Emirates has immense power and influence in Australia, but its “luck” in keeping its near disaster out of any serious reporting by the Melbourne and national press for around two weeks after the 20 March incident was too much for Qantas.
Sometime early in April, Qantas senior management is believed to have put rockets up News and Fairfax senior management drawing attention to the fact that the flying kangaroo couldn’t metaphorically fart without causing screaming headlines, while Emirates could come within centimetres of killing several hundred people in a fireball with seeming impunity.
There were of course good reasons for the intense scrutiny last year of Qantas over a number of grave incidents and an adverse safety audit by CASA, but it had a point in that even the most trivial of operational mishaps, like landing gear doors that stayed open, were being turned into pages of hysterical dribble.
Yet if there is any more need for evidence of corrupted editorial judgment in the major newspapers, the timid, uninquiring and ignorant reporting of something as simple as air transport safety in Australia is as good a candidate for close attention as any.
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Suddenly from 12 April onwards, after a Herald Sun exclusive that was in the Crikey blog Plane Talking on 23 March, the Melbourne media “woke up” to the amazing escape of Emirates flight EK 407 on the night of 20 March, and especially those who lived in or around Keilor Park, which for a while was where the struggling Airbus A345 was headed as it climbed painfully slowly toward Port Phillip where it began to dump fuel.
In November 2005, when Emirates president Tim Clark invited the airline media to a quiet little chat in The Establishment in Sydney, accompanied by an ensemble drawn from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, he estimated it was spending $75 million annually on sporting and cultural sponsorships, or 2% of total Emirates group budget.
This has since expanded to 2.7% of group budget and Emirates has itself grown by more than 40% in the past three years.
So that figure could be close to $200 million a year in Australia on current exchange rates, again based on a global spend of around $400 million which is roughly 2.7% of the total Emirates budget as reported for the year to end of March 08.
The Qantas Australian Children’s Choir doesn’t stand a chance.
Apart from being a principal partner of the Melbourne, Sydney and Western Australian Symphony Orchestras (which means Emirates sell direct to their subscribers and patrons) Emirates headline sponsorships are the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Jockey Clubs Autumn and Spring Carnivals, the Collingwood AFL Club (since 1999), the Rugby World Sevens and the Emirates Western Force team, the Australian PGA Golf Championships and Cricket Australia.
In soccer it sponsors Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, AC Milan, plus other European sides, and the Asian Football Competition.
The Emirates sponsorship logo has pride of place at the leading turf, speed boat racing, and various football code events word wide.
Later this year the carrier, which is owned by the Government of Dubai, will open a luxury eco resort in the Blue Mountains great hidden valley, the Wolgan, featuring 40 freestanding chalets and 2000 hectares of exclusive natural and enhanced park lands.
Emirates attracts a lot of envy from its competitors and doesn’t deserve any criticism for its phenomenal success either. It includes around 1000 Australian pilots, systems managers, engineers and other air transport related expatriates among its 35,000 person work force, which is slightly larger than the Qantas group work force of 34,000 before the recent sackings began.
It claims to be still profitable, and will spent more on sporting and cultural sponsorships in Australia this year than Qantas and Virgin Blue will scrape together in profits. It is expanding by more than 15% in capacity this year, while the Australian and major international competitors shrink in passenger numbers by between 20-30% in most cases, and that is before the effects of Swine Flu kick in.
Emirates has also capitalised on the stupidity of Qantas networking over London Heathrow by using its Dubai hub to emulate the Singapore Airlines success with Changi (at least so far, as things are no longer looking as good for Singapore as a hub as before.)
In all of these respects, Emirates flirts with being caught up in a tall poppy syndrome reaction in Australia, especially after the screw up that nearly destroyed EK 407.
But that accident and near catastrophe needed to be reported fully, not kept on the sidelines by an under resourced media managed by commercially captured owners.