continues to be challenged. According to its awards submission, in 2010, it has focused on the things it continues to do well: investing in technology, striving to improve productivity and providing excellent customer service.

Its new Proveo Airport Visualiser System tracks every piece of equipment that Dnata uses, allowing it to allocate resources in the most effective way. The Dnata Load Control Centre (DLCC) uses advanced technology to calculate the most aerodynamically efficient way to load an aircraft. Aware of responsibility to the community, the new Dnata Special Handling Lounge provides assistance to passengers with reduced mobility.

MRO Service Provider of the Year: Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies

With Middle Eastern airlines operating a growing number of aircraft, the region has become an important market for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) suppliers. This award recognises an MRO company with a strong regional presence that has a world-class service and customer portfolio.

Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies has a five year US $500 million contract with Etihad to provide Total Care maintenance services and also works with FlyDubai, Midex Airlines, Air Arabia, Turkey’s Onur Air, Russia’s Transaero Airlines, UK carrier Thomas Cook and Belgium-based DHL. The company claims it is on track to double turnover within five years.

The MRO company is investing US $90 million to create a hangar for aircraft up to A380 size and is developing a repair facility for GE engines. It has long term joint ventures with leading OEMs, including Rolls-Royce to offer services for Trent engines; GE for the GEnx-1B and -2B engines; and International Aero Engines (IAE) for V2500-A5 and V2500 SelectOne engines.

Aircraft Manufacturer of the Year: Airbus

Regional airlines’ investments in new planes make the Middle East one of the most important markets globally for plane makers. This award lauds a manufacturer that has continued to win orders and support its regional customers over the last twelve months.

This year’s winner, Airbus, had received 369 net plane orders globally for the year up until October. It has so far delivered 417 planes.

The highlight of the year for the manufacturer though has been Emirates’ order for another 32 units of the A380. The order was worth US $11.5 billion at list prices.

Emirates has now ordered 90 of the ‘superjumbos’ and it remains the plane’s number one customer, a stunning statement of support for the A380 programme.

In May, Saudi Arabian Airlines became the newest operator of the Airbus A330, after taking delivery of its first long range Airbus aircraft in almost 30 years.

The Rolls-Royce powered A330-300 was the first to be delivered from an order for eight aircraft signed in July 2008. In August, EgyptAir received its first Airbus A330-300, its first aircraft to feature onboard communications technology.

Airport of the Year: Abu Dhabi International Airport

The Middle East has invested billions of dollars to modernise its airport infrastructure in recent years, with existing facilities being updated and new developments being constructed throughout the region. This award acknowledges an airport that has invested in upgrades and improvements, provided the most comfortable experience for passengers and seen its KPIs improve conistently.

In its own words, Abu Dhabi International Airport (ADIA), ‘has embarked on a journey to transform the customer experience through the provision of new facilities, innovation in products and processes, as well as a step change in its customer service offering throughout the airport’. Recent developments include the opening of Terminal 3, free Wi-Fi internet access and self-service check-in kiosks around the airport, additional parking spaces provided at Terminal 1 and online parking booking.

ADIA has also reported major improvements in the main performance indicators of revenue, flight and passenger numbers and cargo volumes.

International recognition has been forthcoming. ADIA was voted the ‘Most Improved Airport in the World’ by the readers of Skytrax and was named the ‘Most Improved Airport in the Middle East for Customer Service’ by the Airports Council International (ACI).

Cargo Operator of the Year (Commercial Airline): Emirates SkyCargo

Reflecting the Middle East’s growing status as a logistics hub, this award goes to the cargo division of a commercial airline that has delivered a consistent, industry leading service over the past 12 months. Key factors the judges looked at included network coverage, commercial performance and the customer’s experience in dealing with the airline.

Emirates SkyCargo won the award because, as it pointed out in its submission, it ‘ploughed ahead with all of [its] fleet and route expansion plans in the last year’. This, despite the 2009-10 financial year being the most challenging the aviation industry has ever faced.

As rivals reduced capacity and parked aircraft, Emirates SkyCargo added belly capacity through Emirates’ new passenger services to Durban, Luanda and Tokyo. Dedicated freighter services were launched to Kolkata and Kabul.

The airline significantly increased cargo capacity on key routes, to 3000 tonnes per week each way in the case of India and 2000 tonnes in the case of Hong Kong.

To support growth, Emirates SkyCargo took delivery of two Boeing 777 freighters, widely seen as the most fuel-efficient cargo planes operating today.

Ultimately, despite an overall drop in world air cargo volumes, Emirates SkyCargo reported double digit volume growth for the 2009-10 financial year.

Cargo Operator of the Year (Cargo/charter airline): Maximus Air Cargo

This award goes to a dedicated cargo airline that has delivered a consistent, industry leading service over the previous 12 months. Maximus Air Cargo is the winner of this year’s award, having had a busy year during this challenging period for the industry.

The airline saw staff levels grow to more than 250 people, which included an increase in the number of Airbus pilots working at the airline. Management of crew and operations was improved by investment in an Airline Information Management System.

Other key developments included the selection of Maximus by Etihad Airways to run scheduled cargo services and the choice of Maximus to transport the Queen’s cavalry to Abu Dhabi. The airline is also proud of its ‘Care by Air’ initiative, whereby the airline offers relief flights at cost to humanitarian organisations.

Business Aviation Operator of the Year: Royal Jet

The Business Aviation Operator of the Year is an airline that has consistently delivered excellent services to customers, while striving to broad its range of offerings. Royal Jet has sought to provide VIP travellers with luxury private aviation services and complementary offerings, including 100 Club, a business aviation loyalty programme; and a range of travel packages and services offered in partnerships with Burj Al Arab, Luxury Air and Luxury Hotels by Dnata and KSA-based Arabasco.

To support future growth, fleet expansion has continued this year with the acquisition of two BBJs and an Embraer Lineage 1000 through an aircraft management service contract with the Al Habtoor Group.

The airline has surpassed its performance expectations, culminating in a record breaking month in November this year aided by the Abu Dhabi F1 race. Royal Jet’s Medical Evacuation Services offering has also performed beyond expectations, with over 1000 successful missions flown to date.

Low Cost Airline of the Year: Air Arabia

With increasing demand for budget travel in the Middle East, the region’s growing community of low cost carriers (LCC) has taken the region by storm in recent years. This award honours the LLC that has excelled in areas including route development, fleet improvement, customer loyalty and service, and financial performance.

This year’s winner, Air Arabia, has opened its third operational hub, in Cairo, and increased its route network to 66 destinations. In October, it took delivery of a new A320, the first of 44 that are due to arrive between now and 2016.
The airline has also remained profitable throughout the financial crisis, turning in AED 100 million of net profit in the first half of 2010. Competition is intensifying, but Air Arabia can still rightly be called the Middle East’s low king.

Airline of the Year: Etihad Airways

This award is designed to honour the airline that has experienced a breakthrough period of success over the past 12 months. The judges were looking at route development, aircraft investments and upgrades, customer loyalty programmes, in-flight services, industry alliances and financial performance.

After another busy 12 months, Etihad Airways was honoured as 2010’s Airline of the Year. The airline expects to carry 7.3 million passengers in calendar year 2010 and report a seat load factor of 77%. Five new destinations have been added this year and the fleet is expected to number 57 planes, including six freighters, by the end of the year.

Etihad has increased its Emiratisation level to 12% from 8% last year and its first female captain joined the crew in September. The company has also been talking more and more about financial performance and it expects to break even in 2011 and to start delivering net profits from 2012.

Personal Achievement of the Year: Samer Majali

The Personal Achievement of the Year award recognises a high profile figure from the Middle East aviation industry, specifically for their work over the past 12 months. This year’s award goes to Samer Majali, who took on the challenge of transforming Gulf Air’s financial fortunes when joined as CEO in late 2009.

Majali, a veteran of Royal Jordanian airlines, which did well under his stewardship, certainly knew the size of the task he was taking on. The former national airline of the Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE had seen three of its four national shareholders pull out, leaving the airline as the flag carrier of Bahrain. Its poor financial performance and disputes between management and employees had erodedd morale at the airline.

In his first year at the helm, Majali has set about making the changes needed to revive the airline. The workforce has been downsized, the route network has been adjusted and plane orders have been renegotiated.

This appears to have been achieved without a major battle with the trade unions. A few weeks ago, a total revamp of the airline’s compensation and assessment system was endorsed by the Gulf Air Trade Union, something that would have been unlikely a few years ago.

Hall of Fame Award: Adel Ali

Aviation Business has introduced the Hall of Fame to recognise those who have made an invaluable contribution to the regional aviation industry over the years, while raising the benchmark for both local and global excellence.

That description certainly applies to Adel Ali. Although a veteran of British Airways and Gulf Air, he is best known these days as the founding CEO of Air Arabia, the Middle East’s first low cost, ‘no frills’ airline.

It may now be a household name, but Air Arabia launched with relatively little fanfare, around US $10 million of capital and two leased A320s in late 2003. At the time, there were some who doubted that the Middle East would embrace the concept of an airline that didn’t include meals and other in-flight amenities as part of the basic ticket price.

The region’s flying public certainly did embrace the concept and things took off quickly for the airline. In calendar 2005, only its second full year of operation, Air Arabia made a net profit, flew more than one million passengers and expanded its network to 23 destinations. In June 2007, it went public, the first airline in the Middle East to do so.

Today, Air Arabia operates a fleet of more than twenty A320s. Sharjah, the airport where it all started, has undergone spectacular redevelopment and additional Air Arabia hubs have been opened in Morocco and Alexandria. A fourth hub in Amman, Jordan is on the way

With the imminent launch of services to Kabul, Air Arabia will fly to 66 destinations across Europe, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Central Asia and North Africa. Although profitability is down this year, the company still made almost one hundred million dirhams in the first half of 2010 in a recovering market.

In a sign of its continued success, Air Arabia has just taken delivery of the first of 44 Airbus A320s ordered in 2007 and 2008. These new models will be delivered between now and 2016.

It can rightly be argued that Air Arabia has changed the way people travel in the Middle East and inspired a string of competitors. None has so far been able to match its success.

SEE PICTURES OF THE CEREMONY: IN PICTURES: At the Aviation Business Awards; IN PICTURES: Aviation Business Awards winners

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