Just days before the historic launch of the new route between Abu Dhabi and TLV, Passport News held a special interview with Martin Drew, Senior Vice President Sales & Cargo at Etihad Airways. Here’s what he had to say.
Etihad Airways, one of two flag carriers of the UAE, is expected to launch a new historic route between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv on April 6, and what a better time than now to hold a special interview with one of the company’s top executives.
Mr. Martin Drew, Senior Vice President Sales & Cargo, talked about the implications of the Abraham Accords between the UAE and Israel, pointed out the singularity of Etihad Airways, regularly ranked as one of the world’s top airlines, addressed the company’s response to COVID-19, and professed his belief that demand for aviation will not return to pre-pandemic levels before 2024.
Just days before the inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, on April 6, what are your expectations from this route?
“The signing of the Abraham Accords, leading to the normalization of ties between the nations, is the basis for our expectation for a strong and lasting bond between Abu Dhabi and Israel.
We are committed to developing trade and tourism opportunities, not only between the two countries, but also in the region and beyond. Since Israel and the UAE are leading the vaccination of their populations, we expect tourism between the two countries to expand as soon as government restrictions due to the pandemic are lifted.”
What can Israeli and all passengers expect from a flight with Etihad?
“Emirati hospitality lies at the heart of our brand. That is why the whole Etihad experience is the epitome of a warm welcome to Abu Dhabi – generous, extraordinary and open to all.
We bring the world to Abu Dhabi by helping guests find meaningful experiences, and promoting well-being and sustainability for our global community. With the Emirati hospitality, Etihad makes sure that passengers always feel at home with us, no matter where they are headed.”
Everyone knows Dubai, but what can you tell us about Abu Dhabi as a destination?
“Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, is a diverse destination with desert landscapes, great beaches and warm, crystal clear waters. This modern and cosmopolitan city has fascinating attractions, including Warner Bros. World™ Abu Dhabi and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, as well as cultural highlights, such as Louvre Abu Dhabi and the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Visitors will also appreciate various opportunities for kayaking, desert safaris, jet skis, go-karts and so much more. Those in need of some R&R will find peace and tranquility in and around the city, from quiet beaches to luxury spas.”
Etihad will offer two weekly flights to TLV. Are there plans to increase the frequency?
“Given the significant impact of COVID-19 on global travel constraints and demand in the aviation industry, we have taken a prudent approach when it comes to the initial frequency of two flights a week. These will operate on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and will provide sufficient capacity to meet the demand for passengers and cargo in the near future.
The performance of the Tel Aviv route will be closely monitored, and the opportunities to increase the frequency will be determined by positive indicators such as growing demand.”
Where would you recommend passengers to fly to on connecting flights with Etihad, through your hub in Abu Dhabi?
“Once travel restrictions are lifted at the following destinations, we’d expect passengers to be interested in traveling further east – to the Maldives, India, Thailand and Australia. And westwards, there is great potential for flights to the United States.”
We have heard a lot about how you cope with the pandemic, both in the air and on the ground. What are the main safety and health measures you’ve adopted?
“We presented the Etihad Wellness health program to emphasize our stance as an airline that puts the health and well-being of passengers first. We are pioneers in using health ambassadors – someone is always available at every stage of the trip, to support our guests in health and safety throughout their voyage.
In January, we were awarded the Diamond status for ensuring the highest standards of cleanliness and disinfection in the first APEX Health Safety audit, powered by SimpliFlying. This is a testament to our industry’s leading response to the epidemic. Etihad is a strong brand with a strong product.
As of August 2020, we are the only airline in the world that has made PCR testing mandatory across our global network, pre-flight and upon arrival in Abu Dhabi for all of our passengers. The test has proven to be extremely effective in detecting pre-travel corona, so we can give passengers peace of mind on their flight. It has given us a wealth of data and insight, and supports our efforts to take the right precautions.
To strengthen the efficiency of Etihad Wellness, we recently expanded our global COVID-19 insurance until September 30, 2021, so that travelers are covered when they are away from home, without exception. This extra coverage allows for an additional level of flight safety, and reassures passengers that we do everything we can to keep them protected.”
How have global and local constraints affected and still affect your activities?
“It goes without saying that the aviation industry has witnessed unprecedented challenges in the past year. Nearly a year has passed since the pandemic put a sudden halt to the travel industry around the world, and even now many countries still impose closures and restrictions to deal with the crisis.
We continue to follow the directives of the UAE authorities as well as international, regulatory and health directives in order to fulfill our part in limiting the spread of the virus. It is certainly a challenge when the laws and regulations change almost on a daily basis, but we are resolved to be determined and able to respond quickly and adjust our activities accordingly.
We have examined all parts of our company to see where we can lower costs and ensure our long-term financial health. This ranges from reducing our fleet size, and unfortunately also laying off a significant number of good workers, all of whom were part of the Etihad family.
Through this transformation plan, which started even before corona, we were on track to achieve our goals and have a complete turnaround by 2023. Although we have changed our forecast based on current realities, we remain committed to the long-term growth plan of the company. We continue to fulfill our commitment to support the economic development of our home, Abu Dhabi.”
What are your most popular and busy destinations these days?
“Our current most popular and busy destinations are spread across a variety of regions in our global network, and include Africa (Egypt), Asia (Indonesia, the Philippines), the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan) and North America (New York, Toronto).”
When do you think the aviation industry will return to pre-corona levels?
“From an aviation industry perspective, we hope that through increased vaccination rates, the aviation industry will recover and people feel safer to travel, not only for business or leisure, but also to reconnect with loved ones around the world. We are confident that global demand for passengers will start to recover towards the end of the year and we are already expecting general improvement.
Vaccination is the key for many countries to start removing travel restrictions, as well as for travelers to feel more and more safe. As for when we return to 2019 passenger volumes, forecasts range from 2022 to 2025. In the current situation, given the slower recovery from the previous forecast, we expect demand to return to the pre-corona levels by 2024, as opposed to the previous forecast of a complete recovery in 2023.”
Martin Drew, Senior Vice President Sales & Cargo at Etihad Airways
Martin Drew was appointed as Senior Vice President of Sales and Cargo at the Etihad Group in November 2020. As a senior executive, Martin oversees passenger sales, cargo issues and security measures, in addition to business development at the hub in Abu Dhabi. With more than 20 years of experience in the aviation industry, Martin Drew has held senior positions with Lufthansa and DAS Air Cargo, and served as VP Cargo at Jet Airways, where he substantially grew the airline’s cargo business.