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Sun 17 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Reach for the Starrs

British Airways, one of the world's longest established airlines, is facing fierce competition in the UAE from the country's national carriers.

British Airways, one of the world's longest established airlines, is facing fierce competition in the UAE from the country's national carriers.

But, as BA's Commercial Manager for the Middle East, Paul Starrs explains to Lisa Hodge, the UK flagship carrier is still a flying force to be reckoned with.

Competing with local and global competitors is just part of the industry.

"Competition is great, it is healthy, and I welcome it. Competing with local and global competitors is just part of the industry."

British Airways' commercial manager for the Middle East, Paul Starrs is unphased by the fierce rivalry in the UAE between British Airways and local carriers such as Emirates Airline and Etihad.

And judging by the airline's impressive crudentials it's easy to see why.

Over 33 million passengers passed through BA departure lounges last year and its 312-strong aircraft fleet is continually expanding.

But Starrs says the airline is not about to rest on its laurels - a recent expansion of the UAE to Heathrow route is testimony to that.

"We are constantly reviewing our network and will always consider routes and possibilities that are good for our loyal customers and profitable for the airline," he says.

And what of the global competition, and in particular that here in the UAE?

"We are more than happy to compete on a level-playing field with any carrier," says Starrs.

"We have competitive prices and schedules which more than match our local competitors who travel direct to other UK or international destinations.

"I'm not unduly concerned with competition and as long as the airline keeps investing in industry leading products and services I see no reason why that should change."

Recently the airline launched new routes to various Indian destinations.

Starrs says BA recognises the vast, untapped market the country has to offer.

He says: "With our recently launched five weekly flights from London Heathrow to Hyderabad, the airline now has six Indian destinations in our route network, including Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.

"India is an important market, and with the Hyderabad route, we will fly there 48 times each week from Heathrow."

"This is up from 19 flights per week when the UK/India aviation market was liberalised in October 2005, and I feel this speaks volumes for the importance of the Indian market to the airline."

The BA Group employs more than 50,000 people in around 100 countries worldwide.

Its two main operating bases are in London at the English capital's two major airports, Heathrow and Gatwick and the company flies to more than 550 destinations around the world.
The imminent launch of Heathrow's new fifth terminal (T5) will bring more convenience for BA passengers and will, hopes Starrs, help to boost business for the airline which has invested millions of dollars in facilities for the new terminal.

Starrs explains: "It's difficult to articulate all the benefits that Terminal 5 will bring to our customers because there are so many.

"However, the single biggest benefit is that almost all British Airways services will operate from a single terminal."

"So, whether you are travelling onwards to a UK, European or US destination you will have a significantly smoother transition through London Heathrow."

India is an important market, and now with the Hyderabad route, we will fly there 48 times each week.

"In addition to this we have invested over £60m (US$111m) in our new Galleries lounge facilities, which I personally visited recently and can report that they are absolutely fantastic."

"T5 has over £370m (US$687m) of investment in the state-of-the-art baggage retrieval system, over 100 fast bag drops and self-service kiosks and not forgetting the excellent retailing opportunities that will also be available."

"In short, the T5 experience should be one that customers come to enjoy and welcome as part of their overall journey experience."

Dubai-based carrier Emirates Airline launched its Dubai to Newcastle route late last year, but despite the move into prime BA territory, Starrs says BA has no plans for any knee-jerk copycat launches to other regional UK airports in an attempt to fend off the competition.

He says: "We already fly to a host of UK and European destinations from our hub at Heathrow."

"With the opening of Terminal 5 we believe we will have a facility which will allow us to re-establish Heathrow as the international transit hub of choice for Middle East passengers."

BA prides itself on being able to deliver the highest levels of innovative customer service and this ethos is best reflected through the airline's Club World and FIRST class services.

However, in recent times, particularly in the Middle East region, private aviation has become more affordable and, in turn, more accessible to regular flyers which could have an adverse affect on commercial airlines. But not so for BA, insists Starrs.

"The Middle East market is growing at a rate that allows lots of growth opportunities for lots of different products, including private aviation. Our Club World and FIRST services have been and are continuing to perform extremely well for us."

"In April last year we launched a new, more dynamic pricing structure for our regional business class (Club World) customers."

"As a result of this, we now offer terrific business class fares to those customers who can book well in advance and travel onboard off-peak flights."

"Thanks to this new approach we can now offer return fares to London in our award-winning Club World cabin from just US$1727 plus taxes, fees and charges."

"Our customers are delighted with these new fares and tell us they represent excellent value in the highly competitive market for business class travel."

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