Saturday, 1 July 2017

Interview: Blair Pollock, Qazaq Air CEO

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Looking back, 2015 seems like an unfortunate time to have launched an airline in Kazakhstan, the central Asian nation whose economy relies heavily on commodity earnings.

The collapse in oil prices from $115 per barrel in mid-2014 to $30 in early 2016 had a crippling effect on the former Soviet republic, choking off both domestic spending and foreign investment. While the government responded prudently by floating its currency, a subsequent halving of the Tenge’s value only heaped more pressure on Kazakh workers and businesses.

Having launched operations at the height of the crisis, there was little chance that Qazaq Air would enjoy the smooth entry into service its management originally hoped for.

But chief executive Blair Pollock is quick to find a silver lining, arguing that headwinds create opportunities for ambitious start-ups – particularly state-owned ones that have a political mandate to drive long-term development...

Low-cost long-haul coming of age?

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In March 2015, after years of teasing passengers with the promise of £10 transatlantic fares, Ryanair formally ruled out moving into the low-cost long-haul (LCLH) marketplace.

“The Board … has not considered or approved any transatlantic project and does not intend to do so,” it said in a terse statement, backtracking on plans announced just days earlier to connect Europe with a dozen cities in America. Chief executive Michael O’Leary insisted that the industry needs to enter a cyclical downturn before widebody aircraft become available at suitably discounted prices.

Ryanair’s scepticism of LCLH models has not changed over the past two years, but the once-vacant sector is now advancing leaps and bounds without it. Two rivals – Norwegian Air Shuttle and Iceland’s WOW Air – have grabbed sizable chunks of the transatlantic market with their no-frills offerings. Responding to the new competition, three of Europe’s legacy carriers have launched or promised to launch their own LCLH subsidiaries...