Emirates hit by fuel costs, sticks with expansion

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Emirates, Dubai’s flagship carrier, said it would seek out new routes to sustain its fast pace of growth after a steep rise in fuel costs punctured annual profits.

The Dubai-government owned airline, which said it has no plans to hedge against fluctuating fuel prices or pass much of the higher costs onto customers, reported a 72-percent drop in 2011 net profit.
“Frankly we need more airplanes sooner to do all the things we want to do. For every route (we have), there’s about five behind which we want to do and get going,” Emirates’ President Tim Clark said in an interview with Reuters Television, Reuters reports.

The airline, which launched in 1985, presently flies to 123 destinations in 73 countries. It has posted a profit in every year of operation and growth has slowed only twice – in 2009 and 2011.

The airline is the world’s largest customer of the Airbus (EAD.PA) A380 superjumbo. It ordered 90 A380 aircraft in 2010, of which 21 have been delivered.
“We are now fairly focused on trying to shrink our fleet number and types down to two or three. So, the Airbus A380 is the top end, the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A350 in the middle and lower end. That’s it,” said Clark.

Keeping those planes in the air cost Emirates 24.3 billion dirhams in fuel costs in the 2011/2012 financial year, 40 percent of total costs and up 44.4 percent from the previous year, the company annual earnings report said.
“Hedging at this stage, when prices are high and forward curve so strong, is probably not smart,” said Clark. “We had to introduce fuel surcharges. If the fuel comes down to around $70 to $90, we will take surcharges off.”

Rising fuel costs and the financial turmoil in Europe are also expected to impact earnings of most global carriers, the International Air Transport Association said last month.

Clark said it was keeping all options open for a $550 million Islamic bond, or sukuk, maturing in June: “We have closed the year with $4.8 billion in cash balance. We have absolutely no problem of maturity. Whether or not we will finance (the sukuk) through the various instruments, we can decide at the time.”

Emirates and its home base of Dubai are betting that its location – a third of the world’s population are within a four-hour flight – will continue to attract passenger traffic away from other global hubs such as London, New York and Singapore.

NO ACQUISITIONS

Emirates , which is among the top 10 in the world by passenger numbers, reported a profit of 1.5 billion dirhams for the fiscal year ended March 31 from 5.4 billion dirhams in 2010.

Revenue rose 15 percent to 62.3 billion dirhams.

Emirates’ drop in profits is in line with its competitors such as Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA), German flagship airline Deutsche Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) and Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI). In the region, it competes with Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

Air France-KLM’s first-quarter losses widened and Singapore Airlines posted an unexpected loss in its fourth-quarter – both hit by high fuel costs and the slowing global economy.
“In addition to the cost of fuel, Emirates had an operationally challenging year with the political unrest across the Middle East and North Africa affecting flight schedules,” the airline said in a statement on Thursday.

Clark said that company has its “hands full” with its growth plans and has no room for acquisitions.
“With all we have going on, I think you will have to be Superman to suddenly say we are going to take on Indian aviation or the European aviation. That’s not to say that we are not been approached multiple occasions and we still are,” he said.

He said the offers have been coming from the highest levels in the government. Emirates was linked to a possible buy of Spicejet (SPJT.BO) in India this year.

The passenger seat factor for 2011 was 80 percent, in line with the prior year.

Profit for the wider Emirates Group, including airline services arm, Dnata, was 2.3 billion dirhams, down from 5.9 billion a year earlier.

Emirates paid a 500 million dirham dividend to the Dubai government while Dnata paid 350 million dirhams. In 2010, Emirates’ dividend payout was 2.3 billion dirhams.