Emirates launches direct LA route

Emirates airline will become the first carrier to link the Middle East and the US West Coast when it launches a non-stop service tomorrow to Los Angeles, the second-largest US city. The journey from Dubai to “Tinseltown”, some 13,420km, will take 16 hours and 35 minutes on a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft. Emirates is offering 266 seats in a three-class configuration, with 10 tonnes of freight capacity. Emirates’s fourth US destination, to San Francisco, will launch on Dec 15. In the process, Emirates’s new routes to California may help to reshape the global airline connectivity map, in which travel between the US and West Asia has until now been heavily dependent on transiting through Europe. “This new route is a very important growth market for Emirates,” said Richard Aboulafia, an airline analyst with the Teal Group, based in the US. “LA is one of the top global business, travel and demographic hubs, and Emirates is particularly good at attracting premium traffic, the most profitable market.” Emirates’s LA flight will be its third into the US, following New York and Houston, and its first to the populous and prosperous US West Coast. Major incentives for linking the two cities are the large communities of Iranian-Americans and Indian-Americans in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, two affluent groups that travel often to the Middle East and South Asia to visit friends and relatives. “There is a massive local community of west Asian and Middle Eastern-origin residents on the West Coast, many of them very well educated and affluent,” said Peter Harbison, the managing director of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a consulting firm and think tank based in Sydney. Mr Harbison said Emirates stood to score points with these travellers because of the greater accessibility and a more user-friendly service Emirates offered via its new Terminal Three facilities at Dubai International Airport. The LA service is a coup for Emirates, which beat its rival Qatar Airways, another fast-expanding Gulf airline that is trying to become a major long-haul carrier for East-West traffic. Last year, Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, said opening a route to Los Angeles was a top priority because of the 500,000 Iranian-Americans who would now be able to travel back to Iran via the Gulf. The new service may also worry British Airways, which boasts some of the most extensive connections to the US of any foreign carrier. “Dubai’s plan is to become the hub that links the world’s biggest aviation market, North America, with its fastest-growing, Asia. And this link would bypass Europe altogether,” Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways (BA), warned in a recent letter to the editor of a British newspaper. As he lobbied for expanding Heathrow airport, Mr Walsh said BA was directly threatened by Emirates’s growth. “The hugely expanded Emirates will be scooping up Heathrow’s and the UK’s business. With shrivelling connectivity, London’s position as a global business capital will slump at the same rate,” he said. At the same time, US carriers have also been eager to bypass Europe and connect the US with the fast-growing Gulf region. As Emirates’s inaugural flight to LA flies over the Atlantic, United Airlines will be launching its inaugural flight to Dubai from its hub in Washington DC. The new route follows Delta Air Lines’s service to Dubai from its base in Atlanta, which began last year. Mr Harbison said opening new markets could often create transformative and profound changes to the air travel industry. “As we have seen over and over again, when new aerial highways are created, whole new markets open up – either because of lower prices or because of the greater convenience,” he said. If so, the stimulus will help to buoy flagging Middle East air traffic figures, which fell 2.8 per cent last month, the first monthly decline in four years, according to the International Air Transport Association. The new route comes amid ongoing aircraft availability concerns for Emirates and other Gulf airlines, which have some of the world’s largest order books for new wide-bodied aircraft from Boeing and Airbus. Due to the two-month-long labour strike at Boeing, as well as problems with one of Boeing’s key galley suppliers, Emirates was forced to delay the Los Angeles launch from September until tomorrow. It also scaled back plans to fly to Los Angeles to only three flights per week, from seven days a week, because of a shortage of aircraft due to the strike. thenational.ae