13 Jun 2018 19:19 IST

‘We’ve learnt to be innovative, to challenge the norm’

flydubai’s Senior VP explains how the airline stays profitable despite offering value-driven fares

Sudhir Sreedharan prefers to term flydubai a ‘new-age’ airline rather than a hybrid or a low-cost one with a difference. He believes that the tag best suits the brand as it caters to fliers from countries with huge cultural contrasts.

“From, say, Belgrade to East Africa, and Bangladesh, the customer type changes completely. It’s not like Europe, where customers are largely the same, with one set of expectations, regardless of the country they’re from,” pointed out Sreedharan, flydubai’s Senior Vice-President-Commercial Operations (GCC, Africa and Indian Subcontinent).

“If you tell traders flying from Eritrea that they have to pay for their food or luggage, they are shocked. So, flydubai has learnt to operate with flexible boundaries. Going into the most mature markets as also the most demanding ones, and offering what each set of customers needs, is what keeps the job enriching for me, personally.”

Sreedharan has been with the carrier’s team since flydubai was launched in 2009. Following a nine-year stint with Emirates, he says it’s been a fantastic journey, from a premium, legacy airline to a hybrid carrier, as flydubai enters a unique space. Speaking to BusinessLine in Dubai during the Arabian Travel Market, Sreedharan explained how the airline has innovated to stay competitive and keep up with what the customer wants.

He said: “As we enter our ninth year, both the distribution channels and the customer profiles have changed. We’re dealing with more young people now, especially the millennials, who have a big appetite for new experiences, and customers who are spoilt for choice as well. This forces us to innovate, to stay alive and profitable. This doesn’t mean just offering low fares but also includes investing in new technology, figuring out what the customer wants and ensuring we challenge the norm.”

Pushing boundaries

One instance of this, he said, is flydubai launching the business class and stretching the periphery of what low-cost airlines can do by flying distances over six hours, to destinations such as Belgrade, Prague and Kinshasa.

In most countries, low-cost carriers operate within a culture of investing in cheaper options that come with fewer comforts. Usually, in most parts of Europe or Australia, or even the US, if travellers get a low-cost fare, they cannot fly from a primary airport. It has to be from a secondary to another secondary airport, or from and to tertiary airports.

“We don’t have that privilege in this region,” said Sreedharan. “We have to pay a premium at the primary airports so we innovate to cut costs elsewhere — not by compromising on safety or value, but by ensuring we’re smarter in the way we do business.”

He added: “Having Dubai as part of our name is a benchmark to aspire to, as our guests expect certain standards. The enhanced in-flight entertainment system and the new lie-flat beds in business class are all part of living up to, even exceeding, those expectations. We don’t believe we need to be low-cost to offer low fares. We don’t need to strip the customer of basic comforts. Instead, we’ve learnt to be innovative in other ways — the way we adopt the latest technology and distribution channels. We have also entered over 70 underserved markets, where airports were not connected earlier, directly from Dubai.”

Codeshare with Emirates

These are the opportunities flydubai has leveraged to generate the right seat factor that allows it to stay profitable, despite offering value-driven fares and a clean, safe airline, said Sreedharan.

The recently-announced codeshare with Emirates has come at the right time, he added, and ensures that the airline can serve an underserved market just as well as a fully developed market. flydubai is focused on flying to airports where an Emirates cannot land, so, it’s complementary. The numbers speak for themselves, he said. Customers benefit as they’re now able to fly from, say, Beijing to Dubrovnik on one ticket in a seamless journey, where the connecting time at airports has been reduced to a minimum of two hours.

India connections

How best can flydubai offer these facilities on flights to and from India? Unfortunately, the airline does not have the frequencies it needs to be able to do this. India is choked on the number of seats allowed between Dubai and India, which is now at 65,200 a week. Both sides have completely utilised the seats allowed under the bilateral agreements.

The flydubai COO said: “We hope the two governments will sit for a round of bilateral talks soon and rethink the air service agreements. Meanwhile, the 213 current connections — flydubai’s 30 flights and Emirates’ 183 frequencies — offer connections from India to anywhere in the world. One can travel from Lucknow to New York on one Emirates ticket, or from Belgrade to Chennai, or Tbilisi to Mumbai, all with the assurance of the Emirates experience — including the free meal and baggage allowance — that stand unchallenged across the journey, even on the flydubai leg.”

The codeshare allows flydubai to explore more routes, and it is considering a few routes into the South Asian region.

(The writer was in Dubai at the invitation of flydubai.)

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