Skies wide open?

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Royal Brunei Airlines deputy chairman Dermot Mannion knows better than most how cutthroat the long-haul air travel business can be.

Along with his current role, the former Emirates executive and CEO of Aer Lingus has seen first-hand the way in which the likes of Emirates have gained market dominance in this area.

So it is no surprise that reshaping the way state-owned Royal Brunei operated in this sphere was his first order of business after taking the helm in late 2010.

The decisions, in a period of consolidation for many Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) carriers, were tough. The airline axed three long-haul routes in Australia and New Zealand where it believed it was “competing excessively” with Gulf carriers, and consequently cut staff by 25 percent from 2,000 and 1,500.

It switched to a regional focus, and identified long-haul routes that were “strategically important” — Dubai and London in one direction and Melbourne, Australia, in the other.

All this while rebranding itself under the new tag, “Betterfly Royal Brunei” and committing to a $250m upgrade of Brunei International Airport, which is due to finish next year.

“Long haul has become a very tough business for airlines in Europe and airlines right across Asia and into Australia, New Zealand,” Mannion, speaking at the Dubai Airshow, says.

“It’s no coincidence that in the same period the Middle East Gulf carriers have grown tremendously on the traditional Kangaroo routes. For many airlines in our region long haul has become very, very competitive.”

Royal Brunei needed to “re-fleet” and central to its strategy was the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It has ordered five of the state-of-the-art planes, with two delivered, a further two scheduled for delivery early next year and a fifth due later.

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