Who is ruling the airline industry?
Many emerging markets are betting heavily on advancing their aircraft-building and airline industries in an attempt to diversify their economies. The countries that have been successful are becoming powerful players in a domain that has traditionally been dominated by the West. BRICS Business Magazine presents 15 airline industry heroes from the developing world that will determine whether these gambles ultimately pay off.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Air India
Three years ago, when Secretary of the Civil Aviation Ministry Rohit Nandan took over as CEO of Air India, the only stakeholder in the nation’s flagship carrier who could still project optimism was Maharaja, the company’s ever-upbeat mascot. The economic recession, growing competition, business miscalculations, the devaluation of the rupee, and inefficient destination network management had put India’s national carrier in a very awkward financial position.
“My first priority will be to work on Air India’s turnaround and cut financial losses. Second will be to raise employee morale at all levels, and third to upgrade service quality to match the expectations of the traveling public,” the newly appointed CEO was quoted as saying.
Now it appears as though this approach has paid off, as has the company’s choice of Nandan, a trained historian with an MBA from Britain’s University of Hull who previously managed Air India’s low-budget subsidiary, Air India Express, and Air Mauritius. By the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Air India showed operating profit for the first time in six years and its EBITDA went up nearly 20% to reach INR 192 billion ($2.4 billion).
According to Nandan, the company will continue to work on reducing costs and pursue an aggressive expansion policy while proactively developing its low-budget airline segment (to keep up with the demand of the rapidly growing Indian middle class), open new destinations, and upgrade and expand its fleet. Currently, Air India operates 99 aircraft, including state-of-the-art models, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Going by the number of orders placed by the company, it will soon acquire 33 additional jetliners. In the foreseeable future, Air India plans to complete negotiations to join the Star Alliance. Nandan will probably have time to get traction in this area; in August the country’s government, which holds a controlling stake in Air India, extended his tenure for extra three months.
My first priority will be to work on Air India’s turnaround and cut financial losses. Second will be to raise employee morale at all levels, and third to upgrade service quality to match the expectations of the traveling public
R. K. Tyagi
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)
R. K. Tyagi represents what is indisputably India’s most refined industrial and economic elite. He graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, the country’s oldest university in its field, majoring in electrical engineering and telecommunications, and then struck out on a career trajectory that led him to the very top. In the spring of 2012, after he took charge as Chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Tyagi became one of a select few ‘outsiders’ chosen to head up the largest Indian defense and aircraft-building company. In this light, it hardly comes as a surprise that Tyagi is pushing so hard to make his company a member of the global corporate elite. “I want HAL to be among the top 20 global aerospace and aviation industries in the world in five years. I want it to be in the league of Maharatna companies [a privileged status within public sector units] in India,” he was quoted as saying in an interview published last year by Biz@INDIA Magazine.
In order to achieve this objective, Tyagi’s organization aims to capitalize on its advantages as a technological company; nearly 12% of its $2 billion turnover goes to R&D, so it will promote innovative projects and new equipment design. This will require that HAL move up to an entirely new qualitative level. Having passed through the licensed manufacturing stage, it will now have to become a fully-fledged independent developer and manufacturer of state-of-the art equipment.
The company’s progress with this objective is already evident. HAL’s successful completion of a contract to build 222 Russian Sukhoi Su30MKI jet fighters in India paved the way for developing cutting-edge products in-house, including a multi-purpose transport aircraft and an advanced fifth generation fighter jet. In developing these products, Tyagi’s corporation maintains close cooperation with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). It may well happen that cooperation with the UAC will enable Tyagi’s company to gain access to yet another elite club, this one made up of countries capable of building modern civil aircraft. Last July, the company began developing India’s first regional jetliner with 70 to 100 seats. Tyagi promises that his company will be able to rise to these new challenges.
I want HAL to be among the top 20 global aerospace and aviation industries in the world in five years. I want it to be in the league of Maharatna companies in India
President, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC)
China has the chance to join the premiere global aircraft-building league and tap into a market measured in billions of dollars. According to early estimates, Chinese companies alone are likely to show demand for 5,300 new civil aircraft in the next 20 years, and Beijing is certainly not prepared to cede such an opportunity to overseas competitors. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), which was founded in 2008 and is helmed by 48-year-old He Dongfeng, is precisely the powerhouse that is needed to drive China forward in this industry.
The Communist party chose Dongfeng for this responsibility, but he may discover that it is more difficult than initially envisaged. The lack of expertise and the technical complexities of marketing in-house designs have caused delays. Thus, the first flight of the regional ARJ21 jetliner – a debut product presented by the corporation – did not take place until 2008, three years behind the original schedule, and its certification has still not been completed. The same factors may delay the release of COMAC’s second model, the C919 medium-range jet, which was scheduled to be commissioned for commercial operation by 2016.
COMAC counts on the assistance of its overseas partners to overcome its numerous difficulties and acquire the needed technical competencies. Alliances with global industry leaders are an important part of Dongfeng’s strategy. Relevant agreements were recently signed with the largest Western companies, including France’s Safran Labinal, Canada’s Bombardier, Boeing, and Airbus, though a Memorandum of Understanding with the latter was only signed this February. “We will strengthen the co-operation with Airbus in areas like global interoperability, sustainability, and aircraft safety, and deepen the understanding of the world’s latest concepts and operations, best practices, and methodologies,” said COMAC’s president commenting on the Memorandum.
Shortly thereafter, in May, COMAC and UAC signed their own memorandum, opening the door to cooperation on the joint design and development of an advanced, wide body, long-range passenger jet.
If Dongfeng’s strategy yields the desired results, COMAC may challenge the Airbus and Boeing duopoly in a not-so-distant future – not just in China, but on the global market – and the name of its president may find its rightful place in the Pantheon of modern day Chinese heroes.
We will strengthen the co-operation with Airbus in areas like global interoperability, sustainability, and aircraft safety, and deepen the understanding of the world’s latest concepts and operations, best practices, and methodologies
ARJ21 Chief Test Pilot
A well-developed civil aviation industry is an elite status that only a few nations could boast – until recently. Their ranks started swelling in 2008 with the debut flight of the regional ARJ21 aircraft, the first civil jet developed and built in China. In line with the momentous occasion, the project’s chief test pilot, Peng Zhao, was behind the wheel. “When I was about to land, my co-pilot suddenly slapped my hand on the control stick and said, ‘We succeeded!’ with tears of joy on his face,” was Zhao’s recollection of this one-hour flight.
It is difficult to accuse him of being too emotional – the ARJ21 had a long and difficult path to completion. Work on the jetliner, which COMAC hopes will command 60% of the rapidly growing Chinese market for medium-size regional jets, began back in 2002. By 2007, the ARJ21 was supposed to commence regular flights. However, due to technical difficulties and problems with manufacturing and certification, the ARJ21 release date was postponed many times.
Certification tests are still underway and should be completed by the end of this year; in the meantime, there are already 252 orders for the ARJ21. According to the plan, the first two jets, built in December 2013 for Chengdu Airlines, will be shipped out no later than the spring of 2015.
Whether this ambitious goal will be realized is something that depends on Peng Zhao. The project’s chief test pilot is to play a key role in fine-tuning and certifying the jet. Meanwhile, COMAC hopes to use this experience to perfect a new family of regional jetliners. Time is of the essence as there are many competitors from Russia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and India vying for the same niche market as the ARJ21.
When I was about to land, my co-pilot suddenly slapped my hand on the control stick and said, ‘We succeeded!’ with tears of joy on his face
Assistant Chief Designer, Chief Pilot at the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC)
Motivated, personable professional pilot with a long list of aircraft types flown. Quickly able to adapt to clients needs. Flexible and versatile – able to
maintain a sense of humor under pressure. Poised and competent with a demonstrated ability to easily transcend cultural differences. Thrives in deadline-driven environments. Excellent management and team-building skills.
This profile summary posted by Kevin Parker on a professional social network page, speaks volumes about his extraordinary character and equally outstanding career path. Born in Ontario, Canada and a graduate of Sault College with a major in Aviation Technology, Kevin Parker began his career as a pilot and instructor in the Canadian Air Force. He continued to work as a civil aircraft pilot for Air Canada, followed by eleven years running a small business called Aircrew Training Systems, a company he founded to train flight crews. Parker’s subsequent work as a flight training director at CAE’s office in Zhuhai was his gateway to China, and a choice that turned out to be a lucky one.
In 2009, Kevin Parker accepted an invitation to take over as Assistant Chief Designer and Chief Pilot at COMAC. Though he joined the ranks of thousands of Western specialists invited by the Chinese government to help develop various industries, he was the first ‘foreign expert’ to be hired by COMAC.
Today, Parker is one of the central figures in China’s emerging civil aircraft-building industry. The success of COMAC’s two key programs – the new ARJ21 regional jet and the advanced C919 medium-range jetliner, designed to compete with the world’s aircraft-building heavyweights – are a function of his expertise and competence.
Does Kevin Parker believe in success? “Absolutely! This is China’s third attempt at expanding their aviation industry. The Chinese excel at learning from the past and everyone here feels they are on the right track this time,” said Parker in an interview with Wings Magazine. “Everyone here is excited about the challenge of going head-to-head with Airbus and Boeing.” Parker will no doubt do everything within his power to rise to this challenge.
This is China’s third attempt at expanding their aviation industry. The Chinese excel at learning from the past and everyone here feels they are on the right track this time. Everyone here is excited about the challenge of going
head-to-head with Airbus and Boeing
General Designer, J10
If China did not have Wencong Song, then it might never have had its own air force, a pillar of China’s military power as it tries to assert itself as an Asian leader. The Chinese Air Force would have been equally impossible if Song had not survived the horror and humiliation of the Second Sino-Japanese War – including eight years of unanswered airstrikes – to see the liberation of China by the resistance forces.
Song graduated from the Harbin Engineering University with a major in Aircraft Engineering. Then, in 1980, he found himself spearheading China’s efforts to reduce the crippling gap in military aircraft engineering between themselves and the world’s leading powers. In 1986, he founded the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute in the southeastern province of Sichuan – it later became the main talent factory for the J10 third generation fighter program, which was launched the same year. The Institute went on to become the main training center for China’s entire military aircraft engineering industry.
Song and his team were rewarded for their tenacity and professionalism on 23 March 1998 when the first J10 all-weather multipurpose fighter completed its first flight. Despite accusations that they had copied foreign technologies, Song insists that the machine was entirely the product of China’s national aircraft industry. “The external design and aerodynamic configuration of our new fighter is completely Chinese. It makes me very proud that we did not receive foreign assistance,” said the 84-year-old in one of his interviews.
No matter what happens next, Wencong Song has already been written into the annals, not just as a creator of the first truly successful fighter jet in modern China, but also as a founder of the national military aircraft engineering school and an entire industry. Now that very program is about to build a fifth generation fighter, an achievement matched only by two other countries in the world – the United States and Russia.
The external design and aerodynamic configuration of our new fighter is completely Chinese. It makes me very proud that we did not receive foreign assistance
Chief Designer, J15 carrier-based fighter
Alexander III of Russia once famously said, “Russia only has two allies: the army and the navy.” Perhaps Sun Cong never heard this quote, but he certainly understands the sentiment – particularly as it applies to China today. His country is in the throes of an aggressive re-armament program and its defense budget is the second largest in the world, with the lion’s share of it being spent on the Navy. In 2012, China commissioned the Liaoning, the first aircraft carrier in its history. The Liaoning’s main striking force will be its multi-purpose, carrier-based J15 fighter jets, which is Sun’s pet project.
Before the program was launched, China had never had the required expertise or technology to build carrier-based fighter jets. That is why the J15 fighter that completed its first flight in August 2009 was based on the Russian SU33, whose selected systems and nodes were either upgraded or replaced by Chinese technologies, including the radar and avionics.
Sun is happy with the results thus far and, despite a rather modest starting position, he is confident that his aircraft is capable of competing with the best fighters in the world, down to the bombs on board, their combat range, and mobility. “The J15 project started without a solid technical base … but now it has caught up to the technical level of the US’s most advanced, third-generation, carrier-based aircraft, the F18 Hornet,” Sun told the Beijing Times in an interview published last spring.
One way or another, the J15 Chief Designer knows full well that fine-tuning the fighter to perfection will require a lot of work. Among other things, Sun will have to teach his baby to engage ships and ground targets, which will require tapping into technologies enabling fighters to be launched from the deck using a catapult, a feature that the new generation of Chinese aircraft carriers will be equipped with. In January, a source in the Chinese government reported that the second aircraft carrier out of four slated to be built in the next four years was already laid down in the shipyard. A super aircraft carrier in excess of 100 tons is also being designed and is scheduled to be commissioned by 2020.
It is quite possible that on board this giant, which is based on the design of a Soviet aircraft carrier that was able to accommodate 60 jets, the J15 will have to share deck space with the J31. The J31, an advanced fifth-generation carrier-based fighter, is being developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation with Sun Cong as the project’s Chief Designer.
The J15 project started without a solid technical base … but now it has caught up to the technical level of the US’s most advanced, third-generation, carrier-based aircraft, the F18 Hornet
Dean of Unimonte University, founder of Embraer
Only one fact is needed to understand how much Ozires Silva has contributed to Brazil’s development and its economy – that Silva is the founder of Embraer.
After graduating from the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA) in 1964, Ozires became a lead engineer on a project to build Bandeirante, a regional jet that completed its first flight in October 1968. At that time, attempts to convince private investors to launch production of the new plane fell on deaf ears. But one year later, the state-owned Embraer had been created, and Ozires headed it up for more than a quarter of a century. After a brief stint as President of Petrobras and the Minister of Infrastructure Development, Silva returned to the helm of Embraer in 1991 and stayed on for four more years. This time, his mandate was to prepare the company for the privatization that later marked the beginning of its heyday.
Today, Embraer is the third largest aircraft-building corporation in the world, with over 17,000 employees, assets in the United States, Portugal, and China, and an $8.5 billion turnover. Since then, Silva has left his career and business to become the dean of one of the largest private universities in Brazil, Unimonte.
The quality of education in Brazil is the chief concern for the 83-year-old patriarch. Silva believes that the entire future of his country is at stake. “Nowadays, global competition hinges on high competence and knowledge. In this respect, you have to produce the best labor force,” Silva noted in an interview published by MarcoPolis in April 2012. “Competitors are no longer in your own country, and if we fail to improve our education, Brazil will have very serious economic and social problems in the future.” Any state that hopes to be successful in the future should heed his advice.
Nowadays, global competition hinges on high competence and knowledge. In this respect, you have to produce the best labor force. Competitors are no longer in your own country, and if we fail to improve our education, Brazil will have very serious economic and social problems in the future
Director General, TAM Airlines
Even though innovation and cutting-edge performance are two qualities that are revered in the airline industry, conservatism still lingers in one respect – until recently, it was uncommon to see a woman at an airline’s helm. Claudia Sender is one of the rare exceptions to this rule – in May 2013, she took over at TAM Airlines, the largest operator in Brazil.
The 39-year old CEO could not have imagined that her future career would take such a dramatic turn. A specialist in chemical engineering with a diploma from the University of São Paulo, Sender planned to continue in her father’s footsteps and dedicate her life to medical research. But she ultimately chose a much different path; after her graduation from Harvard Business School and spells as Vice President of Marketing at Whirlpool Latin America and a consultant at Bain & Company’s Brazil office, she joined TAM Airlines in 2011. She started as Vice President of the Brazilian branch and one year later accepted the offer to head-up the corporation.
One of Sender’s key objectives has been to prepare the company for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. Another objective is to finalize TAM’s full integration with Chile’s leading airline carrier, LAN. Their merger was announced in June 2012. Once combined, LATAM Airlines Group gained control of around 40% of Latin America’s air transportation, for an enormous potential market of over 10.5 million passengers per year in Brazil alone. With that comes the need to improve service and increase business profitability. “There’s no way we can be a profitable and sustainable airline if we don’t have a slim and efficient cost structure,” Sender said in an interview. “And it’s a challenge for the region because there are a lot of regulations that make our cost bar higher than our competitors’ costs bars abroad.”
Addressing these issues will become the main focus for TAM Airlines’ CEO in the foreseeable future. However, according to Sender, there is a broader strategic objective: to make Brazil the most attractive destination on the planet. Her business certainly stands to profit from it.
There’s no way we can be a profitable and sustainable airline if we don’t have a slim and efficient cost structure, And it’s a challenge for the region because there are a lot of regulations that make our cost bar higher than our competitors’ costs bars abroad
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum
President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation; CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Emirates Airlines and The Emirates Group
United Arab Emirates
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum has a dream, or to be more precise, a vision: to turn Dubai into a city where the aspirations of all his people come true. A member of the royal family and uncle to the current Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, he has been working his entire life to achieve this goal. But among his many accomplishments, one in particular stands out – Emirates Airlines. Sheikh Ahmed managed to turn this company, which was created in 1985, into a leading airline in the Persian Gulf, and now the world over, in just 25 years. The success of Emirates Airlines contributed to the success of the UAE’s capital city, and vice versa. “The incredible success of Emirates and Dubai are intricately linked. Dubai is a dynamic and vibrant city, and it has played a key role in shaping Emirates into the carrier that it is today,” Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum declared in a speech last year. “In the last 27 years, Emirates and Dubai have grown alongside each other. With its vast network of global destinations, all connected via its Dubai hub, Emirates has helped to showcase the unique vitality of the city.”
Emirates Airlines’ achievements have a very tangible economic dimension – for the last 26 years, the company’s revenues have exceeded its costs. During the fiscal year that ended in late March, its net profits increased to $1.1 billion and revenues totaled $23.9 billion, while the number of passengers carried went up a whopping 13% to reach 44.5 million people.
In keeping with Dubai traditions, Emirates Airlines has generously enabled others to profit from their business success as well. Last November, the airline signed a record contract to buy 200 Boeing and Airbus jets for $99 billion, bringing the total portfolio of its orders to 385 aircraft, the catalogue price of which is estimated at $166 billion. And they still have not reached their limit – says Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The incredible success of Emirates and Dubai are intricately linked. Dubai is a dynamic and vibrant city, and it has played a key role in shaping Emirates into the carrier that it is today, In the last 27 years, Emirates and Dubai have grown alongside each other. With its vast network of global destinations, all connected via its Dubai hub, Emirates has helped to showcase the unique vitality of the city
President and CEO, Etihad Airways
United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi may be second to Dubai when it comes to oil reserves, but it does not fall behind where ambition is concerned. Following the example of Emirates Airlines in 2003, Abu Dhabi’s ruling family acquired its own carrier – Etihad Airways. Three years later, James Hogan, an outsider from Australia, was brought in to transform Etihad into a ‘global brand.’ What was then an unknown company with only nine aircraft to its name has become a flag carrier airline that transports 1.5 million passengers a year.
Hogan, an experienced manager with a 30-year track record in the airline, travel, and hospitality industries, proposed a new growth strategy when he came on board in the fall of 2006. His idea was to get the company to invest its capital in various airlines around the world and to improve their operations and profitability. Over the next few years, Etihad acquired stake in Air Berlin, Aer Lingus, Virgin Australia, and Air Seychelles. This August, the company closed a deal to buy 49% of the loss-making Alitalia for €560 million ($721 million), which Hogan promised to make profitable again by as early as 2017.
Etihad’s CEO claims that this ‘equity alliance,’ as he himself terms it, is much more efficient compared to the industry’s traditional airline alliances. The exponential growth that the company has been showing under his leadership only goes to prove his point. Today, Etihad is UAE’s national carrier, servicing 87 passenger and cargo destinations worldwide with a fleet of 66 aircraft.
Why did this strategy prove so effective? “The one thing we’ve been able to do is we move fast, we don’t have the bureaucracy of an alliance. Because we have ‘skin in the game’ of our equity partners, we’re as focused on their profitability as our own profitability. Whereas in the alliances, they’re all competing with one another,” the 57-year old CEO was quoted as saying in the Telegraph.
The rapid drive to conquer new markets will be supported by a fleet expansion program the scale of which will put Etihad back into competition with Emirates Airlines. In July 2008, Etihad placed an order for 205 new aircraft with a catalogue price of $43 billion. This unspoken rivalry between the two Emirates airlines continues today, and Hogan is not the type to settle for second best.
The one thing we’ve been able to do is we move fast, we don’t have the bureaucracy of an alliance. Because we have ‘skin in the game’ of our equity partners, we’re as focused on their profitability as our own profitability. Whereas in the alliances, they’re all competing with one another
Chief Pilot, Singapore Airlines
Even though Captain Robert Ting is not a household name, he is something of a global celebrity in his own right. He reached that status on 25 October 2007, when the world’s largest commercial aircraft – the Airbus A380 – embarked on its first scheduled flight. The 468-ton giant had the Singapore Airlines logo on its side and 455 passengers and 35 crewmembers on board – and it was piloted from Singapore to Sidney by Captain Ting.
It was certainly no accident that Captain Ting was entrusted with the A380 . He went to work for Singapore Airlines in 1971, and by the time his historic flight took off, he had nearly 15,000 flight hours under his belt as well as 36 years of professional experience, including 21 years as an instructor with a license to pilot six different types of aircraft.
Captain Ting admits that his experience flying other jumbo jets from the Airbus family, such as the A340-500 or A330, made his job of flying the A380 much easier. “Even though the plane is heavier, once you’re in the air you don’t feel the size – you don’t feel the wings,” he said with admiration following the flight. “Although it is bigger and heavier, the airplane’s response is fantastic. It is very agile.”
Needless to say, if Captain Ting is impressed, then it is for good reason. Singapore Airlines is not just a leader on the Asian market; it is also one of the largest aircraft purchasers. Early last year, the airline closed a deal to buy five A380s from Airbus (on top of their existing 19 A380s) and 20 A350-900 jets, with a total price tag of $7.5 billion. The deal will help Singapore Airlines assert its leadership in the region. The airline operates out of Changi International Airport, the largest aviation hub in Southeast Asia, and faces rapidly growing competition from China and the Middle East. Captain Ting’s role in this competition will continue to be crucial.
Even though the plane is heavier, once you’re in the air you don’t feel the size – you don’t feel the wings. Although it is bigger and heavier, the airplane’s response is fantastic. It is very agile
Akbar Al Baker
CEO, Qatar Airways
Anyone who has ever dealt with Akbar Al Baker knows that he is a tough nut to crack, especially when the interests of his company are at stake. During such instances, the head of Qatar Airways is unlikely to curb his fiery temper or to mince words – he publically scolds those who dare to ‘violate the status quo’ as he sees it.
Targets of the CEO’s sharp tongue have included contractors who failed to complete Doha’s new airport on time (it opened its doors this May and is also run by him), regulators (“they think the sun shines out of their a**holes”), and Lufthansa (“their strategy is to kill competition”).
Yet it was Airbus (“they are still learning how to make airplanes”) and Boeing (“when you put companies in the hands of accountants, you will always end up with garbage”) who ‘benefited’ the most from the CEO’s straight talk.
Akbar al Baker directed his latest verbal lashing at global leaders in the airline industry this July during the Farnborough International Airshow. This time around, the CEO of Qatar Airways – a major buyer of long-range A350 jetliners, A380 super jumbo jets, B787 Dreamliners, and B777 jets – was “deeply frustrated” with delayed shipments and low quality aircraft. In particular, flaws were discovered in the A390 paint texture, along with defects in cabin décor, imitation wallpaper, and galley flooring.
Though some might call him capricious, the 52-year-old does not find his attention to detail excessive. He has already earned the right to have his own ‘unique point of view.’ Born in Doha, Akbar al Baker received a degree in economics in India where his family roots lie. Prior to joining Qatar Airways in 1997, he worked in Qatar’s Civil Aviation Department and Tourism Department. In just two decades, he has transformed Qatar Airways from a local operator with only four aircraft to a global industry leader flying to 130 destinations on five continents.
However, Akbar al Baker’s mandate is much broader. Qatar Airways is one of the key components in a strategy designed to diversify the economy of his country, a nation that is literally built on hydrocarbons. In January, the government of Qatar announced that it was planning to spend $45 billion by 2030 on tourism development. Akbar al Baker will certainly do everything within his power to make sure that the millions of visitors coming to his country do it aboard Qatar Airways.
Things are very different now. We have become a major global carrier in a short span of just over 10 years, and we are going to be even stronger and most certainly will be in the league of airlines that are very profitable
Commanding officer of the Russkiye Vityazi (Russian Knights) Pilot Group
Andrey Alekseev admits that after his first trial flights in a diamond formation – a dense line of SU27 heavy fighter jets piloted by the Russkiye Vityazi group, which he joined in 2001 – he was constantly haunted by one thought: he picked the wrong job.
“Because all of this was so difficult, I constantly had the feeling that it was impossible to learn. It was both physically and mentally difficult – for a pilot, it is completely counterintuitive to see a plane identical to yours one meter away from you. During my early flights, just like during the ones that followed, my suit was always soaked with sweat,” Alekseev said in April 2011, while giving an interview on Russian television in honor of the Russian Knights 20th anniversary.
It is clear now that these initial difficulties did not scare away this graduate of the Kachin Higher Military Aviation College and a second-generation fighter pilot. In May 2008, Andrey Alekseev, who piloted the right-hand trail aircraft, became the commanding officer of the Pilot Group. He remains the group’s CO to this day. Russkiye Vityazi, just like any other pilot group in the world, serves two main objectives, explains the 41-year-old Honorary Guard Colonel. First, it demonstrates the skill of the pilots, which are used as a yardstick of the Russian Air Force’s overall level of airmanship. And second, it showcases the unique capabilities of the Su27, the base model for all of the latest Russian heavy fighters, which Colonel Alekseev admits are unmatched.
The Russian Knights rise to the occasion on both counts, as do their partners, the Strizhy (or the Swifts). This second group of Russian pilots flies lighter MIG29s, but shares the Kubinka airfield with Russkiye Vityazi and flies with Alekseev’s ace pilots in their famous diamond formation. Exhibition performances by the Vityazi group – the only unit that can perform aerobatics in head-on formations and in groups comprising three, four, and six heavy combat fighters – are always a major highlight at any airshow. The high demand for Russian military aircraft further proves this point; based on the figures from 2009 to 2012, Russia became the world leader in multi-purpose fighter jet exports (384 aircraft totaling nearly $17.8 billion in sales) with the United States a distant second. There is no doubt that much of this is thanks to Colonel Alekseev and his brothers is arms.
Because all of this was so difficult, I constantly had the feeling that it was impossible to learn. It was both physically and mentally difficult – for a pilot, it is completely counterintuitive to see a plane identical to yours one meter away from you. During my early flights, just like during the ones that followed, my suit was always soaked with sweat
President of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC)
By 2025, the total output of civil aircraft at UAC – Russia’s largest aircraft-building group – should equal that of their military equipment. This goal is part and parcel of UAC’s business diversification strategy, which Mikhail Pogosyan himself calls “super ambitious” (until 2010, the company’s share of military aircraft output was in excess of 90%), but he does not doubt for a second that it can be achieved.
Last year, UAC manufactured 111 aircraft, including 32 civil jetliners. The corporation’s total order portfolio consists of 700 units, and non-military aircraft account for 360 confirmed orders.
These achievements would have been impossible without the successes demonstrated by the new regional SSJ100 jetliner. Pogosyan oversaw its development from the day the program was first launched – initially as CEO of the Sukhoi Aviation Military Industrial Combine and the Sukhoi Design Bureau that won the contract to develop the aircraft in 2003, and then as President of the UAC from 2011 onward.
It is envisaged that the SSJ100, which is being developed in broad cooperation with overseas partners, should claim at least 15% of the world market for narrow body aircraft with up to 100 seats. According to UAC estimates, the market capacity will reach approximately 6,000 units by 2020. At the same time, the SSJ100 will serve as the foundation for an entire family of new civil aircraft. Additionally, UAC is now developing the new MS21 middle-range passenger jet, which will compete directly with the Chinese C919 built by COMAC.
According to Pogosyan, all of these efforts will enable Russia to realize its ambition of becoming a world leader in aircraft building. He plans to work on achieving this objective in close cooperation with other stakeholders from the BRICS countries.
“We want to be a leading international player. Today, the competition does not boil down to individual countries – it comes down to large international corporations. If we truly want to create competitive products, we need to join forces,” Pogosyan said to BRICS Business Magazine. “Only together can we build planes that meet the highest reqirements of the global market and, in so doing, take our rightful place among the leading industrialized nations.”
Today, UAC already runs several major joint civil and military aviation programs with its BRICS partners, including a project to develop a fifth generation fighter jet and new transport aircraft in cooperation with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of India. In May, UAC and COMAC signed a memorandum to begin joint development of a family of wide-body, long-range jetliners. The resulting product will enable the partners to ‘invade the territory’ traditionally controlled by Boeing and Airbus. The 58-year-old UAC President makes no promises that his ambitions would stop at that.
We want to be a leading international player. Today, the competition does not boil down to individual countries – it comes down to large international corporations. If we truly want to create competitive products, we need to join forces