With Emirates now flying the world’s largest passenger jet from Birmingham Airport, Steve Dyson interviews Laurie Berryman, the airline’s UK chief.
“People thought we were mad when we first started flying from Birmingham,” says Laurie Berryman, Emirate’s vice president for the UK and Ireland. “And no-one would have believed us back in 2000 that we’d be where we are today – with 1,471 seats a day flying to Dubai.”
Berryman’s in Birmingham for the airline’s inaugural flight of the new Airbus A380 service to Dubai. It’s the first time that the giant double-decker aircraft will operate regularly from the airport, replacing the Boeing 777 on one of the airline’s three daily flights. Berryman recalls: “There was a gap between Manchester and London which we thought we could fill and we took the plunge on 18 December 2000 with an A330 270-seater daily to Dubai. Almost from day one this was a huge success.
“By 2007 we doubled to daily flights, and key to this was the huge expansion of Dubai as a destination. We saw more and more customers wanting to take our flights and the demand grew and grew. We brought in the Boeing 777 which increased seats to 428, eventually on all our services.”
Berryman says the A380 with its 615 seats was now needed because of growing leisure and business markets: from luxury holidays to places like the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, to business journeys to emerging economies in India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia. He says: “The expansion of Jaguar Land Rover has also been huge for us in China. We also have lots of West Midland SMEs exporting everything from automotive parts to lighting and electronics to Chinese cities. Our Dubai link provides direct access to those growing China cities.”
Berryman praised Birmingham Airport boss Paul Kehoe for making the A380’s operations possible. “We talked about it for a year to 18 months, but explained they were going to have to make things better. Once we decided, Paul and his team pushed the button and got it moving.”
The day the A380 was agreed, Birmingham put its order in for a new £1m air bridge and the increased services that were needed. “No-one else did that,” Berryman points out.
As well as passengers, he says the A380 can carry up to 10 tonnes of cargo per flight. He explains: “The economy of Dubai is booming with 15 million visitors a year, and their hotels need supplies. Food stuffs from the Midlands make up a large part, and we carry regular pallets from two major supermarkets.
“The cargo is very important because the Midlands is the powerhouse where manufacturers export from.”
The A380 will also create more jobs, with the larger aircraft meaning more aircrew, lounge staff and cargo handlers. It also means Emirates taking more rooms in local hotels. Berryman says the airline will carry on growing and he hopes Birmingham can look forward to it replacing its other Boeing 777s with A380s in years to come.
He says: “For years people have been driving past Birmingham to go to Heathrow and Gatwick. We’re offering the option to fly from their local airport. With 10 million people within 90 minutes travel time, they should be going from here.
“It’s so much cheaper – with lower departure tax, and passenger service charges significantly less. But other things like parking are cheaper, and all those other elements like taking less time to get here. Birmingham’s so easy to get into and easy to get out of.”
Berryman adds: “When I think that people laughed at us 16 years ago, I’m proud to show how we’ve proved there’s plenty of demand.”