INTERVIEW: Gulf Air's new chief commercial officer
The latest high-profile addition to Gulf Air’s management team, Karim Makhlouf provides his first interview as chief commercial officer to Aviation Business.
Congratulations on your recent appointment as chief commercial officer of Gulf Air. What is your background in the airline industry?
My career in the airline business has spanned over 14 years to date, with a primary focus on strategic planning and commercial roles. I started at Lufthansa, working in divisions such as network planning, pricing and project management, after which I joined the Lufthansa subsidiary German Wings as senior vice president. I also served as chief commercial officer at SkyEurope and deputy CEO of Malev Hungarian Airlines, before starting as Gulf Air’s director of commercial planning in October 2010, which in turn led to this role.
What prompted your decision to become a part of the Gulf Air team?
I’ve actually met with Samer Majali on numerous occasions in the past and have been really impressed with his achievements as chief executive officer of Gulf Air. He’s a strong leader and I like to work with strong leaders. In addition, Gulf Air has historically played a very important role in the regional aviation industry and there are exciting plans for the company to be restructured and developed in the right direction, with a breakeven forecast in the next two-to-three years, so this is a unique opportunity to play a role in that whole process.
What are your responsibilities as chief commercial officer?
I am responsible for the entire commercial area and will initially focus on increasing our market share in the region, especially Gulf Air’s home territory, which is considered to be Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We want to achieve a higher online market share, win back corporate traffic and improve our cooperation with travel agents, so a lot of initiatives will be launched to achieve those goals. We are also talking to airline alliances about participation in the near future.
Will new routes be launched by Gulf Air in the coming years?
Yes, we want to further develop our reputation as a leading carrier in this region. This prompted our decision to become the first traditional airline to serve Kabul and the carrier of choice for business class from Afghanistan’s capital to Europe and Asia, with connections through Bahrain. We are also talking to the Saudi Arabian government about receiving more traffic rights. Gulf Air would like to increase its frequencies to destinations such as Riyadh, Jeddah and Madina. At the same time, there is a growing focus on Europe, we opened Copenhagen, Milan and Geneva this year. And finally, Africa has been identified as a potential high-growth market, starting this year with Nairobi.
Are further investments being made in fleet developments too?
We are adapting the fleet size to match our development plans, which means we wil reduce the average seat number in order to continue strong growth in frequency rather than capacity. Our CEO is talking to Boeing and Airbus about orders, although we have not reached the stage where details can be announced. Also, we have released a tender for regional aircraft, around 10 of them, and hopefully the outcome will be announced in the next couple of months.