Sunday, 15 December 2013

Personalisation: Making a difference

Full article in JPG format:
page 48/49 & page 50

“The shape of things to come”, proclaimed Imperial Airways, the colonial precursor to British Airways, in a 1936 advertisement for Short Empire Flying Boats. Its notice featured an artist’s impression of stately travellers boarding one of the revolutionary aircraft, which were due to enter service the following year.

Imperial’s four-engine, double-decker Flying Boats had sleeping accommodation for 16 passengers, with cabin interiors comprising three large saloons, one kitchen and one ever-essential smoking room. On day-time flights, its capacity stretched to 24.

Having handled just 8,012 passengers in 1936/37, the airline’s idealistic vision of the future may have seemed reasonable at the time. Fast forward seven decades, however, to an age when 3 billion travelers take to the skies each year, and its prophecy of airborne luxury is hard to reconcile with modern-day reality...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

In the driving seat

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page 20/21 & page 22

As if any proof were needed that the Gulf’s airlines have become the driving force behind global civil aviation, last month’s Dubai Air Show reaffirmed their dominance in spectacular fashion. Collectively, Dubai’s Emirates Airline, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways placed orders for $150 billion of aircraft. Emirates was the biggest spender, splashing out on 150 next-generation Boeing 777Xs – due to enter service around the end of the decade – as well as another 50 double-decker Airbus A380s.

In fairness, many of the aircraft will eventually be deployed as replacement units, allowing older, less fuel-efficient models to be withdrawn from service. The 777X promises to burn 20% less fuel than the current-generation 777, notching up a major cost saving for its operators. But the continuance of year-on-year mega orders in the Gulf underscores how Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are slowly becoming the centrepiece of global aviation...

Friday, 22 November 2013

Thinking big by buying small

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At this week’s Dubai Air Show, sales of $150 billion of aircraft to the big three Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways) overshadowed a more intriguing development. Standing by its well-established reputation for snapping up airline stakes, Etihad—the Abu Dhabi-based flag-carrier of the UAE—paid an unknown sum for 33.3% of Darwin Airline, a carrier serving Europe’s beleaguered regional market. Etihad already owns chunks of Air Berlin, Virgin Australia, Air Seychelles, Ireland’s Aer Lingus and India’s Jet Airways, and is working to buy a stake in Air Serbia. Investing in a tiny carrier that deploys 50-seat aircraft may seem insignificant compared with these bulkier partnerships, but Etihad's chief executive, James Hogan, calls it a “step-change” in his airline’s strategy...

Friday, 15 November 2013

Interview: Tewolde Gebremariam, Ethiopian Airlines CEO

Full article in JPG format: page 18/19, page 20 & cover

Having grown its revenue 700% since 2005, you might presume that Ethiopian Airlines will enter a period of consolidation over the coming years. But you would be wrong. The flag carrier is planning to expand another fivefold by 2025, doubling its fleet in the process and establishing a network of hubs across the continent.

“If you divide the history of the airline into two, you can speak of the last seven years and the previous 60 years,” chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam tells Routes News. “Back in 2004/05, we saw that the opportunities for expansion were limitless, based on our geographical location and the high-growth regions we serve … Our mantra and strategy has been fast, profitable and sustainable growth...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Jetihad: Family fortunes

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page 25 & page 26/27

In October, after six months of wrangling, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways secured the approval of India’s cabinet to acquire 24% of Mumbai-based Jet Airways. The $379 million deal was made possible by a decision to relax foreign ownership restrictions last year, but the country’s regulatory bodies put up fierce resistance before giving the final go-ahead. India’s second largest carrier now joins the growing family of airlines part-owned – and indisputably part-controlled – by Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier.

The partnership should be exceptionally lucrative for both sides. Once fully consummated, it will see Etihad’s reach in India expand from nine to 26 cities. That will give the Gulf carrier a foothold in one of the world’s fastest growing aviation markets, which already handles 150 million passengers a year...

Interview: Marwan Boodai, Jazeera Airways Chairman

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When Jazeera Airways posted an annual loss of KD8.2 million ($28.4 million) in 2009, the outlook appeared bleak for Kuwait’s fledging private aviation sector.

The emirate’s much-vaunted liberalisation drive had now produced two struggling private carriers – also including Wataniya Airways, which was months away from bankruptcy – and flag carrier Kuwait Airways continued its two-decade-long run of almost uninterrupted annual losses.

For Jazeera chairman Marwan Boodai, however, the finger of blame was pointing squarely outside of Kuwait. He believed that larger regional competitors were dumping capacity in the emirate in order to re-route traffic through their own hubs. The success of Jazeera’s subsequent turnaround plan appears to have validated that judgement...

Interview: Paul Griffiths, Dubai Airports CEO

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Dubai World Central will be the world’s largest airport when it is completed in the mid-2020s. But Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths tells Martin Rivers that the future aerotropolis is about much more than scale.

When Concourse A opened at Dubai International Airport (DXB) in January 2013, the benefits of travelling through the purpose-built Airbus A380 facility were immediately apparent to passengers. As well as allowing Business and First Class customers to board aircraft direct from their lounges, the 11-floor concourse features two hotels and 11,000 sq m of retail space. It has cemented DXB's status as the world's foremost A380 hub, with the airport handling 7,259 of the double-decker flights last year...

Interview: Thierry Antinori, Emirates CCO

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Few people familiar with the history of Emirates Airline will have been surprised by news that the Dubai flag-carrier plans to more than double its US network over the next five years.

For an airline that receives an average of one Airbus A380 each month – not to mention its growing fleet of Boeing 777-300s – expansion has become the norm. Emirates today serves 135 destinations across 77 countries, with its steady stream of route launches most recently including Angeles in the Philippines, Conakry in Guinea and Sialkot in Pakistan.

But growth of the network only tells part of the story. As Emirates gears up for its widely-expected 777X order at the Dubai Air Show in November, chief commercial officer Thierry Antinori is turning his focus to in-flight enhancements tailored for this new breed of wide-body aircraft...

Interview: Ghaith Al Ghaith, FlyDubai CEO

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FlyDubai took an unexpected turn in June when it unveiled a new Business Class product. Chief executive Ghaith Al Ghaith tells Martin Rivers why the low-cost carrier is going down the premium path.

The first FlyDubai service offering Business Class took off for the Ukrainian capital Kiev on 8 October, sporting 12 premium seats finished in Italian leather and with a generous seat pitch of 42 inches. By the end of 2013, the number of destinations benefiting from the two-cabin configuration will have risen to 27...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Mr O'Leary takes to Twitter

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A lot can change in three months. In mid-July I spoke to Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier. He said that Ryanair deliberately “tortures” its passengers when they check in bags; that the airline industry is populated by a bunch of “losers” and “lemmings”; and that Ryanair’s ideal customer is someone with “a pulse and a credit card”. Standard fare, then, for the industry’s most-outspoken boss. But then last month Ryanair issued an unexpected profit warning, and Mr O’Leary grudgingly told shareholders that he will stop “unnecessarily pissing people off”...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Frequent flyers: Building custom

Full article in JPG format: page 46/47, page 49 & page 50

A recent survey of 2,500 passengers by Deloitte, the financial advisory firm, found that 72 per cent of high-frequency business travellers participate in more than one airline loyalty programme. Few people will be surprised by that statistic. But it underscores how airlines – which already operate the most complex loyalty schemes of any sector – must continue innovating their frequent flyer programmes (FFP) to incentivise repeat custom.

Texas International Airlines launched what is widely regarded as the first modern FFP in 1979. It was followed two years later by the more advanced American Airlines AAdvantage and United Airlines MileagePlus programmes. Both schemes are still operated today, but their breadth and scope has changed profoundly over the past two decades...

Interview: Philippe Moreels, Czech Airlines CEO

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Late last year, CSA Czech Airlines was among the scores of central and eastern European carriers desperately seeking the lifeline of foreign direct investment. Miroslav Dvorak, chief executive of parent company Czech Aeroholding, told local press there was a 70% chance the airline would fail in its hunt for a strategic investor. Comparisons with Malev, Hungary's collapsed flag carrier, abounded.

But in March, Korean Air made good on an early expression of interest and agreed to purchase 44% of CSA. The loss-making Czech flag carrier has since re-entered the long-haul market with an Airbus A330 leased from its new partner. While growth is not on the agenda for now – CSA halved its fleet over the past three years under a restructuring programme – chief executive Philippe Moreels believes the airline has re-defined its "strategic raison d'être" and secured its long-term future...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Married to the job

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The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), a grouping of trade unions representing 4.5m transport employees around the world, was never going to be Qatar’s biggest fan. Unions are banned in the ultra-rich Gulf state, where expatriates account for 94% of the total work force. Little wonder, then, that one disgruntled cabin-crew member at Qatar Airways chose to share her employment contract with the ITF. The federation duly pounced on the document’s more contentious clauses, and alleged “flagrant abuses” of workers’ rights. It cited one passage that requires employees to “obtain prior permission” from Qatar Airways if they wish to get married. Another clause says the employee can be fired if she becomes pregnant...

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Turkish Airlines moves on the Gulf

Full article in PDF format: page 46-51 & cover

Few dispute that Qatar Airways’ expansion rate since launching in 1994 has been exceptional. Its 125-aircraft fleet now serves 130 destinations across the globe, with an average of one new route being launched every month. Orders for another $50 billion worth of aircraft will ensure growth for years to come.

Together with Dubai’s Emirates and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, Doha’s flag carrier has brought the Middle East to the forefront of global aviation. But the big three Gulf airlines are not the only players seeking to re-align traffic away from legacy hubs in western Europe. Turkish Airlines (THY) is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with, and it is echoing many of the strategies successfully deployed in Qatar and the UAE...

Interview: Tony Tyler, IATA Director General

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The European Union's blacklist of foreign carriers lacks transparency and is yet another example of Brussels making up its own rules instead of pursuing international standards, IATA director general Tony Tyler has told African Aerospace.

"What they should be doing – like everybody else in the world – is going with what [the United Nations' aviation agency] ICAO does, which is a global standard," he said. "ICAO does its own inspections of the regulatory authorities and helps them lift their game where necessary. But Europe is going off on its own again, as it seems to love doing in this industry."

IATA has previously criticised the EU for unilaterally imposing its Emissions Trading System (ETS) – a climate change levy that was partly suspended last year amid warnings that it could trigger a global trade war...

Interview: Innocent Mavhunga, Air Zimbabwe Acting CEO

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Air Zimbabwe has returned to the skies following a successful IOSA safety audit and the signing of new aircraft leases, but the glory days of Air Rhodesia are unlikely to return soon. Martin Rivers speaks to acting CEO Innocent Mavhunga.

Although Zimbabwe's GDP per capita remains the second lowest in the world, the decision to abandon its local currency in 2009 brought a welcome end to hyperinflation. Economic growth has averaged 7.5% since dollarisation, and amid slow but steady progress the Government is focussing again on its ailing flag-carrier...

A fresh approach in Kuwait

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page 43 & page 44/45

The contrasting fortunes of Kuwait’s two airlines could hardly be starker. Jazeera Airways, a privately owned low-cost carrier founded in 2005, has been profitable in all but two years. Kuwait Airways, the state-owned flag carrier, has not posted a profit once in the last decade. In the past five years alone, it racked up losses of KD462 million ($1.6 billion).

Despite this, Jazeera chairman Marwan Boodai believes there are “green shoots” in Kuwait’s inefficient flag carrier. He says liberalisation of the domestic market eight years ago proved that the private sector is best placed to run airlines – and he is willing to put his money where his mouth is...

Friday, 20 September 2013

Caviar-free flying

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In many parts of the world, low-cost carriers are synonymous with no-frills flying. The liberalisation of the world's more mature aviation markets has resulted in intense competition on short-haul sectors, prompting cost-conscious airlines to strip out all but the most essential services. In America, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 paved the way for budget carriers like Southwest to gain market share. In Europe, the phased introduction of open skies during the 1990s allowed a tiny Irish company called Ryanair to become the continent’s most recognisable airline. Other regions, however, have not been so lucky. The Middle East has yet to tear down its aviation regulations, so its new breed of low-cost carriers has developed a less Spartan ethos...

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Czech mates

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In an industry dogged by tight operating margins and volatile cost structures, "strength in numbers" is the mantra du jour. Large airlines have fortified themselves with a series of grand mergers, strategic partnerships and alliances over the past two decades. But big is not always better. Tasked with finding a European partner to redistribute its connecting passengers, Korean Air has opted for the diminutive charms of Czech CSA Airlines. The South Korean flag-carrier bought 44% of its Czech counterpart in July, lifting frequencies on the Seoul-Prague route and introducing onward codeshares at both ends...

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Emirates' love affair with London

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page 25 & page 26/27

When Emirates Airline, the flag carrier of Dubai, launched its new flight simulator attraction in the British capital this summer, airline president Tim Clark and London Mayor Boris Johnson stood shoulder to shoulder in praising the £4 million ($6.2 million) investment.

Clark said the Emirates Aviation Experience, which includes two Airbus A380 and two Boeing 777 simulators, should go "some way in demonstrating just how dedicated we are to this captivating city". Boris, deploying his trademark patter, called the east London attraction a "veritable Aladdin's cave of technological wizardry and gizmos that will give … a real insight into the wonders of flying".

The two men had every reason to be cordial – Emirates gains brand exposure with the facility, while London gains another world-class attraction – but it was not long before Clark broached more contentious issues. Unlike Boris, he supports expansion of London's capacity-constrained Heathrow Airport, and he was happy to explain his stance to the assembled journalists...

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Interview: Olga Pleshakova, Transaero CEO

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It should come as no surprise that Transaero's new base at Moscow Vnukovo Airport – which opened just last year – has already given rise to a strategic partnership with the gateway's other home carrier, UTair Aviation. The second and third largest airlines in Russia make a good strategic fit. Transaero's predominantly widebody fleet focusses on long-haul destinations overseas and in the Russian Far East, while UTair's majority narrowbody metal is mainly put to work in the country's vast territories and eastern Europe.

But for Transaero chief executive Olga Pleshakova, who has been at the helm since 2001, there is much work to be done before the true potential of Russia's aviation market can be unlocked...

Interview: Igor Petrov, UTair CFO

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Few airlines around the world can claim to have as diverse a fleet and range of operations as UTair Aviation. Even setting aside its numerous rotorcraft divisions – which deploy more than 350 helicopters from bases as far afield as Siberia, South Africa and India – the carrier's fixed-wing businesses encompass a dizzying array of aircraft, comprising Boeing, Airbus, ATR, Bombardier, Tupolev, Antonov, Yakovlev, LET and Gulfstream types.

Alongside the mainline UTair Aviation fleet, the group's operations centre on regional divisions UTair Express and Katekavia; freight specialist UTair Cargo; and UTair Ukraine. Fleet homogeneity will never be a goal for the airline – its subsidiaries contend with a multitude of different airports, climates and operating environments – but chief financial officer Igor Petrov insists that work is under way to streamline the fleet...

Interview: Vitaly Vantsev, Moscow Vnukovo Airport Chairman

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The opening of Mocow Vnukovo Airport's Terminal A in December 2012 was the latest, and perhaps most significant milestone in the gateway's 2015 Master Plan. The new domestic and international terminal has total floor space of 270,000 sq m, comprising 52 boarding gates and 31 contact stands. Three of the jetways are configured for the Boeing 747 – favoured by home carrier Transaero – including one which can also handle the Airbus A380.

Together with Terminal B, which caters for international charter and low-cost flights, the Vnukovo-1 mainline terminal cluster has a total capacity of 15 million passengers per year. That is comfortably above the 9.7 million customers it served in 2012, but Vnukovo chairman Vitaly Vantsev says further expansion is on the horizon. "Over the next five to ten years, we expect to have throughput capacity of about 20 million passengers per year," he predicts....

Risk-on at Aeroflot

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The largest airline in Russia by every metric, Aeroflot has the most to gain or lose from changing fortunes in the country's aviation industry. The flag carrier has consciously put itself at the forefront of all sectors – acquiring regional subsidiaries, planning a low-cost offshoot, and championing Russian-made aircraft. It is a strategy that could pay off handsomely, but also exposes the state-owned airline to heavy downside risk.

The decision to acquire controlling stakes in six regional operators in 2010 – Rossiya, Orenair, Kavminvodyavia, Saravia, Vladivostok Avia and SAT Airlines – brought Aeroflot's domestic market share above 33%. Kavminvodyavia has since been closed, while Saravia was re-sold in 2011. Vladivostok Avia and SAT Airlines are now being merged under a new brand for the Russian Far East. Aeroflot also owns Donavia, which serves southern Russia from its base in Rostov-on-Don...

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Interview: Michael O'Leary, Ryanair CEO

O'Leary maps out growth plans

Ryanair's expanding fleet of Boeing 737-800s will mainly be put to work restoring capacity in European markets whose home carriers are faltering, chief executive Michael O'Leary tells Routes News, though he adds that talks are ongoing with several countries on the peripheries of the continent.

"The big growth for us in the next five years will be taking more of the traffic from airlines that will be imploding, like SAS, Iberia, Alitalia, and the central European airlines," O'Leary says. The low-cost carrier ordered 175 737-800s at the 2013 Paris Air Show, with 70 aircraft slated for expansion and 105 due to replace older units in the fleet.

Interview: Cathal O'Connell, BMI Regional CEO

Full article in JPG format: page 22/23, page 24 & page 26

When International Airlines Group (IAG) acquired rival British carrier BMI in 2012, CEO Willie Walsh was unequivocal that he had no interest in retaining its two loss-making subsidiaries. That meant the end of the road for bmibaby, the airline's troubled low-cost unit. But BMI Regional lived on after a £8 million buyout by Sector Aviation Holdings, an Aberdeen-based consortium funded by aviation entrepreneurs Stephen and Peter Bond.

Alongside chairman Ian Woodley and chief operating officer Graeme Ross – the founders of BMI Regional's precursor, Business Air – CEO Cathal O'Connell is leading the charge to re-define BMI Regional in the absence of its former Star Alliance partners. In doing so he is exploring new paradigms for Europe's beleaguered regional airlines, whose smaller fleets have been hardest hit by the rampant fuel price hikes of the past decade...

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Interview: Farhad Parvaresh, Iran Air Chairman

Full article in PDF format: page 18-22 & cover

Although all flag carriers are to some extent entwined with the vagaries and fortunes of their home government, few will have their course through history as profoundly and irrevocably altered as Iran Air.

From its founding as Iranian Airways in 1946 up until its rapid expansion in the 1970s, the airline was considered an early success story for Gulf aviation. It became one of the first carriers to operate the Boeing 747SP – deploying it on daily nonstop flights from Tehran to New York – and had even placed an order for two supersonic Concordes.

But halfway through its history, the 1979 Islamic Revolution completely reconfigured Iran's standing on the international stage. Iran Air came to be seen as a dangerous wing of a hostile government by America, and its route network began contracting in tandem with its list of overseas partners...

Interview: Ahmed Alwani, Yemenia Chairman

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The final report into the June 2009 crash of Yemenia Flight 626 off the Comoros Islands surprised no-one when it was completed this summer. Chief investigator Bourhane Ahmed Bourhane said that "inappropriate action by the crew" during "an un-stabilised manoeuvre" resulted in the A310 stalling. Though pilot error was ultimately to blame, the report acknowledged that concurrent alarms within the cockpit had created a "stressful situation" for the crew of the night-time flight.

The joint probe by Comorian, Yemeni and French investigators – dozens of the 152 fatalities were French – brings to an end the darkest chapter in Yemenia's history, which stretches back more than six decades. However, it is unlikely to usher in any sweeping changes at the flag carrier...

South Africa's crash landing

Full article in JPG format: page 68/69 & page 70

Constant bickering between incumbent and future operators in South Africa underscores how its aviation sector – though by far the most developed on the continent – remains beset by problems. Ten of the 11 independent airlines created since market deregulation in 1991 have collapsed, most recently including 1time and Velvet Sky.

The tense atmosphere has begun spilling over into the country's courts. Private operator Comair is now challenging the 5 billion rand ($490 million) government guarantee afforded to flag carrier South African Airways (SAA). "We just have to wait for a court date," chief executive Erik Venter says when asked about his next move. He believes that state support enables SAA to under-cut fair market ticket prices, driving private carriers out of business...

Interview: Basma Majali, Royal Jordanian Airlines Acting VP Commercial

Full article in JPG format:
page 20/21 & page 22

Few companies were worse affected by the Arab Spring that those in the region's tourism and travel sector. Although protests on the streets of Amman reached neither the scale nor the ferocity seen in neighbouring countries, Royal Jordanian Airlines plunged to a record annual loss of 57.9 million dinar ($82 million) in 2011. The alarming result prompted former chief executive Hussein Dabbas to call for downsizing and even a strategic merger.

The airline's subsequent move into the black in 2012 – albeit on a razor-thin margin of 0.14 per cent – raised expectations that it was emerging from the difficulties. But with civil war across the border in Syria now in its third year, the flag carrier is coming to terms with the uncomfortable reality that tourists could stay away for many years to come...

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Iranian sanctions: Winging it

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Regular travellers to Iran would have had some doubts about a report last month on Press TV, a state-run English-language news channel, which claimed that direct flights to America were set to be launched. Press TV quoted another Iranian outlet as saying that Iran Air and Delta Air Lines would restore services between the two countries for the first time in three decades. But it was patently ridiculous. The American government has vigorously enforced sanctions against Iran Air since the mid-1990s, and it actively pursues any US-linked companies suspected of co-operating with the flag-carrier.

Quite why the Iranian government disseminated the report is unclear. Optimists might speculate that some officials in Tehran—perhaps buoyed by the election of Hasan Rohani, the relatively reformist new president—wanted to send a message of rapprochement to Washington. Cynics might point out that the report surfaced a week before the 25th anniversary of the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 by an American warship, with the loss of 290 civilian lives...

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

SkyTeam and the world of tomorrow

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Summer has not been kind to SkyTeam, one of the three big airline alliances, which has suffered two very public snubs by incumbent and prospective members. In late June Craig Kreeger, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said that his carrier's much-mooted membership of SkyTeam was unlikely to materialise any time soon. "For now, Virgin Atlantic remains very happy with the partners we have," he said, in reference to Virgin’s recent transatlantic tie-up with US-based Delta Air Lines. Less than a week later Reuters quoted a "source close to [Aeroflot's] board" as saying that the Russian carrier would leave SkyTeam if its management could do so without political interference...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Interview: Erik Venter, Comair CEO

Comair to switch 737 options to Max

Comair is likely to renegotiate at least some of its eight Boeing 737-800 options into Max commitments, says chief executive Erik Venter says, as the airline begins planning for its next tranche of deliveries.

The carrier - which operates the British Airways and Kulula brands in South Africa - has a fleet of nine -800s, 10 -400s and seven -300s.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Interview: Nico Bezuidenhout, South African Airways Acting CEO

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When Nico Bezuidenhout stepped down as interim CEO at South African Airways (SAA) on 1 June, he handed successor Monwabisi Kalawe the daunting task of executing a 20-year turnaround strategy at the troubled flag carrier. Martin Rivers investigates whether SAA is at long last embarking on the path to profitability.

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, SAA's shareholder, has voiced strong optimism that Kalawe will "hit the ground running" in his new role, despite lacking any experience in the airline industry.

The new man takes over the helm from Bezuidenhout, an experienced industry executive who co-hosted the IATA AGM in Cape Town this June and now returns to his role as CEO of Mango, SAA's low-cost subsidiary. Kalawe's immediate priority will be implementing the turnaround plan – drafted collaboratively by Bezuidenhout and Gigaba – which aims to lessen the carrier's reliance on state support...

Interview: Theo Namases, Air Namibia CEO

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In late 2012, Air Namibia's very existence was brought into question by a wave of industrial action, leasing disputes and an increasingly impatient shareholder. Having successfully weathered the storm, chief executive Theo Namases is now plotting a course for calmer waters. Martin Rivers reports.

News that Air Namibia was trying to back out of a 12-year leasing agreement for two Airbus A330s sent shockwaves through the southern African nation last year, coming alongside repeated warnings from the government that its losses had become unsustainable. The wide-body jets had been billed as a key step towards turning around the airline's loss-making Frankfurt route, which is currently served by two fuel-inefficient A340s...

FastJet's turbulent winter

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Shares in FastJet halved in value over the course of two days in June, when auditor KPMG warned of "material uncertainty" about its ability to continue operating amid deepening losses. The Stelios Haji-Ioannou-backed carrier posted a net loss of $56 million across its FastJet and Fly540 brands during the 18 months to December 2012, prompting KPMG to warn that continued fundraising would almost certainly be required if the airline is to stay afloat.

But strong sales figures later that week coupled with continued progress in entering the South African market saw its share price immediately bounce back. Though the volatile stock was still 75% down on its January peak at the time of going to press, chief executive Ed Winter is confident the tide has begun to turn in Africa's fledgling low-cost carrier market...

Interview: François Bouteiller, Nas Air CEO

Full article in JPG format:
page 22/23 & page 24

François Bouteiller, the chief executive of Saudi Arabia's Nas Air, announced his resignation last month after just 17 months in the job. He follows in the footsteps of predecessor Simon Stewart – whose tenure lasted barely a few months longer – and will now be succeeded by Raja Azmi, the former chief financial officer of Air Asia.

Although Azmi doubtless hopes to retain the top job for a lengthier period, he can expect to face the same challenges which confounded his forbearers at the low-cost carrier. Saudi Arabia's duopolistic air transport market continues to be characterised by excessive fuel charges, a commercially disruptive domestic fare cap, and a cultural landscape that does little to advance much-needed reform...

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Southern Africa's local issues

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While financial turmoil at South African Airways often makes headlines in the sub-region, the Johannesburg-based flag carrier is far from the only troubled aviation asset in southern Africa. Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and others are also struggling to develop suitable air infrastructure to match their relatively niche economies.

“Most governments in southern Africa face a quandary. On the one hand their national carrier plays a vital role in boosting trade and tourism, and on the other the airlines constitute a drain on the national treasury,” explains Nick Fadugba, chief executive of African Aviation Services and a former secretary general of AFRAA...

Monday, 3 June 2013

Fastjet's South African adventure

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Fastjet, the pan-African low-cost carrier backed by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, will begin South African services in July with a Boeing 737-300 wet-leased from local operator Star Air Cargo. Division chief executive Kyle Haywood believes that the launch will restore price competition in a market dominated by two low-cost players – Comair’s Kulula brand, and South African Airways’ Mango subsidiary.

But the myriad legal difficulties Fastjet has endured since its November 2012 launch show no sign of abating, with Comair chief executive Erik Venter already hinting that his new rival’s corporate structure may fall foul of South African law...

Sunday, 2 June 2013

SAA's state shackles

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State-owned South African Airways surprised no-one in May when it said it was borrowing 1.5 billion rand ($167 million) to cover its near-term operating costs. The loan, secured against last year's 5 billion rand government guarantee, will be used as working capital while the flag carrier implements its latest turnaround plan – the ninth such strategy put before its shareholder.

Scepticism about SAA's ability to turn the corner has been fuelled by a spate of management resignations and dismissals, with Monwabisi Kalawe due to become its fourth chief executive in less than a year. Although his interim predecessor, Nico Bezuidenhout, insists that "green shoots" are emerging following last year's 1.3 billion rand loss, the airline's chequered history and its status as an end-of-line carrier has left analysts reserving judgment...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Iraqi Airways back into the fold

Full article in JPG format:
page 24/25 & page 26/27

News that April was the bloodiest month in Iraq for almost five years has lent credibility to recent warnings that the country may be slipping back into civil war, fuelled by the Sunni Islamist insurgency across its north-western border with Syria. Some 595 civilians were killed violently in Iraq this April, the UN says, doubling the previous month's figure.

But that statistic, grim as it is, remains a world away from the nightmarish scenes at the height of the war in July 2006, when more than 3,200 deaths were recorded in a single month. The deterioration also comes as Iraq pushes through its 2013 budget, earmarking 138 trillion Iraqi dinar ($118.5 billion) of public spending. Though Kurdish lawmakers boycotted the session, Iraq's immense oil wealth is beginning to trickle down to ordinary citizens.

Amid the dichotomy of growing prosperity and deepening violence, flag carrier Iraqi Airways – which was grounded by sanctions throughout the 1990s – is doing its bit to bring Iraq back to the international fold...

The UAE and Canada re-engage

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Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Air Canada recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to begin selling tickets on each other's flights from the third quarter of this year. Etihad has more than 40 such codeshare agreements in place around the world, but its latest partnership – which follows a thawing of relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Canada – could be a milestone in the long-running battle between the Gulf carriers and their legacy counterparts, particularly those in the Star Alliance grouping of airlines.

Under the terms of the agreement, Etihad will place its code on Air Canada-operated flights between Toronto and unspecified destinations in North America. In return, Air Canada will put its code on Etihad's bilaterally constrained Abu Dhabi-Toronto trunk route, as well as its Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow service...

Friday, 31 May 2013

Life after Malev

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The collapse of Malev, Hungary's flag carrier, in February 2012 could have triggered a crisis at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International airport (pictured). The capital's main gateway lost 40% of its revenue and, without Malev's feeder network to bring them passengers, its two extant long-haul operators—American Airlines and Hainan Airlines—withdrew their respective services to New York and Beijing. As its connections disintegrated, Budapest started to look like a bellwether for the decline of European aviation. Yet it seems Hungary may actually have done well to lose Malev and set off down a new, less vainglorious, path...

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Interview: Bijan Mougouee, FlyGeorgia CEO

FlyGeorgia targets London route launch this year

FlyGeorgia is hopeful of launching flights to London as soon as this autumn, with either Luton or Stansted airport seen as the optimal UK gateway for the Georgian start-up carrier.

"We were planning for this summer, which didn't happen, so we have to postpone it until September onwards," chief executive Bijan Mougouee tells Flightglobal.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Interview: Kam Jandu, Budapest Airport Aviation Director

Budapest's new role in the shadow of Malev

Budapest Ferenc Liszt International airport lost almost 40% of its traffic overnight on 3 February 2012, when flag carrier Malev Hungarian Airlines succumbed to its growing debt pile and ceased operations. One year later, despite a high-profile spat with second-largest customer Ryanair, the Hungarian capital's airport has stemmed the decline in annual footfall to a mere 5%.

Describing that modest drop as a "fantastic outcome", Kam Jandu, Budapest airport's executive director of aviation, now expects flat passenger numbers of 8.5 million for 2013. He then forecasts an annual compound growth rate of 4% from next year onwards, targeting 10 million passengers by 2017.

Without a national carrier to provide feeder traffic, however, the airport has been forced to shift away from its former hub-and-spoke model. Instead, it is experimenting with what Wizz Air chief executive József Váradi describes as a "new paradigm" for the beleaguered European aviation market.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Interview: József Váradi, Wizz Air CEO

Wizz Air to double operations outside Europe by 2015

Wizz Air expects to double its operational presence outside of Europe over the next 12 to 18 months, chief executive József Váradi said in a media briefing at the Routes Europe conference in Budapest this week.

The Hungarian low-cost carrier (LCC) has spread its reach beyond European borders during the past year, announcing new services to Kutaisi in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan, Tel Aviv in Israel and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

It also operates subsidiary Wizz Air Ukraine at Kiev Zhuliany airport, where it has based three Airbus A320s.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Interview: Sergey Emdin, Pulkovo Airport DG

Full article in JPG format: page 32-33 & page 34

As the gateway to Russia's cultural capital, it is perhaps no surprise that Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg consistently posts double-digit growth in annual passenger numbers. Footfall at the airport grew by 16.1% last year to 11.2 million, and director general Sergey Emdin says he is confident that figure will reach 12.5 million in 2013.

But rapid year-on-year growth has placed renewed pressure on the hub to expand its facilities and improve passenger experience. Mindful of this, operator Northern Capital Gateway consortium – comprising Fraport (35.5%), VTB Bank (57.5%) and Copelouzos Group (7%) – has since April 2010 overseen a $1.2 billion modernisation project. The 30-year public-private partnership focusses on construction of a new international terminal, expansion of the apron areas, and development of a hotel and business centre...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Interview: Kyle Haywood, Fastjet South Africa CEO

Fastjet to launch in South Africa with wet-leased 737

Fastjet will enter the domestic South African market on 30 May with a Boeing 737-300 wet-leased from Star Air Cargo, division chief executive Kyle Haywood says, though no final decision has been taken about the future fleet.

The 1994-build aircraft (MSN 27346) is subject to a rolling six-month lease. It was formerly operated by defunct South African carrier Velvet Sky, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

I'll have what I ordered

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From this month Air Baltic, the Latvian flag-carrier, is allowing its passengers to choose from up to 20 meal items when booking their tickets. Pre-selecting an on-board meal is nothing new—American Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways are among the carriers extending that privilege to premium customers—but Air Baltic's approach is novel. Passengers drag-and-drop their preferred main course, salad, drink and dessert onto a digital airline tray. Their selection is then relayed to LSG SkyChefs, the in-flight caterer, which customises the actual tray as necessary before loading it onto the plane at Riga airport...

Iraq walking on air

Full article in PDF format: page 18-22 & cover

The resolution of a 23-year-old dispute between Iraq and Kuwait has opened the door for both countries to concentrate on reviving their ailing flag carriers. But while Kuwait's parliament is bogged down with political apathy towards its loss-making airline, Iraq is seizing the day with ambitious aircraft orders and diplomatic overtures across the Arab world and beyond.

Iraqi Airways director general Captain Saad Al-Khafaji struck a sanguine note as he outlined the role his carrier will play in bringing Iraq back to the international fold, speaking shortly after flights to London resumed in March. Though he made no attempt to downplay the difficulties Iraq has faced – both under Saddam Hussein, and in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion – he was overwhelmingly optimistic about the benefits that a well-funded, well-connected flag carrier can bring to its home nation.

"This is the new Iraq. We have a new political situation – democracy is ruling Iraq now," he told Arabian Aerospace. "We want to do our best to communicate with other countries, not with guns, but with brains. And we cannot communicate with other countries unless we meet, so Iraqi Airways is building bridges between the world and Iraq...