When its first flight landed at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport on Dec. 15, Emirates Airline made South Florida its 11th U.S. destination. Senior editor Robert Silk sat down with Emirates vice president of U.S. sales Matthias Schmid to discuss the importance of South Florida to Emirates, the carrier's hopes for further U.S. expansion and his thoughts about how Donald Trump and the growing influence of nationalism across Europe could impact international commercial aviation.
Q: What does it mean for Emirates to be flying to South Florida?
A: It's going to be very big for us in terms of cruise business. So that's going to be one of our key flows and customer segments that we'll see. And then it builds further strength in our partnership with JetBlue, so that is actually another key reason why we selected Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale is actually the third-largest focus city for JetBlue. They have significant growth plans here, and that gives us the perfect opportunity to connect passengers from our network, via Fort Lauderdale, to JetBlue domestic flights and also Latin American destinations.
Q: So flying into Fort Lauderdale gives you how many new codeshare routes?
A: There are 32 domestic codeshare routes, and JetBlue operates 13 international routes out of Fort Lauderdale, and we're still in the process of getting approvals for those. On the other hand, we already have interline agreements with JetBlue, so passengers from the Caribbean can already book a through fare on Emirates through Fort Lauderdale to our world network.
Q: Is JetBlue the biggest reason you chose Fort Lauderdale over Miami?
A: I think that is the key reason why we've chosen Fort Lauderdale, because JetBlue is one of our key strategic partners here in the U.S.
Q: Do you expect to announce any new U.S. destinations in 2017?
A: Right now, there is nothing firm on the table. But the U.S. is one of, if not our key strategic growth markets.
Q: In light of the protectionist positions of president-elect Donald Trump, do you have any concerns that his incoming administration will be more sympathetic to the pleas of the Big Three domestic U.S. carriers for a halt on your U.S. route expansion?
A: Regarding Trump, he's the president-elect. So he hasn't taken office yet. We'll still need to see what is going to happen. But in the end, he's a businessman, and we expect the new administration would be very interested in actually opening up the U.S. market in order to get better international connectivity, which would fuel the domestic economy.
Q: What broader challenges do you foresee for Emirates going forward due to rising nationalist sentiments in the U.S. and Europe that led to Trump's election and Brexit?
A: In general, I think it's a very challenging environment.
We had more than 12 months of very low fuel prices that put significant pressure on the average yield. Then we had some unfortunate developments around the world, whether political or with Brexit, which put a lot of pressure on the British pound.
There is a lot of capacity in the market; new entrants, new carriers also starting to invest heavily into the U.S. market. We always welcome competition.
We have weathered several storms in the past, and we just have to remain agile and be a little bit better than our competitors in order to stay ahead of the game.