Gulf Air CEO, Samer Majali, opens up to Time out Bahrain...
Time Out Bahrain staff
You announced recently Gulf Air is axing 15 routes including Shanghai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. What other routes are for the chop? We are actually planning to add 20 new routes and shedding 15 less profitable routes. Over the past three months we have opened up three new routes into Iraq, Baghdad, Najaf and Erbil. These routes are potentially excellent for us. On the opposite side we dropped the three routes that are the least profitable on the system, Shanghai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Now that’s the first package. Moving ahead over this next six to 12 months we’ll be considering opening up new routes and removing other ones and we are trying to keep a balance. We don’t want to cut routes without replacing them because we still have a large overhead in the airline and we still have the aeroplanes. So what will the route map look like in two years time? Gulf Air currently today has the largest number of Middle Eastern international flights out of all the carriers in the region in terms of number of flights and destinations served in the Middle East. The intention is to further support this and grow this so that we can maintain our strategic advantage into the future by introducing many more flights up to 3 hours from Bahrain: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, East Africa, Iran, Pakistan, possibly the newly independent former states of the USSR, possibly starting flights to Moscow. We are also considering medium range operations into central Europe. So a very strong regional presence, the strongest, with strategic operations into Europe and into the Far East.
Gulf Air is currently running at a massive loss. When do you expect to start making a profit? The intent is to break-even by 2012. The trend is to cut the losses and add maximum value to Bahrain with the minimum price tag as quickly as possible.
Part of the cost cutting will result in redundancies, right? Part of the National Audit Court, an independent government body, recommendations are that Gulf Air is 1,100 to 1,200 people overstaffed. Now we’ll be looking at the report itself internally and the organisation and actively managing all cost element, not only the labour costs, to see what adds value and what doesn’t. Regarding the employees specifically we are currently reducing the number of Gulf Air staff by approximately 50 employees a month through natural redundancies, retirements and ending of contracts.
Gulf Air’s sponsorship of the Bahrain Grand Prix ends next year. Will you be renewing it? In principle our support for the F1 is justified in terms of the potential value, not only the F1 race itself but the additional races throughout the year in terms of being an attractive magnet for people to come to Bahrain. But obviously this activity in its own right is not enough. We need to support many other activities that end up encouraging people to actually come to Bahrain and spend time in Bahrain in addition to F1. But I think the F1 carries a lot of visibility for the airline and a lot of visibility for Bahrain.
You are the third Gulf Air CEO in just two and a half years. What’s your strategy to succeed in this job? People come in with their experiences and a lot of what you see is based on that. However, I am a firm believer that it is the staff that will turn the company around. No one from the outside will do that, it has to be people in the company who believe in the company and believe in the future and get motivated and increase their productivity.
2010 is Gulf Air’s 60th anniversary. How does the airline plan to celebrate? By looking to the next 60 years.
Who would you most like to sit next to on a long haul flight? Normally I prefer an empty seat. If pushed then obviously my wife.