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Emirates ‘warms up’ the Miami-Bogota route

The latest route in a long line of Fifth Freedom destinations

Emirates is taking advantage of down time in Miami to test the market for flights to Colombia colourful street in Colombia Emirates airlines flying travel Unsplash/Saul Mercado
Emirates is taking advantage of downtime in Miami to test the market for flights to Colombia

It is likely Colombian airline Avianca was not best pleased when Emirates announced a daily service between the capital Bogota and Miami on February 21. The Dubai-owned carrier is taking advantage of Fifth Freedom of the Air traffic rights, which permit a non-domiciled airline to operate commercial services between two other countries 

Securing this category of traffic rights can be difficult. Nevertheless, Emirates has become a master at taking advantage of historically agreed concessions.

Fifth Freedoms can be deployed to use downtime on aircraft before they return to their bases, or to serve markets that are otherwise underserved. Occasionally, such rights can be used to “warm up” a market up before launching direct services. In the case of this new B777 service it seems like Emirates wants to maximise aircraft usage and warm up a new destination.

Using spare capacity

EK213 from Dubai currently arrives in Miami at 10:45 and sits on the ground for nine hours before returning at 21:10; this incurs costs for towing to and from the remote parking areas.

That many hours of non-flying will certainly have had the network planners looking at options. As Bogota is a four-hour flight from Miami it provides perfect incremental usage of the aircraft for what will probably be one additional set of crew costs. 

The Emirates flight is sandwiched between an American Airlines and Avianca service, so the Dubai carrier hopes that its combination of a wide-bodied aircraft and superior product will entice reasonable volumes of locals, as well as passengers originating from or destined for Dubai.

Bogota is a very long way from Dubai (7,360 nautical miles). A non-stop service from Dubai to Bogota would be second only in length to its non-stop Auckland service. This type of long distance flight represents a huge risk for a standalone flight.

The current local market between Dubai and Bogota clocks in at just over 18,000 passengers per annum, so grabbing a share of the 440,000 passengers travelling between Miami and Bogota makes great sense. What is more, Colombia holds great cargo growth potential. Bogota is renowned for its high-yield perishable products, such as flowers and fruit.

Classic Emirates

Testing the market before operating a direct service is a classic Emirates strategy. This year Emirates will operate 14 Fifth Freedom routes, ranging from classic triangular operations such as Dubai-Abidjan-Accra-Dubai, to dedicated long-haul services such as New York JFK-Milan Malpensa or Athens-New York Newark. 

The African triangles are making effective use of one aircraft on relatively small but valuable markets, while the Europe to US services exploit traditional local airline product weaknesses with a superior daily product.

Other Fifth Freedoms include Christchurch to Sydney, where Emirates operates the only wide-bodied capacity allowing the airline to access valuable cargo revenues which other airlines cannot serve. Such wide-bodied cargo capacity can make all the difference.

Emirates actually operated two wide-bodied services from Australia to New Zealand until 2018 when the carrier dropped its daily Auckland-Brisbane service to operate instead a non-stop Auckland flight – having warmed the market up nicely.

Can we expect Emirates to operate more Fifth Freedoms? Absolutely. As much as the new Miami-Bogota service will test the market for a Bogota service, it is also a test of the value of Fifth Freedom routes generally in the US. With the current daily Orlando aircraft having a similar lengthy layover, then perhaps an Orlando-Panama City service could be considered. 

Even more audaciously, perhaps Emirates might consider a Lima service – although this route may require a slight adjustment in scheduling to create downtime from the current Orlando service.

Few airlines around the world exploit their Fifth Freedom opportunities like Emirates. One thing is for sure, if there is a will then Emirates will certainly find a way.

John Grant is partner at UK consultancy Midas Aviation

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