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Trust, The Trade And The World's Biggest Airline: Tom Scruby, VP Pacific, Qatar Airways

With a shimmering global aviation resume spanning over two decades, Tom Scruby has recently returned to Australia to take up the role as Vice President Pacific of Qatar Airways based in Melbourne.

With a shimmering global aviation resume spanning over two decades, Tom Scruby has recently returned to Australia to take up the role as Vice President Pacific of Qatar Airways based in Melbourne.

British born Tom Scruby has traversed the world of aviation in his impressive twenty-plus year career, having held senior leadership roles at British Airways in Sydney where he worked for twelve years, American Airlines in Tokyo for three years and LATAM in Hong Kong for two and a half years.

He was also Head of Commercial for Airline Representation at Helloworld based in Sydney for two years and has worked in high-level airline strategy, revenue management, sales and marketing roles in the U.K and Australia.

Given this is the most challenging period in a generation for airlines and travel in general, Tom says his mission now is to build on Qatar Airways’ (QR) rise to prominence and current status as the world’s biggest carrier.

So what’s Tom’s plan? And what is he most excited about? I caught up with him to find out.

Returning to Australia after six years, you’ve only been in Melbourne and the new seat for six weeks. How has it been so far?

I feel like I’ve settled in quite quickly. I think mostly because of the intensity of what’s going on within the airline and the industry at the moment. I’ve enjoyed the steep learning curve and the fast pace. We’ve got a fantastic team here. They are all focused on supporting the customer so it’s been an eye-opening six weeks, but I’ve absolutely loved it.

What do you think has been your most significant learning since you started the role?

There’s definitely no comparison to anything like this in aviation that I’ve ever experienced. I think the most amazing thing that I’ve seen, and I’d say to take note of what Qatar Airways has done, is that the airline has never stopped flying through COVID-19.

The response from the trade has also been really positive. We’ve worked very closely with the trade, the embassies and the corporates who have needed to undertake essential travel throughout this time.

We’ve also organised all of the repatriation charters to get people home. The pace at which everyone at QR has supported those customers to get back has been the biggest wow factor for me, I’d say, in terms of what has happened over the last six weeks.

Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways free flights for health workers

Why do you think the relationship with trade has been so strong?

I think it’s down to our overall response.

There’s obviously been a huge amount of change to bookings, cancellations and refunds, but the team has been working full-time throughout COVID-19 to support the trade. They’ve been available, and we’ve tried to make that process as seamless as possible.

In total, we have four different types of changes to the bookings that you can make, so we’ve remained flexible around the trade’s requirements and enhanced the customer’s needs at the same time.

I’d also say that in terms of our flight schedule – we’ve stuck to that schedule regardless of how many people were onboard.

So we’ve built up a reputation as reliant to the trade. They know we’re here, we’ve been there for them, we’re available and they know we’re going to fly.

And, we’re obviously we fly to all the key destinations in Australia. So I think that that’s helped as dependability of the airline has built up more trust in the brand.

During the last few months since COVID-19 began, we’ve flown 1.8 million people home, operated over 15,000 flights and have worked with the trade or directly with embassies to organise 220 specific charter flights.

We’ve also had record days in terms of cargo operations with one day seeing an amazing 180 cargo flights alone.

In the process that you’ve become the world’s largest carrier and Australia’s largest international carrier. How does that feel?

It’s been a huge increase in terms of our size. Internationally over the entire network in April; we had more than triple the nearest competitor. Our figures on our total international operations account for around 17 or 18% of international traffic with 40-45% of that traffic, specifically from Australia.

Reputation, reliability and trust – these are the kinds of benefits that we want to get across to trade and customers. My aim is to continue that forward now.

karryon-qatar-airways-skytrax-win
The World’s best airline – Skytrax Winners 2019

What does the forward outlook look like?

People will want to travel again. Everyone wants to experience the world, and reconnect with their friends and family.

If anything, I think the border restrictions have made people realise how precious the ability to travel really is. Perhaps we took it for granted before.

Of course, I want the business to kick start and restart as soon as possible but we have to put the safety of the customer first and that’s obviously what governments are doing.

As restrictions begin to ease, we expect passengers to increase gradually.

We expect supply will closely match demand going forward. I can’t precisely say what that looks like at this stage, but, we are in a position to support that demand when it comes back.

Do you think fares will rise?

I believe airfares will remain competitive as demand returns to the sky. You’re going to have your usual peaks and troughs depending on the routes, and as restrictions ease, various corridors start to appear.

I think that there’s a lot of countries in Europe beginning to show more willingness to reopen their borders. Australia’s stats at the moment are slightly different so it does depend on those entry restrictions around the world before you can start to predict what supply and demand will look like for the price.

Qatar's newly launched QSuites
Qatar Airways QSuites

Is the current tough situation a competitive advantage for Qatar Airways?

Well, we’ve definitely gained a lot of attention over the last few months. That’s obviously quite clear.

So I guess what does that mean going forward? Well, my top priority really is just working on maintaining and winning our position and continuing to deliver the best airline experience we’ve got.

Our long term aim is to be the biggest carrier with the best network. So I think that what’s happened during this period has positioned us to support that growth. And we’re continuing to rebuild that network now as that demand and relaxation of entry changes.

We’re currently flying to 40 destinations with 230 flights per week. By the end of June, that will expand to 75 destinations as we fly to new destinations and cities we weren’t able to fly to previously.

This week, it was Berlin, Dar es Salaam, New York and Venice. Dublin, Milan, Rome also moved to daily flights. So as the world opens up we’re there to offer those destinations to customers.

What are you looking forward to working with Qatar Airways in Australia?

I worked in this market for 12 years quite a few years ago with British Airways and so am really looking forward to getting back out there with the trade.

The trade is the backbone of success in Australia and who drive our business forward. So I’m excited about working with them again, building those key relationships and my reputation with them as someone who is friendly, approachable and has a can-do attitude.

We’re going to need to rebuild this market together. We’re in this at QR for the long haul just as are they because their businesses have suffered as have ours.

Obviously, the repatriation and essential business travel is everything at the moment. But as restrictions ease, we’ll be there with the trade to help them grow again.

So, as travel comes back, I want us to be there as a trusted partner. I want QR to be hand in hand with them building that business back together.

That’s what I’ve enjoyed doing for many years and I just can’t wait to get back out there again.