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Sir Tim Clark, one of the airline industry’s greatest visionaries
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Sir Tim Clark, one of the airline industry’s greatest visionaries

The airline industry this year will lose its greatest visionary of the past 30 years with the retirement of Sir Tim Clark as president of Emirates in June.

In an era when airline chief executives come and go with regularity, Sir Tim has been part of Emirates from the very start of its spectacular history in 1985 — a history that has been largely shaped by his vision for mass travel.

That concept was born when Sir Tim cut his airline teeth with British Caledonian Airways (BCAL) in the early 1970s.

At BCAL, working on the check-in counter just out of university, Sir Tim was stunned by the “Laker effect”.

He explained to AirlineRatings.com that he would come to work and the “sleeping queue” was ready to pay for Sir Freddie Laker’s daily cheap flights to New York.

“There were no bookings so when the DC-10 was full, the person who just missed out would be at the head of the queue for tomorrow’s flight. It just didn’t worry them.”

But Sir Tim’s passion for things that fly dates back even further to when his family lived in Borneo. At the age of five he tied palm fronds to his arms and tried to fly.

While that bid to take to the air did not succeed, that love of flight has given wings to an airline world with Sir Tim directly influencing the design of almost every major long-haul aircraft flying today.

The first aircraft to be touched by his magic wand was Boeing’s 365-seat 777. In 1999 Boeing was trying to give the design greater legs and was “messing around”, according to Sir Tim, with a small booster engine in the tail.

Sir Tim talking with the author at the time laughed the concept off and demanded Boeing give him a really decent (more powerful) engine. Boeing did and the 777-300ER and 777-200LR were JUborn with the General Electric GE90 115,000lb thrust engine and Emirates ordered 144.

The aircraft is the backbone of the world’s long-haul fleets — and the engine the most reliable. Next, he turned his attention to Airbus with its A380 and his innovations were to shape the aircraft and give it much greater success than it would have otherwise had.

Sir Tim’s next objective was to convince Airbus to make its new twin-jet the A350 from composite material, not aluminium.

Airbus listened, and sales rocketed with almost 1000 sold.

His swansong, without doubt, is the Boeing 777X which will fly this month.

The greatly enhanced version of the 777-300ER owes its design and performance to Sir Tim’s demands.

He now calls it a “peach” and has ordered 115 for Emirates.

That aircraft promises to eclipse the sales of earlier models over the next 20 years…

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