Sunday, 1 July 2018

Zimbabwe Airways crash lands


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The delivery of a 13-year-old Boeing 777-200ER to Zimbabwe has ignited a row over corruption and alleged misappropriation of funds in the final days of former president Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Government officials welcomed the new aircraft – the first of four purchased from Malaysia Airlines – at a ceremony at Harare’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on 11 April. The plane is painted in the colours of a new airline, Zimbabwe Airways, which aims to restore long-haul connections formerly served by Air Zimbabwe, the chronically mismanaged state-owned flag-carrier.

Yet, without even taking to the skies, Zimbabwe Airways is already courting the same controversy that dogged Air Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s time in office. Transparency is by far the biggest concern...

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Somon Air Delays Dreamliner In Favor Of 767, Confirms E2 Plan


Full article on forbes.com

Tajikistan’s Somon Air has delayed its planned introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner until around 2022, with management now seeking a 767-300ER and stepping up their focus on regional expansion with Embraer E190-E2s.

“The Dreamliner is still in our strategic plan, but the one that was announced is not going to materialize,” chief executive Thomas Hallam told me during an interview at Somon Air’s headquarters in Dushanbe, the capital of the central Asian nation. “Our timeline is now somewhere around 2022. What we need to do is to look at our core business before we look at our trans-continental business.”

Somon Air signed an MoU for one 787-8 at last year’s Dubai Air Show, with the aircraft originally expected to arrive in early 2018. The opportunity to jump Boeing’s delivery queue arose when Royal Jordanian Airlines cut back its Dreamliner commitment.

Although the wide-body was offered at a “very attractive price”, Hallam said Somon Air needs to be “realistic about economies of scale” as it pursues sustainable growth...

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Southend Calling: Ryanair Admits Brexit Hasn't Soured It On Britain


Full article on forbes.com

Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier, has sounded a resounding note of optimism about the UK aviation market by opening a new base at London Southend Airport – just one year after warning that Brexit would spell the end of cheap flights for Brits.

The airline says it will base three aircraft at the Essex airport in April 2019, days after the UK formally withdraws from the European Union.

Its expansion marks a dramatic climb-down by Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, who campaigned heavily against Brexit before the referendum and then threatened to ground flights when the vote didn’t go his way. "I think it's in our interests … that the aircraft are grounded,” he said in March, predicting that UK travelers will “re-think the whole Brexit debate” once they realize they are “no longer going to have cheap holidays in Portugal or Spain or Italy”.

Eight of Ryanair’s 13 new Southend routes are bound for Portugal, Spain or Italy. They will join the roughly 5,400 flights per month that the airline operates from the UK to the three countries...

Thursday, 7 June 2018

A misogynist cannot promote gender equality in aviation


Full article on economist.com

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) was founded in 1945 to unify and promote the interests of airlines around the world. At this week’s AGM in Sydney, despite efforts to the contrary by some, IATA’s message was as dated as the organisation itself: women are too dense to run airlines. Akbar al Baker, the group’s new chairman and the boss of Qatar Airways, a Persian Gulf carrier, told attendees that “of course”, his airline “has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position”. He later apologised for what he claimed was a joke blown out of proportion by the media. Yet this was not Mr al Baker’s first foray into misogyny: last year he mocked American carriers for hiring “grandmothers” as flight attendants, boasting that the average age of his cabin crew is 26 years. Until recently, he forbade female staff from marrying or getting pregnant...

Monday, 28 May 2018

Why airliners in Cuba and Iran crash so much


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When the dream of a smooth flight turns into the nightmare of an airliner crash, understanding what went wrong is sometimes straightforward. That was the case with a Malaysia Airlines flight which crashed in the summer of 2014, killing 298. This week Dutch and Australian investigators conclusively showed that it was shot down by a missile fired by Russian armed forces. But in other cases it is much harder to apportion blame. Such is the complexity of civil aviation that investigators spend years sifting through wreckage, recordings and data logs to work out what went wrong. Often technological, human and environmental faults are the main culprits. Yet another factor can be argued to have caused many of the world’s deadliest air disasters so far this year: economic sanctions...

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Zimbabwe Airways: Flights of fancy


Full article on economist.com

Having one loss-making state-owned airline is bad enough. What, then, of a government that wants two?

Earlier this year Zimbabweans were startled to learn that the government had concluded a secret $70m deal to buy four second-hand Boeing jets from Malaysia to form the core of a new national airline, Zimbabwe Airways. This venture is supposed to compete with Air Zimbabwe, the flag carrier, which ran up huge debts thanks to poor management and ex-President Robert Mugabe’s habit of commandeering its planes so his wife could shop abroad...

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Interview: Jann Tamm, Nordica CEO


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When Estonian Air was ordered by the European Commission to pay back more than €85 million of illegal state aid in November 2015, its government owner was immediately resigned to the need to shut down the underperforming flag-carrier.

Had the Commission ruled differently, Tallink, Estonia’s main ferry operator, was waiting in the wings as an investor. But there was no prospect of privatising the airline once the EU had saddled it with such huge debts.

Fortunately for Estonian travellers, the government anticipated the ruling and had already set up a new flag-carrier by the time of the Commission’s decision. This contingency planning allowed the new company, Nordic Aviation Group, to launch operations on the very same day that Estonian Air was grounded – initially as a virtual airline under contract with Slovenia’s Adria Airways.

It has taken just two years for the new flag-carrier, operating as Nordica, to become an independent company with its own Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC), a fleet of 18 aircraft and a positive financial outlook...

Interview: Krešimir Kučko, Gulf Air CEO


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Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel may have emerged victorious from the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, but for many spectators the star of the show was nowhere to be seen on the Formula One track.

Before the race even got under way, Gulf Air, Bahrain’s flag-carrier, had stolen the limelight with a flyover by its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – a brand new aircraft type for the kingdom and an emblem of the ambitious plan being led by chief executive Krešimir Kučko, who was appointed last year with a mandate to revitalise the airline’s long-waning influence in the region...

Interview: Bilal Ekşi, Turkish Airlines CEO


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Bilal Ekşi knew he was in for a rough ride when he took on the role of Turkish Airlines (THY) chief executive in October 2016.

His predecessor, Temel Kotil, had won countless accolades during his time in office, presiding over a decade of rapid expansion and rising prestige for the super-connector airline. By the time of Kotil’s departure, however, events were conspiring against both the flag-carrier and its home nation.

A failed coup d'état, a wave of terror attacks by Daesh, and a regional slowdown in demand were setting the scene for THY’s first annual loss in recent memory...

The great foreign exchange rip-off is coming to an end


Full article on economist.com

Some years ago, when Gulliver was a wide-eyed reporter on his first business trip, he sidled up to a bureau de change in London’s Heathrow Airport to buy some foreign currency. His nervous excitement quickly turned to dismay when the teller gouged 12% from the transaction, justifying the theft by tapping on a display-screen of ruinous exchange rates. Today, Gulliver knows better than to buy foreign currency at an airport. But many do not: in 2016 Heathrow raked in £50m ($68m) by renting retail space to bureaux de change. New technology and startups could soon change that...

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Widerøe pins future of social routes on electric plane breakthrough


Full article on forbes.com

Widerøe is banking on the launch of an all-electric, sub 50-seat aircraft by the end of the next decade in order to maintain its deep footprint in the domestic Norwegian market.

“I really believe that we will have a major technology shift in this turboprop segment, and I think, in fact, there could be a possibility for flying all-electric … in the timeframe around 2030,” Stein Nilsen, Widerøe chief executive, told me last week during the ferry flight of the airline’s new Embraer E190 E2 from Aberdeen to Bergen.

Nilsen was responding to a question about Widerøe's 25 Bombardier Dash 8 Q100s and Q200s – small turboprops with 39 seats that the airline mostly deploys on Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes within Norway...

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Gulf Air tries to reclaim its crown


Full article on economist.com

With their geographical advantage for connecting flights between far-flung places, there is plenty to keep the airlines of the Gulf countries busy. Yet Bahrain’s skies are nearly empty compared with its neighbours. About 9m passengers used its airport last year, far fewer than the 88m for Dubai, 37m for Qatar and 26m for Abu Dhabi. The difference is striking given that Gulf Air, Bahrain’s flag carrier, was for decades the most prestigious airline in the Middle East. In its heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, none of its three neighbours even had national airlines...

Friday, 6 April 2018

Estonia's Nordica plans new EU bases as export model takes off


Full article on forbes.com

Estonian airline Nordica is talking to about ten potential customers for its contract flying services and could open up to three new bases in the coming winter season, chief executive Jaan Tamm has told me.

The Baltic flag-carrier supplements its scheduled network out of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, with various kinds of ACMI (Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance and Insurance) contracts for foreign customers. Nearly two-thirds of the flights conducted by Regional Jet, its operating subsidiary, are flown under these export arrangements...

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Interview: Bakhouche Alleche, Air Algerie CEO


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Algeria’s Transport Ministry denied rumours that Air Algérie is heading for bankruptcy in January, insisting that the flag-carrier enjoys the full support of the government despite its “difficult financial situation”.

The intervention followed a series of walkouts by employees, who are angry at new chief executive Bakhouche Alleche for freezing planned wage increases. Those pay-hikes had reportedly been agreed by Mohamed Bouderbala, Air Algérie’s previous boss, but were axed as part of a newly launched turnaround plan.

Speaking to African Aerospace shortly before the strikes, the airline’s top management insisted that boosting on-time-performance (OTP) should be a higher priority than lifting an already burdensome wage bill...

Friday, 23 March 2018

Why posting a 'very large loss' is a good sign for Qatar Airways


Full article on forbes.com

Never one to mince his words, Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, has been more than candid about the “very large loss” that he expects his company to announce for the 2017-18 financial year. Qatar’s flag-carrier agreed in January to start putting detailed financial statements in the public domain – a move designed to ease concerns about unfair state support and minimize the likelihood of America curbing its access to the U.S. market.

The expected loss will mark a dramatic reversal of recent claims of profitability. For 2016-17, Qatar Airways had announced net profits of 1.97 billion Qatari riyals ($541m) in filings audited by Ernst & Young’s local branch in Qatar. The previous year’s audited report put its takings at 1.62 billion riyals, while an informal figure of $103 million was given by Al Baker for 2014-15.

As I wrote previously in relation to Etihad Airways – another state-owned Gulf carrier with delusions of profitability – such claims are misleading and should not have been repeated by media outlets without strong disclaimers...

Ukraine convinces Ryanair to return


Full article on economist.com

Almost one year ago to the day, Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier, announced plans to begin serving Ukraine, its largest country. Ukraine had been a glaring white spot in the airline’s route network, deliberately avoided because of the anti-competitive advantages afforded to Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), the flag-carrier. A new infrastructure minister, Volodymyr Omelyan, brokered the deal between Ryanair and Boryspil Airport, the capital’s main gateway and home base of UIA. But it collapsed within months. Now, Ryanair, the government and the airport are trying again...

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Come fly with Xi


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In ancient times, traders on the Silk Road connecting China with Europe rarely ventured into the northern Caucasus region that is now home to Georgia. Diverting from established routes through Armenia and Anatolia to the south served little purpose unless conflict made the trackways impassable. Today, advances in transport and logistics mean that geography is less of a hurdle for traders. But friendly relations are just as important. Having signed free trade agreements with China and the European Union, Georgia is keen to pitch itself as a trade-and-transport hub for President Xi Jinping of China’s One Belt One Road initiative...

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ukraine's aviation fiasco


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Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 opened a dark chapter in the history of Ukraine’s civil aviation sector, lighting a fuse that would see Donetsk International Airport razed to the ground and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot out of the sky. Though hostilities rumble on in the eastern Donbas region, life has gradually returned to normal for most Ukrainians. The number of passengers carried by local airlines grew 22 per cent in 2016 to reach 5.7 million – just shy of pre-conflict levels – thanks in large part to flag-carrier Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), which has stepped up its role as a transit carrier linking Asia with Europe. Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport, UIA’s home base, accommodated more than ten million passengers last year and expects 20 million by 2023.

However, market dominance by UIA – which provides 67 per cent of capacity at Boryspil, and a whopping 89 per cent of domestic seats nationwide – is antagonising Ukraine’s pro-western government, whose lawmakers are desperate to inject foreign competition and disempower the post-Soviet oligarchs...

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

How to ensure Ryanair foots the bill for flight delays


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There is little doubt that Ryanair takes umbrage at EU261, the piece of European law that guarantees passengers compensation in the event of most flight delays and cancellations. Michael O’Leary, the airline’s boss, insists that he complies with the “ridiculous” piece of legislation. But many say otherwise. Last year, when a pilot rostering mishap grounded thousands of Ryanair flights, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) accused it of “persistently misleading” customers about their rights. Which?, a British consumer group, agreed that Ryanair fell “woefully short” of its obligations. Media reports exposing poor treatment of passengers abound. Yet, in the past five months, your correspondent has received two EU261 pay-outs from Ryanair. Claims that the company swindles its customers are exaggerated...

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Interview: Stefan Pichler, Royal Jordanian Airlines CEO


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When Royal Jordanian Airlines ran a series of advertisements mocking Donald Trump, the US President, and making light of his laptop ban for Middle Eastern flights, many of the people sharing its messages on social media had never even heard of the airline – let alone flown with it.

Despite flying its country’s flag for more than half a century, Royal Jordanian still lacks the scale and brand recognition of its Gulf competitors. It has also become a financial burden on the government of Jordan, its 26% shareholder, posting net losses in four of the six years since the Arab Spring.

New chief executive Stefan Pichler admits that regional instability has held the airline back. Neighbouring Syria used to be a major source of connecting traffic before civil war closed its skies, while routes to Iraq, Libya and Yemen were also abandoned when violence flared in their borders. Surrounded by conflict, Jordan’s own tourism sector has nosedived as Westerners steer clear of what they perceive to be a dangerous neighbourhood...

Interview: Ilyes Mnakbi, Tunisair CEO


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The European Union’s delegation to Tunisia could not have struck a more optimistic tone in December, when EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc met with officials in Tunis to conclude negotiations over the looming Open Skies treaty between the two sides.

Tunisia’s government has been inching towards the treaty for several years, emboldened by the success of Morocco’s deal with the EU in 2006. That landmark agreement saw tourist arrivals rocketing by 60% over five years, propelled by an influx of European low-cost carriers to the country’s popular holiday resorts. Tunisia’s treaty, Bulc predicted, will be no less transformative...

Bridging the Gulf


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When SaudiGulf Airlines applied for an operating licence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2012, owners Al Qahtani Group believed that a winning bid would grant them access to a heavily under-served duopolistic market.

By the end of the year, it was clear that SaudiGulf would not be the only company emerging from the tender process with flying rights. Al Maha Airways, a subsidiary of Qatar Airways, was also approved to launch operations. And while its plans ultimately came to naught, two other market entrants were waiting in the wings: Nesma Airlines, a regional carrier formerly based in Egypt; and Flyadeal, a low-cost subsidiary of flag-carrier Saudia.

Together with privately-owned Flynas, five separate carriers now ply routes across the kingdom. Though fantastic for passengers, this explosion of competition has left SaudiGulf re-evaluating a business model that presupposed rapid growth and untapped demand...

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Legacy airlines are facing new competitors on transatlantic routes


Full article on economist.com

Even for a global industry like aviation, Primera Air’s business model seems remarkably cosmopolitan. The Icelandic-owned airline is headquartered in Latvia, but mainly operates flights from Denmark and Sweden to sunspots in the Mediterranean. This summer, it will begin flying from the UK and France to America. The company bears more than a passing resemblance to Norwegian Air Shuttle, another nominally Scandinavian airline with global aspirations. More than two-thirds of Norwegian’s capacity now bypasses its home country, and the rapid growth of its long-haul operations is proving to be a serious challenge for legacy carriers such as British Airways...

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Turkish Airlines: Flying to the moon


Full article on economist.com

A little over a year ago, Gulliver gave a downbeat assessment of the prospects for Turkey's aviation sector. Having enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted growth of more than 10% a year, Turkish Airlines, the country’s flag-carrier, was grounding aircraft and closing routes amid growing unrest at home and violence across its border with Syria. Concerns about regional security were also making life difficult in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, two other countries that have built aviation empires by connecting far-flung parts of the globe through their hub airports. Yet whereas the Gulf carriers remain in the doldrums, Turkish is gaining altitude again...

Monday, 1 January 2018

Interview: Adel Ali, Air Arabia CEO


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Compared with Europe, few people would describe the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as a liberal aviation market. Restrictive traffic rights, bureaucratic visa regulations and state aid for flag-carriers conspire to make life immensely difficult for the few private airlines based in the region.

Heavy regulation is particularly burdensome for low-cost carriers (LCCs) as they rely on commercial efficiency and free-market access to unlock new demand among price-sensitive consumers. This explains why most Arab LCCs adopt a hybrid business model that eschews point-to-point flying in favour of hub economics, and replaces no-frills service with a whole host of complimentary perks. Airfares, inevitably, remain higher than average.

The one noteworthy exception is Air Arabia, the privatised flag-carrier of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was founded in 2003 and now operates 48 Airbus A320s out of ten bases stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Maghreb...

Interview: Hrafn Thorgeirsson, Primera Air CEO


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Amid a recent flurry of activity in the low-cost long-haul sector, one new operator stands out as relatively unknown on both sides of the Atlantic.

Primera Air stormed onto the scene last year by announcing plans to fly from London Stansted, Birmingham and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports to New York, Boston and Toronto – a radical departure from its short-haul charter specialism.

The company has an eclectic history that defies easy classification. Having started life as an Icelandic airline, JetX, it was acquired by and renamed after Primera Travel Group, a conglomerate of Scandinavian travel agencies and tour operators. Newly formed Primera Air then ditched its Icelandic identity, first by acquiring a Danish operating licence and then another in Latvia...

Pegasus gallops back to profit


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By the time Turkey had suppressed the military coup d'état of July 2016, it was clear that tough times lay ahead for the country’s aviation sector.

A series of high-profile terror attacks – including one devastating assault on Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport – had already shattered Turkey’s appeal as a tourism hotspot and intercontinental aviation hub. Political unrest only looked set to damage its reputation further.

With flag-carrier Turkish Airlines and low-cost rival Pegasus Airlines both posting operating losses for the year – their first in recent memory – concerns grew that Turkey’s era of double-digit passenger growth was grinding to a halt. The subsequent election of US President Donald Trump and the imposition of his laptop ban on Turkish and Middle Eastern carriers made 2017 appear no less ominous.

Yet, despite battling headwinds on multiple fronts, the two network carriers rebooted their growth plans last year after bouncing back into profit. Amid a vastly improved security climate and a better-than-expected recovery in outbound demand, Turkey’s aviation sector now looks stronger than ever...