Thursday, 2 June 2016

Interview: Safwat Mosallam, EgyptAir CEO

EgyptAir close to placing large narrowbody order: CEO

EgyptAir could order a "considerable" number of narrowbodies within days, chief executive Safwat Mosallam says, standing by its fleet renewal plans despite plummeting demand for tourism in the North African country.

"It's an ongoing process. Maybe in a few days there could be a good announcement," Mosallam told Arabian Aerospace on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Dublin. "Until we finish negotiations we cannot announce."

EgyptAir originally planned to order up to 70 aircraft in 2016, but re-assessed its needs following the bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268 in Sinai last October.

Two subsequent incidents - the hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 181 in March and the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 in May - heaped further pressure on the flag-carrier, tainting its reputation amid a wider downturn in travel to the country. An order for eight Boeing 737-800s was announced in December.

Despite the challenges, Mosallam said the airline's ten-year plan to grow from about 70 to 120 aircraft remains on-track.

"We already took the decision and we will stick with this plan."

It is too early to know whether the recent safety incidents have impacted traffic at the flag-carrier, he added. "To say that there is a reduction in demand or an increase in demand takes time, but all Egyptians are supporting EgyptAir and there is no reduction in services until this moment. We are on normal operations."

Mosallam conceded that charter operations to Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada have suffered since the Metrojet bombing, but he said scheduled traffic appears to be "normal". EgyptAir is a predominantly scheduled carrier, although subsidiary Air Cairo operates as a low-cost/charter hybrid.

Asked about the investigation into the crash of Flight 804, the chief executive said it would be premature to draw any conclusions at this stage.

He took aim at media reports suggesting that terrorism was the most likely cause.

Within hours of the plane being lost, civil aviation minister Sherif Fathy had told a televised news conference that "the possibility ... of having a terror attack, it is higher than the possibility of having a technical [failure]". Egyptian authorities quickly accused journalists of taking the remarks out of context.

"He didn't say that," Mosallam said, referring to the incident as an "accident" several times. "He said all the options are open - even the terrorist option ... He didn't confirm that it is one option."