Friday, 19 August 2016

British Airways: To fly, to scrooge

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Back in the 1990s, British Airways, the nation’s flag-carrier, proclaimed itself to be “The World’s Favourite Airline” in a long-running and hugely successful advertising campaign. Watching its iconic TV commercials from sofas across the country, many Brits—a pint-sized, starry-eyed Gulliver among them—swelled with pride at what was, at the time, a genuinely treasured national asset. Were British Airways to run the same campaign today, it would probably stir a mixture of derision abroad and embarrassment at home...

Monday, 1 August 2016

Iran Air's dealmaker

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While everyone expected that the lifting of nuclear sanctions against Iran would unleash a flurry of deal-making, the scale of the ambitions laid out by flag-carrier Iran Air in January took many observers by surprise.

Within a fortnight of the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – an international agreement that lifts sweeping embargoes against the country – Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi had announced a heads-of-agreement between Iran Air and Airbus for 118 aircraft. A parallel deal with ATR covered up to 40 turboprops for the flag-carrier.

In June, yet another memorandum to buy 80 aircraft from Boeing brought Iran Air’s provisional orderbook to a jaw-dropping 238 planes – nearly ten times the number it deploys today...

Interview: Saeed Kalhori, Kish Air Deputy Managing Director

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Kish Island – pronounced "quiche" – has been a focal point for Iranian aviation since the 1970s, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, transformed the desolate Gulf island into a luxury casino and vacation resort.

Its small airport was specifically designed to handle the supersonic Concorde, which whisked foreign dignitaries in from Paris under a wet-lease agreement with Iran Air.

Much like the flag-carrier's own order for Concordes, however, the debauchery came to an end with the 1979 Islamic Revolution that deposed the Shah and introduced more conservative values across the country. Kish now adheres to the same religious codes that govern the rest of Iran – alcohol is forbidden; hijabs are mandatory for females.

The island forged a new path in the 1980s by becoming one of Iran's free-trade zones. Governing body the Kish Free Zone Organisation (KFZO) now woos overseas investors with the promise of visa-free travel; 15-year tax exemptions; and no restrictions on foreign ownership.

Its overarching plan is to transform Kish into "the next Dubai" – an oasis for business and high-end tourism in the Persian Gulf...

Interview: Mahmoud Shekarabi, Qeshm Air CEO

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Qeshm Island, like its smaller but better-known neighbour Kish Island, doesn't feature in the travel bucket-lists of many international tourists.

Of the 397,000 people who flew to the island in the Strait of Hormuz last year, three quarters were Iranian nationals.

Qeshm's Dayrestan Airport ranks as only the 13th largest gateway in Iran by aircraft movements, despite being the main entry point for one of the country's much-touted free-trade zones. No foreign carriers fly there on a regular basis.

"Our customers are Iranian tourists mostly," confirmed Mahmoud Shekarabi, chief executive of Qeshm Air, the airline that provides two-thirds of seating capacity at the island. "Due to the sanctions there were some problems for businessmen to fly here [in the past].

"But I believe there's going to be changes. Before, there was tourism and just maybe some students. Now it's going to be businessmen, students, tourists, families...

Meraj shrugs off sanctions

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The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran may be a watershed moment for the country's civil aviation sector, but not all domestic operators are seeing immediate benefits.

Meraj Airlines, along with Mahan Air and Caspian Airlines, continues to be shackled by terrorism-related sanctions – a handicap that stems from its alleged support for Iranian military activity in Syria.

The company was founded in 2010 and partly functions as a scheduled passenger airline, deploying three Airbus A320s and two A300-600s from Tehran, Mashhad and Kish.

But it also operates VIP flights on behalf of the Iranian Government with a mixed fleet of A320-family jets, A340s, Boeing 737-200s, 707-300s and Falcon 50s. It is this facilitating role for the Government that has aroused the concern of the US Treasury, which accuses Meraj of ferrying "illicit cargo, including weapons" to the Syrian regime...

Nile Air follows the flow

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Egypt’s Nile Air is shrugging off difficulties in its home market and pressing on with a rapid expansion programme that has already seen its fleet triple in size over the past two years.

The privately-owned carrier has added five international destinations from its Cairo base so far in 2016: Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen in Turkey, Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Basra in Iraq, and Jizan and Abha in Saudi Arabia.

It has also entered the domestic Egyptian market by launching flights from Cairo to Hurghada and Sharm-el Sheikh, as well as connecting the latter resort with Riyadh and Tabuk in Saudi Arabia. Together with frequency hikes across the existing network, the airline’s capacity is up by 72% over the past six months alone.

“Our plan is stable growth year-on-year,” chief executive Ahmed Aly told Arabian Aerospace during an interview at the IATA AGM in Dublin...

Turkish Airlines stays the course

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The triple suicide bombing of Istanbul Ataturk Airport in June was a grim but predictable escalation of the security crisis in Turkey – a country fighting terrorism on two fronts while also grappling with political upheaval at home and a burgeoning refugee disaster.

That the airport made an attractive target for suspected Daesh militants should come as no surprise. The Syria-based jihadists had already struck tourists twice in Istanbul this year, sending suicide bombers to kill mostly German and Israeli holidaymakers at two of the city’s most popular attractions in January and March.

Dozens more Turkish citizens have been killed in attacks across the country as Daesh and Kurdish militant groups seek to destabilise the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For flag-carrier Turkish Airlines, which has transformed Ataturk Airport into one of the world’s largest intercontinental hubs, the violence threatens to derail years of phenomenal growth matched only by the Persian Gulf carriers...

Turkish Airlines returns to Mogadishu

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Turkish Airlines resumed flying to Mogadishu in May after a three-month hiatus caused by the bombing of Daallo Airlines Flight 159 – an attack that, according to officials, was likely aimed at Turkey’s flag-carrier.

The on-board explosion on 2 February killed only the suspected suicide bomber as Flight 159 had not reached cruising altitude and therefore did not have a fully pressurised cabin. Although Somali-owned Daallo was targeted in the attack, the assailant had purchased a Turkish Airlines ticket and only switched planes due to a flight cancellation.

Speaking to The Somalia Investor at a meeting of airline executives in Dublin in June, Temel Kotil, chief executive of Turkish Airlines, declined to comment on the circumstances of the bombing but promised to redouble his flag-carrier’s commitment to Mogadishu...