Monday, 21 December 2015

Don't blame Kuwait Airways for discrimination against Israelis

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Kuwait Airways has suspended flights between New York’s JFK Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport after the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) took umbrage at its longstanding policy of turning away Israeli passport-holders. The flag-carrier will still fly nonstop between New York and Kuwait – and will continue refusing Israelis on that service – but it has been forced to abandon connecting flights via the U.K. capital. The decision amounts to a legal victory for Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen who filed a discrimination complaint with the DoT in 2013 after being refused a ticket for the New York-London route...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Heathrow third runway: How democracy is killing the world's busiest hub

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Have you spotted the problem with my headline? London’s Heathrow Airport is no longer the world’s busiest hub for international traffic. Dubai International Airport (DXB) stole that title last year, handling 70 million passengers compared with Heathrow’s 68 million. DXB will eventually be replaced by an even larger Gulf mega-hub, Dubai South, with an annual capacity of 250 million people. Further East, China will have constructed 58 new airports by the end of the decade. Even North Korea opened a new one this year. In totalitarian societies, it seems, airport infrastructure projects are all the rage...

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Interview: József Váradi, Wizz Air CEO

Full article in PDF format: page 38-41 & cover

József Váradi, the founder and chief executive of Wizz Air, coined a new term for the aviation industry at last year's World Travel Market in London: "lazy low-cost".

His neologism drew a line between two types of low-cost carriers (LCCs): on the one hand, true LCCs that have an obsessive focus on cost-cutting and ancillary surcharges; on the other, "lazy" LCCs that allow legacy expenses to creep into their business models.

"Only Wizz and Ryanair are [true] low-cost," he told delegates at the industry conference. "The likes of EasyJet and Norwegian [Air Shuttle], we would call them 'lazy low-cost'."

Fast forward to this summer's World Low Cost Airlines Congress in London, and Váradi took to the stage in a more nuanced environment for the fast-paced LCC sector...

Made in the USA... by Airbus

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At some point in the middle of 2016, for the first time in history, an Airbus aircraft will roll off the production line on American soil.

JetBlue Airways is lined up to receive the first of the US-made jets, followed later in the year by American Airlines. Both carriers have ordered A321s, though Airbus's new $600 million facility in Mobile, Alabama – which opened amid much fanfare on 14 September – will also produce A319s and A320s. Its output is due to reach four aircraft per month by late 2017...

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Yamoussoukro Indecision

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Airline passengers in the West are spoiled. For all our complaining about poor customer service and stingy legroom—grumbles that Gulliver is only too happy to partake in—we live in the golden age of affordable, accessible flying. If Ireland's Ryanair wants to launch an obscure route between Latvia and Slovenia, it is free to do so. The need to schmooze foreign officials and navigate a forest of red tape has been systematically eroded by decades of pan-European liberalisation. In this fully deregulated environment, passengers reap the spoils with cheap airfares. Not so elsewhere in the world. Especially not so in Africa...

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Metrojet disaster reverberates worldwide

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Whatever doubts remained about the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 over the Sinai Peninsula were extinguished last month, when Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), told President Vladimir Putin in a televised meeting: "We can unequivocally say it was a terrorist act." A grim-faced Putin responded by pledging to "find and punish the perpetrators" of the atrocity, which killed 224 mostly Russian passengers and crew on 31 October.

Moscow had initially played down the possibility of a terrorism link, raising fears in the West that Putin might cover up the cause of the crash to deflect criticism of his military campaign in Syria. But as the body of evidence pointing to Islamic State (IS) involvement grew daily – comprising audio from the cockpit voice recorder, traces of explosives on the wreckage, intercepts of terrorist chatter, and claims of responsibility by IS – Russia shifted its narrative.

The Egyptian government now stands alone in denying evidence of an intentional act...

Interview: Edgardo Badiali, Libyan Wings CEO

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Libya witnessed a surge in commercial flights two years ago as expatriates and oil workers flocked to Tripoli, eager to contribute to – and profit from – the post-revolution recovery. With Muammar Gaddafi out of the way, hopes were high that the country would transition to a prosperous, peaceful democracy. Flag-carriers Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways picked up most of the surging traffic, competing with foreign airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways.

Passenger demand was so buoyant that, in November 2013, a group of local investors unveiled Libyan Wings, a start-up airline that planned to launch domestic, regional and intercontinental flights. The company paid deposits for three widebody Airbus A350s and four smaller A320neos...

Interview: Mohamed Guled, Somali Airlines CEO

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Somali Airlines seemed poised to make a triumphant return to the skies in November 2013, when a Boeing 737-400 painted in the flag-carrier's distinctive blue livery was photographed in the Hungarian capital Budapest. Somali government officials confirmed at the time that the national carrier, which ceased operations in 1991, was about to make a comeback.

Despite the encouraging signs, however, weeks gradually turned into months and the aircraft failed to make its much-anticipated debut in Mogadishu. It was subsequently purchased by Spain's Swiftair and converted into a freighter, dashing any hopes of the flag-carrier's imminent re-birth.

While the false-start was disheartening, Somali aviation experts continue to talk of resurrecting their cherished national icon. Mohamed Mohamud Guled, the airline's longstanding President and Chief Executive, is the man overseeing these efforts...

Somalia works to reclaim control of its skies

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The collapse of Somalia's central government in 1991 left the State unable to provide even the most basic services, so it should come as no surprise that the complex task of airspace management has long been handled by outsiders.

Controlling the safe movement of aircraft into, out of and over a country's skies is not merely a domestic affair. Events such as the July 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine underscore how foreigners can be gravely affected by sub-standard domestic protocols. Somalia, in particular, with its precarious security climate and long history of airborne catastrophes, is considered a high-risk country by commercial airlines.

Little wonder that since 1993 the United Nations (UN) has had overall responsibility for the country's skies...

Africa's cargo queen

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) put a smile on the faces of airline executives around the world this summer, when it forecast a record-breaking net profit of $29.3 billion for the industry in 2015.

A combination of robust economic growth, rising business confidence, and falling fuel prices has delivered a bumper year for airlines – even with uncertainty in cargo markets dampening the mood.

Yet when IATA's profit forecast is broken down by region, the disparities are stark. The industry group estimates that African carriers will scrape by with a collective net profit of just $100 million this year. Indeed, simply staying in the black may prove to be an achievement, with four of the continent's largest carriers – Kenya Airways, South African Airways, EgyptAir and Tunisair – haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate.

All the more remarkable, then, that Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's single biggest carrier by traffic and fleet size, managed to achieve a net profit of $175 million for the 2014/15 fiscal year...

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Interview: Henok Teferra, ASKY CEO

ASKY mulls Nigerian subsidiary in lieu of cabotage rights

West Africa's ASKY Airlines will consider setting up subsidiaries in large markets such as Nigeria if progress is not made in securing cabotage rights.

"The ideal is to have countries understand [the benefits of liberalisation] and create a single African market," chief executive Henok Teferra tells Flightglobal.

"But if that does not materialise, then there are other routes we would look at ... If we are not able to overcome these restrictions we have with traffic rights, we could establish for example an ASKY Nigeria so as to tap into the domestic market."

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Too far for comfort?

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WOW Air, an Icelandic low-cost carrier, will launch flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco next summer. The airline is the latest to bring the low-cost model to long-haul flying, as it tries to rekindle Reykjavik's historic role as a budget layover for flights between Europe and North America. WOW operated its first transatlantic flights this year, serving Boston and Washington Baltimore with a pair of narrow-body Airbus A321s. Having been profitable for the first nine months of 2015, Skuli Mogensen, the airline’s boss, says he has "proved the model works" and is now eager to scale up. WOW will also add two Canadian points, Toronto and Montreal, in spring 2016...

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Interview: Ken Choi, Jeju Air CEO

Full article in JPG format:
page 34/35 & page 36

Located on the doorstep of Asia's two largest economies – China to the west, and Japan to the east – South Korea's low-cost carriers (LCCs) are hardly short of opportunities for overseas route development.

That is just as well given their less-than-dynamic home market. Eight out of ten domestic flights in the country either depart from or land in the southern island of Jeju – the only major destination not catered for by South Korea's high-speed rail network, KTX, which is the preferred mode of transport for many.

But while the wider region is awash with attractive leisure and business destinations, capitalising on their potential is not always straightforward...

Cham Wings the last hope for Syrian expats

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Cham Wings is filling the void left by Syria's troubled flag-carrier but, as Martin Rivers reports, it could face the same obstacles to long-term viability.

Syria's Cham Wings has announced the addition of Oman and Sudan to its route network, as the Damascus-based carrier plays an increasingly prominent role in the local aviation sector amid declining fortunes at state-owned Syrian Arab Airlines.

Twice weekly flights to Muscat were launched on 3 September, and at the time of writing a once weekly service to Khartoum was scheduled to begin on 16 October...

Doha down under

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Qatar Airways will double the number of destinations it serves in Australia next year, adding flights to Sydney in March and Adelaide in May as it tries to narrow the advantage currently enjoyed by the UAE's flag-carriers on connecting flights between Australia and Europe.

The Doha-based airline was a relative latecomer to Australia when it entered the market in 2009, launching its inaugural service two years after Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways and 13 years after Dubai's Emirates Airline. As a consequence, its existing daily flights to Melbourne and Perth account for just 8% of seating capacity available between the Gulf and Australia...

Kenya Airways in freefall?

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Kenya Airways posted the worst financial result in the corporate history of its home nation this summer, when it announced a full-year loss of 25.7 billion shillings ($254 million). Management at the flag-carrier, which was privatised in 1996 but is still 29.8% owned by the government, now face an uphill struggle in convincing politicians and the public that they deserve another shot at commercial viability.

The sheer scale of the losses – eight times deeper than the previous year – has prompted soul-searching in a country where 46% of the population lives below the poverty line. A Senate Select Committee is now pouring over the disastrous result, with some MPs openly calling for criminal proceedings against airline bosses.

However, while the prima facie evidence points to a series of strategic blunders, parliament's investigation has yet to uphold any of the allegations of corruption that have been bandied around by the press. In truth, Kenya Airways' predicament is far from unique in African aviation, and its commercial fortunes are at least partly influenced by external factors beyond the control of management...

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Qatar Airways begrudgingly moves with the times

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Given that trade unions are banned in Qatar, it should come as no surprise that the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has never been the strongest supporter of Qatar Airways. The two sides have been at loggerheads since 2013, when the ITF obtained copies of an employment contract for the airline's cabin crew. It was not impressed. Clauses prohibiting staff from getting married or falling pregnant proved particularly irksome, as did wider reports of overbearing treatment. Two years on, the global union federation is stepping up its campaign by calling on Barcelona Football Club not to renew its €150m ($165m) sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways...

Monday, 26 October 2015

Out of the ashes, a new Libyan airline takes flight

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Risk-averse entrepreneurs look away now.

In the notoriously volatile airline industry, even well-established operators are never more than a few months from bankruptcy. The threat is compounded tenfold for start-ups – and is incalculably higher in a warzone.

Small wonder that Libyan Wings, the full-service airline unveiled after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, missed several planned launch dates.

Last year's near-total destruction of Tripoli International Airport, its planned home base, certainly didn't help matters. Nor did the wider unravelling of Libya's fractured political climate, with two rival governments claiming sovereignty in the country and an ugly franchise of Islamic State rampaging over contested territory.

But the airline's private investors have persevered, and under the stewardship of chief executive Edgardo Badiali Libyan Wings finally took to the skies in September...

Friday, 9 October 2015

Transaero pushed out into the cold

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Things don't look good for Transaero, Russia's second largest airline. Weighed down by estimated debts of 250 billion roubles ($4 billion), the privately-owned carrier had been pinning its hopes for survival on a reluctant takeover by Aeroflot, Russia's flag-carrier, which is majority owned by the government. That mega-merger, announced in September, seemed to offer a last-ditch alternative to insolvency. But Aeroflot has since walked away from the deal and two major lenders have now started bankruptcy proceedings. Winding the company up is considered "the only possible option", according to Alexey Ulyukaev, Russia’s economy minister. He blames "ineffective management" for its demise...

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Emboldened Flynas returns to growth

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Saudi Arabia’s Flynas is drafting a five-year expansion plan as the airline nears its first ever annual profit, gaining momentum from a strong Hajj season and the simplification of its business model.

Chief executive Paul Byrne – who was appointed last year after the failure of an ambitious long-haul expansion program – says he expects September to be the ninth consecutive month of profitability.

That marks a dramatic turnaround for a company that has been consistently loss-making since launching nearly a decade ago.

“We took care of what was losing money, and we just kept doing what was making money,” Byrne tells Al Arabiya. “The difficulty in our business is not being tempted to do something strange and wonderful. It does take a lot of discipline internally – to keep people focused on saving costs, getting the flight out on-time, getting the pricing right...

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Interview: Phee Teik Yeoh, Vistara CEO

Full article in JPG format:
page 18/19, page 21 & cover

Having been flying for less than a year, Vistara, the full-service carrier jointly owned by Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Mumbai-based TATA Group, is a veritable minnow in the fiercely competitive Indian aviation market.

Despite ramping up operations quickly since its inaugural flight on 9 January, Vistara provides a mere 1.5% of seats in the vast domestic sector.

Its international market share currently stands at zero, much to the annoyance of chief executive Phee Teik Yeoh, and will likely remain there for some time owing to India's controversial 5/20 rule – a regulation that blocks local carriers from overseas routes until they complete five years of operations and deploy at least 20 aircraft...

Interview: René Décurey, Air Côte d'Ivoire CEO

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West African aviation was dealt a heavy blow in 2002, when Air Afrique ceased operations and the sub-region lost its only transnational carrier.

Based in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan, the pan-African airline had been launched in 1961 as a joint venture between two French airlines: flag-carrier Air France and the now-defunct Union Aeromaritime de Transport (UAT). Two-thirds of Air Afrique's capital was held by an alliance of West African states, ensuring strong political support across the sub-region.

Following its demise, regional powerbrokers came together again in 2004 under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to establish a successor. Their efforts delivered ASKY Airlines, the Togo-based carrier part-owned by Ethiopian Airlines.

Air France and Abidjan may, perhaps, have felt sidelined by the move, but they would not be out of the picture for long...

Interview: Frank Legré, Air France SVP Africa

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As one of the largest and best-known airlines in the world, it was no surprise that Air France pulled out all the stops when unveiling its cabin upgrades last year.

The French flag-carrier introduced its new First, Business and Economy class products at four stations across the global network: Paris, of course, was a no-brainer; so too was America's financial hub, New York; likewise, perhaps, for the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai – but the fourth destination left many observers scratching their heads.

Libreville, the capital of the West African nation of Gabon, rarely finds itself bunched together with the New Yorks and Parises of the world. Yet it was this city of less than 800,000 people that rounded off the quartet...

Interview: Muneer Bankole, Med-View Airline CEO

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Less than a decade after starting life as a charter operator for the Hajj pilgrimage, Nigeria's Med-View Airline is building up its scheduled network across West Africa while looking for expansion opportunities beyond the sub-region.

"We are moving gradually in the next 12 months to make additional inroads into four new destinations: Abidjan [in Côte d’Ivoire], Conakry [in Guinea], Dakar [in Senegal] and probably Liberia," chief executive Muneer Bankole said during the IATA AGM in Miami in June.

The addition of several regional points will be a major leap for the Lagos-based carrier, which presently deploys five Boeing 737 Classics on scheduled services to four domestic cities (Abuja, Port Harcourt, Yola and Enugu) plus Accra in Ghana...

Interview: Rene Gsponer, Air Namibia Acting CEO

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"We know the low-cost carriers will come. It's just a matter of when," Rene Gsponer, Air Namibia's acting managing director, said in a stone-faced interview at the IATA AGM in Miami. "But we are ready for them – much more than we were two years ago."

A Swiss national, Gsponer landed the job of chief operating officer and accountable manager at Air Namibia in October 2013, following a lengthy stint as one of IATA's senior consultants.

His appointment came in the midst of a painful restructuring period at the Namibian carrier, whose government owner was rapidly losing patience with the parastatal for its heavy financial losses. After commissioning IATA to develop an urgent turnaround strategy, the airline's board was so impressed by Gsponer that it put him in charge of executing what had now become a do-or-die plan.

It took just one year for the consultant-turned-manager's vision to bear fruit, with Air Namibia announcing four consecutive months of profit in November 2014 for the first time in its history...

Interview: Adrian Hamilton-Manns, FlyAfrica CEO

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Just one year into operations, pan-African low-cost carrier FlyAfrica is making good on its ambitious growth plans by launching a new subsidiary in Namibia and securing political backing for a third offshoot in Gabon.

The airline group, which began flying from Zimbabwe in July 2014, is headed by chief executive Adrian Hamilton-Manns and part-owned by South African arms dealer Ivor Ichikowitz. Its business model involves setting up franchises across Africa through joint-venture agreements with local partners.

But despite spreading its wings faster than London-listed competitor FastJet – which first exported the European low-cost model to Africa in 2012 – the group has not been immune to the continent's regulatory headwinds...

Cape expectations

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Long-running management turmoil at South African Airways (SAA) took another twist in August, when human resources boss Thuli Mpshe became the latest person to head up the lossmaking flag-carrier in an acting capacity.

Mpshe took over the reins from Nico Bezuidenhout, the boss of SAA's low-cost subsidiary Mango, who has twice been called on to steady the ship after full-time appointees fell from grace.

His immediate predecessor, Monwabisi Kalawe, got the chop after apparently stepping on the wrong side of powerful chairperson Dudu Myeni.

Amid endless reports of boardroom bust-ups and personal feuds, Bezuidenhout succeeded during his brief tenure in executing SAA's emergency 90-day action plan and resurrecting the stalled long-term turnaround strategy...

A case of self-interest

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The chief executives of American Airlines and Delta Air Lines met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in September, stepping up efforts to convince Washington that the fast-expanding Gulf carriers pose an existential threat to the US airline industry.

Banding together with United Airlines and several trade unions under the so-called Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, they accuse Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways of receiving $42 billion in state subsidies over the past decade.

The alleged handouts – documented in a 55-page dossier released by the US lobbyists in March – may contravene the terms of the Open Skies agreements that America has signed with the UAE and Qatar. Those bilateral treaties allow the Gulf carriers to launch unlimited flights to the US mainland, but only if they operate on a commercial basis free from government support...

UAE carriers playing the field

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Even for aviation pundits well accustomed to the extravagance of the Gulf carriers, last summer's unveiling of the 'Residence' – an ultra-luxurious First Class product developed by Etihad Airways, the flag-carrier of Abu Dhabi – caught many in the industry by surprise.

Nestled in the nose of Etihad's double-decker Airbus A380s, the Residence comprises a living room, bathroom and double bedroom spread across 125 square feet of airborne real-estate. Passengers who stump up the $32,000 price tag for a one-way flight to New York are accompanied on their journey by a Savoy-trained butler and a personal chef. Nine smaller 'Apartments' fill out the remainder of the vast First Class cabin on Etihad's A380s.

While gawking at the sheer opulence of the Residence, journalists attending its May 2014 launch were quick to raise questions about the commercial viability of the product. Could Etihad really justify sacrificing so many standard seats for one single, ultra-high-yield customer? Would the super-rich clientele being targeted not simply prefer to charter a private jet?

Those questions – still unanswered today, owing to the lack of transparency in Etihad's financial reporting – lie at the heart of the seemingly endless controversy over Gulf-carrier business models...

Doha takes its own path

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In terms of overarching strategy, state-owned Qatar Airways has adopted the exact same business model as its neighbours in the UAE. Just like Dubai's Emirates Airline and Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, the Doha-based carrier uses a central hub as a bridging point to connect passengers between overseas destinations.

Qatar's geography at the crossroads of East and West unlocks a rising tide of intercontinental demand for the airline, while its government's deep pockets ensure that funding for infrastructure never runs dry. A nationwide ban on trade unions also helps to keep the workforce in check.

Dig a little deeper, however, and longstanding chief executive Akbar Al Baker is clearly stamping his own mark on the mega-hub model...

Monday, 21 September 2015

Modi's bumbling aviation boom

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India is the fastest-growing aviation market on the planet, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an industry trade group. No thanks to government. Having been elected last year on a pro-business reformist ticket, Narendra Modi, the prime minister, is back-pedalling on his administration's pledge to modernise the sector. After 15 months in power, opined one columnist, "reforms have moved at a pace it takes … to travel from Delhi to Hyderabad by foot, rather than by an airplane."...

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Security matters

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Given that nine of the world's 20 fastest growing economies are in Africa, it is hardly surprising that IATA predicts sustained annual growth of 5% for African airlines over the coming two decades.

The industry group's forecast may even be conservative. A separate report by Intervistas, an economic consultant, estimates that intra-African liberalisation in just 12 countries would rapidly unlock latent demand for 5 million new passenger journeys a year, more than doubling traffic in heavily protected markets like Angola and Algeria.

Yet rosy forecasts have been made about the continent before – and have generally been proven wrong...

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Iran plays catch-up in Gulf aviation boom

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The opening of a new air corridor between two neighboring countries rarely captures the attention of the world’s media. But when Emirates Airline launched flights from Dubai to Mashhad on 1 September, everyone knew the UAE flag-carrier was thinking about much more than its own bilateral links with Iran.

Air traffic between the two countries has been rising since long before July’s landmark nuclear agreement – a deal that promises to roll back decades of sanctions isolating the Iranian economy – and it’s not just UAE businesspeople and freight riding the wave...

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Interview: Stein Nilsen, Widerøe CEO

Full article in JPG format: page 14/15 & page 16

For an industry as financially perilous as the regional airline business, few operators can ever expect to match the track-record of Norway's Widerøe.

The 81-year-old regional carrier, Scandinavia's largest, has been consistently profitable for more than a decade – staying in the black through the September 11th 2001 attacks on America, the 2007 global financial downturn, and even the 2009 Eurozone debt crisis.

Newly appointed chief executive Stein Nilsen attributes its success to a mixture of timeworn expertise and high barriers to entry in the Norwegian marketplace...

Interview: Maunu Visuri, Nordic Regional Airlines CEO

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Flybe Finland was guaranteed a name-change this year following the departure of founding shareholder Flybe, but beyond rebranding the company as Nordic Regional Airlines – or NORRA for short – few strategic decisions have been taken by the Finnish regional carrier.

Managing director Maunu Visuri makes no bones about the uncertainty surrounding the company's future. Indeed, it is precisely this precarious state of affairs that motivated the new branding.

"We selected it because it actually works whatever we decide to do as an airline," Visuri tells Low Cost & Regional Airline Business. "Obviously we had to get away from the Flybe brand. We're Nordic, and we're regional, and we're an airline – so it works quite well!"...

Interview: Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand CEO

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

During his time in the Chicago office of Unilever, Christopher Luxon helped the consumer goods giant burn its way through "easily half a billion dollars" a year on US advertising and promotion.

His subsequent appointment as the chief executive of Air New Zealand in January 2013 came with a rather more modest budget, but what the flag-carrier lacks in spending power it easily makes up for in zany brand initiatives and out-of-the-box guerrilla campaigns.

"Marketing gets us punching above our weight and gets us being talked about. It positions our brand as something different," Luxon tells Asian Aviation...

Iraqi Airways cold shouldered by Europe

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Customers of Iraqi Airways were left stranded across Europe in August after the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rejected its request for a new operating permit on safety grounds. Despite being notified of the decision on 16 July, the flag-carrier did not inform its passengers and instead waited for national regulators to revoke their licences one-by-one over the following weeks.

With all pre-existing permits now nullified, Iraqi Airways is banned from deploying its own aircraft to the 28 member states of the European Union (EU) plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland...

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Cecil the lion: Airlines lighten their load

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Walter Palmer probably hollered with excitement when he pulled the trigger that killed Cecil, a 13-year-old Zimbabwean lion. A dentist from Minnesota, Dr Palmer is one the estimated 15,000 American tourists who visit Africa on hunting safaris each year. Their numbers may dwindle in 2016. Cecil, it turns out, was an illegal kill. His execution prompted a groundswell of revulsion around the globe, forcing Dr Palmer into hiding and reigniting the debate over trophy hunting. If social media voices are anything to go by, people don't much like the thought of rich whites travelling to Africa to kill things—licence or not. America's airlines, which have facilitated the trade for decades by allowing hunters to ship their trophies home, are taking note...

BA's throwaway runway

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Gulliver had to do a double take on Friday after reading that Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, the group that owns British Airways, now opposes expanding Heathrow Airport in London. "We did not ask for it and we do not want it," he said of the hub's proposed third runway (see map), which was endorsed by the Airports Commission this summer. Funny that, given that Mr Walsh last year told the Independent: "The case was already being made before I joined BA in 2005, but a lot of my time [as chief executive of the airline] was spent arguing for a third runway...

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Clear skies ahead for Iranian aviation

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"This is the end of 'Death to America'," gushed one Tehran-based analyst as he joined the throngs of Iranians celebrating in the streets of their capital city. Following 20 months of negotiations, and 36 years of diplomatic acrimony, Iran and six global powers put their differences behind them on the 14 July with the announcement of a landmark nuclear agreement. Though the talks centred on curtailing Iran's uranium-enrichment programme, their success promised so much more: a geopolitical re-birth for an international pariah state; a social awakening for 77 million Iranians; a commercial revolution for their $420-billion economy.

Jubilation on the Iranian street was tempered by more cautious reactions in the business community...

Jordan deal holds few fears for Air Arabia

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Air Arabia moved a step closer to regional domination in May, when Queen Alia International Airport in Amman became the low-cost group's fifth base of operations.

Group chief executive Adel Ali admits that 2015 is a risky time to launch a subsidiary in Jordan, which borders Syria to the north and Iraq to the east. Tourism flows to the country have been depressed ever since the Arab Spring uprisings, and there is little prospect of a sustained recovery while the so-called Islamic State (IS) lays siege to much of the Levant.

Yet with geopolitical unrest never far from the headlines in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Ali is less concerned about Air Arabia Jordan's near-term challenges than its future prospects...

Interview: Paul Gregorowitsch, Oman Air CEO

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In the deteriorating war of words between America and the Gulf countries over bilateral traffic rights, it is easy to forget that European capitals have long imposed ceilings on the number of flights that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways can operate to their airports.

The restrictions are not solely targeted at the 'big three' Gulf carriers. Even mid-sized operators such as Oman Air – which no-one seriously accuses of capacity dumping – have had their wings clipped on the continent.

Oman's flag-carrier currently serves Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport four-time weekly from its home base of Muscat. Repeated attempts to make the route a daily service have been rebuffed on the French side, prompting chief executive Paul Gregorowitsch to say he feels "discriminated against" by closed-skies policies.

Europe, he argues, has adopted a misguided approach to civil aviation that rewards legacy incumbents while handicapping emerging players from the Gulf...

Interview: Mohamed Bouderbala, Air Algerie CEO

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Air Algerie is hoping to draw a line in the sand with the appointment of new chief executive Mohamed Bouderbala. Martin Rivers and Vincent Chappard look at the challenges facing Algeria's flag-carrier.

Mohamed Bouderbala takes to the helm of Air Algerie following a tumultuous period at the state-owned flag-carrier, which suffered its worst ever disaster in 2014 and is coming under increasing pressure at home to improve its service levels and reliability...

A watchful eye in the sky

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The official launch of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) in October 2009 put Europe at the cutting edge of satellite-augmentation technology, which improves the accuracy of Global Positioning System (GPS) data used by airlines around the world.

EGNOS is one of four Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBASs) that uses supplementary ground stations and transponders to sharpen existing satellite signals, reducing the margin of error from 17 metres on standard GPS receivers to about three metres. The other three SBASs are WAAS in America, MSAS in Japan and GAGAN in India.

For airlines in these regions, augmented GPS signals translate to more accurate flight-paths that reduce fuel burn and associated costs; enhanced access to airports with operational constraints; and – above all – improved safety throughout flight...

More tributaries for Nile Air

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Egypt’s Nile Air will add Iraq and Sudan to its growing network this summer as it makes good on a pledge to double its fleet size to four Airbus A320s.

The Al Tayyar Travel Group affiliate took delivery of a leased A320 from Aviation Capital Group in April, and at the time of writing was poised to receive a fourth unit from AerCap.

It has also resolved an outstanding purchase agreement with Airbus, opting to replace a stalled order for nine A321s with two A320s. That owned pair will be delivered in the first half of 2018...

Old rivals become brothers in arms

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Airspace over Somalia has been considered a no-go area by most foreign airlines for two decades, but progress on the security and political fronts is now prompting a surge in commercial flights.

Flydubai, the short-haul affiliate of Emirates Airline, became the latest international carrier to add Somalia to its network in March, when it launched a four-times weekly service to Hargeisa, the capital of the semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland. Ethiopian Airlines and Turkish Airlines launched services to Somaliland and Mogadishu respectively in 2012, gradually upping capacity with higher frequencies and larger planes as demand snowballed. Qatar Airways is among the major carriers now evaluating a route launch.

As a litmus test for Somalia’s economic prospects, improved connectivity can only be good news for the country and its citizens. Yet it could be a double-edged sword for local airlines that flourished by braving the skies when foreign operators were nowhere to be seen...

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Plane speaking after Iran's nuclear deal

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The long-awaited nuclear deal with Iran may have some bankers "licking their lips", as the Financial Times puts it, but in truth there is a long and complicated road to be navigated before most Western firms will be able to do business there. Among US exporters, only one sector already has an open invitation. It deserves it. For decades, Iranian airlines were forced into the black market when sourcing, and repairing, their planes. Elaborate paper-trails conspired to throw America off the scent of illicit transactions...

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

El Al: In it for the long haul

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There have been two developments of note for Israeli passengers in the past fortnight. Yesterday, Ryanair announced that it will begin flying to Eilat in southern Israel in November—its first ever Middle Eastern connection. The low-cost goliath will serve the city from three points in eastern Europe. One week previously, El Al, Israel's flag-carrier, added Boston to its American network. Though seemingly unrelated, these two events are emblematic of the shifting sands in Israeli aviation. Europe's low-cost carriers, for better or for worse, are making their mark on the Holy Land...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Pie-eyed in the sky

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It's one of the best adverts for abstinence you'll ever come across. On a brisk autumn morning in Manchester, an easyJet flight from Malta touches down, taxis across the apron, and comes to a halt. Passengers begin to disembark. One catches your eye. About 50 years of age and stocky in nature, he is disrobing. Quite why is not yet clear; perhaps the lack of clothing will assist him in his forthcoming duel with the pilot—a battle which, based on repeated asseverations, seems to be assured. Alas, the pilot never shows. The naked man instead staggers away, urinates against a terminal building, and is eventually downed by a policeman's Taser...

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Strength in numbers

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The steady influx of foreign airlines to Somali skies is proof positive of rising optimism about the country’s prospects, but while Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and flydubai have only recently seen opportunity in Somalia, its home-grown carriers have been keeping vital air corridors open for decades.

Three local operators – African Express Airways, Daallo Airlines and Jubba Airways – still account for about three-quarters of all scheduled flights in the country, and with competition heating up the latter two have now joined forces to create the Africa Aero Alliance (AAA).

“Competitive pressure is there, but also more than that it’s a matter of maturity,” explains Mohammed Ibrahim Yassin (Olad), the Chief Executive and co-founder of Daallo, which also serves as the official flag-carrier of Djibouti...