The longstanding president of Dubai’s Emirates, Sir Tim Clark, is to retire next year, marking a period of transition for the Middle East’s largest airline.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the company’s chairman, announced in an internal memo that the British expatriate stalwart would step down at the end of June, according to a spokesperson for the carrier. Sir Tim, who was promoted to president in 2003, will remain an adviser.
Insiders say candidates for his replacement include Adel Al Redha, the government-owned airline’s chief operating officer, and Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive of Emirates’ sister low-cost carrier, Flydubai.
Joining the airline’s founding team in 1985 from Bahrain-based Gulf Air, the 70-year-old has played a pivotal role in its transformation into a global giant in the industry.
Dubai, which had previously been primarily served by Gulf Air, struck out on its own with the launch of its own carrier, kick-starting the emirate’s expansion from trade entrepot into the region’s commercial and tourism capital.
Using the city as a hub, the airline grew rapidly as it connected the emirate to the broader Middle East and into Europe, Asia and the Americas, acting as a symbiotic driver in the development of its home base.
In the wake of disruption to global aviation after the September 11 attacks of 2001, Emirates bet on its “super-hub” model by placing what was then the largest ever aircraft order at the 2003 Paris air show.
Developing routes between emerging “city pairs” drove revenues as it piggybacked on growing travel demand from destinations including China and Africa.
Sir Tim has for years had to refute criticism from international competitors claiming that the Dubai government subsidised Emirates. Since oil prices collapsed in 2014, he has also guided the airline through a tricky period as it struggles with lower regional travel demand alongside geopolitical disruptions in the Middle East and beyond.
Emirates nonetheless placed orders worth around $25bn at last month’s Dubai air show to broaden its fleet of wide-bodied aircraft. At the show, Sir Tim said the introduction of different aircraft would allow Emirates to introduce new destinations, driving the next phase of its growth.
Prevailing economic conditions — from Hong Kong unrest to Brexit and US-China trade tensions — have all impacted the aviation industry, he told reporters.
Next year will remain tough, he said, but “by 2021 we will be through it and the global economy will be stronger”.