And things just got fiercer: British Airways' plans to take over Middle Eastern markets
British Airways expects Middle East business to remain buoyant this year powered by the momentum gained towards the end of last year.
The airline's Middle East and Central Asia area commercial manager Paolo De Renzis told the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication, in an exclusive interview that it operated 52 weekly flights during the winter, which is highest ever from the region.
Declining to disclose regional performance data, the airline executive said he expects strong forward bookings in the region.
British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines Group reported earlier this year that it boosted passenger traffic 5.8 per cent last year. The group's combined load factor rose by 0.5 points to 80.8 per cent.
"We just closed a very successful year in the Middle East and we are very optimistic about the current year," he said.
De Renzis was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the kingdom to participate in the Great British Week that ended last week.
Over the last five years, the airline has increased regional capacity by 40 per cent with the expansion focusing on the larger markets of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait either by adding flights and flying larger planes and would continue to do so if the market demand was there, he said.
De Renzis said there were no immediate plans to add to the daily service from Bahrain served by a Boeing 777-200.
"We have always had a great relationship with the Bahrain market having been here for more than 80 years... We feel that our current service offering meets the needs of the market well."
The key to the airline's success, De Renzis said was a combination of prudent investment and efficient cost management.
"We've been investing in our products, helping grow our revenues and also in managing costs."
A multi-million pound investment was made in the refurbishment last year of many planes in our Boeing 777-200 fleet, including the one serving Bahrain, he said.
The aircraft now features a new 'first' cabin, 'world traveller' 'and world traveller plus' cabins and the latest Thales inflight entertainment system.
"This was another one of our investments to improve the passenger experience, which is at the centre of everything we do.
"This modern and ambitious refit is part of our $8.25 billion investment plan, and gives customers flying on our Manama route smarter cabins and new technologies," De Renzis said.
According to industry experts, the Middle East leads the globe in growth of business and first-class traffic. The airline executive said British Airways was earning about 50 per cent of passenger revenue in the region from the high-margin premium segment.
Experts said yields per premium passenger are typically around four to five times higher than those for economy class. The executive said the use of innovative technology to tailor and boost service level gave the airline a strategic advantage.
"Our Middle East customers are already active users of features such as online check-in, mobile boarding passes, self check-in and airline mobile apps. This tell us that they are well-prepared for the new wave of personalised technology currently being tested," he said.
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