Friday, 21 February 2014

Socialising in the sky

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Social media is nothing new for the airline industry. Most carriers understand that peer-to-peer social networks like Facebook and Twitter offer a cost-effective and direct means of engaging with passengers—typically for service updates, conflict resolution and marketing. Even longstanding sceptics like Ryanair now pay their staff to interact with customers on social media. The airlines don’t always get it right, of course, but they are no more prone to blunders than anyone else. And yet one thing has been noticeably lacking from the industry’s social media landscape: a means for passengers to converse with one another not before or after their flight, but during it. Virgin America has now changed that...

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Interview: Adel Ali, Air Arabia CEO

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As the Gulf's other low-cost carriers shift towards a hybrid business model, Air Arabia is standing by its decidedly no-frills approach. Chief executive Adel Ali explains why to Martin Rivers.

Middle Eastern low-cost carriers (LCCs) continued their unstoppable march in 2013, growing seat capacity by another 17.7% during the first half of the year.

But in a region where double-digit growth has become the norm, their expansion amounts to only modest inroads by the still-fledgling sector. LCCs today account for just 13.5% of Middle Eastern traffic, compared with nearly 40% in the more mature European market...

Interview: Ahmad Alzabin, ALAFCO CEO

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Kuwait’s flag-carrier may be on life support, but the emirate has still produced a major success story for Gulf aviation. Martin Rivers meets Ahmad Alzabin, chief executive of Kuwaiti leasing firm ALAFCO.

The announcement by Kuwait Airways that it has signed a contract to purchase 25 aircraft and lease a further 12 was, on the surface, a welcome step forward by the heavily loss-making flag-carrier.

Airbus will deliver 15 A320neos and ten A350-900s over an unspecified timeframe, Kuwait Airways said in December, while also facilitating 12 short-term leases beginning in the second quarter of 2014. For an airline whose average aircraft age is 19 years, the long-awaited order would breathe new life into its fuel-guzzling fleet...

Interview: Wayne Pearce, Oman Air CEO

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Perched on the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula – with the United Arab Emirates just across its border – the large, sparsely populated sultanate of Oman exists in an aviation neighbourhood dominated by mega-hub expansion.

Unlike Dubai or Abu Dhabi, however, Muscat has little interest in becoming a major bridging point between East and West. The Omani capital’s airport handled just 7.5 million passengers last year, and although officials want to grow that figure, sixth-freedom traffic looks set to remain a peripheral contributor...

Monday, 3 February 2014

Post Tiger economy

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In February 2009, during the final throes of Sri Lanka’s 25-year-long civil war, Tamil Tiger rebels packed two light aircraft with explosives and flew them towards Colombo. The pilots planned to execute kamikaze attacks on the capital. Mercifully, they were shot down. But in the process one plane slammed into a high-rise government building, killing two people and injuring 50. Thus ended one of the most dramatic episodes of the war. Today, five years after the guns were silenced, Sri Lanka is staking its hopes for peace and prosperity on a more benign form of aviation: commercial flights delivering holidaymakers...

Saturday, 1 February 2014

RAK down but not out

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page 24/25 & page 26

It is virtually a foregone conclusion that 2014 will be another bumper year for civil aviation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Dubai’s Emirates Airline and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways are on-track for yet more double-digit traffic growth, while Sharjah’s Air Arabia and FlyDubai continue adding new short-haul markets to their respective hubs.

In the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, however, the New Year heralded an altogether less favourable development. On 1 January 2014, for the second time in its eight-year history, flag carrier RAK Airways announced that it was suspending operations indefinitely. Management promised to “re-evaluate the best options” for the government-owned airline, but they stopped short of making a firm commitment that flights would resume...

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Comparative advantage

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If you frequently shop for flights online, you will almost certainly be familiar with flight comparison websites like Skyscanner and Kayak. These so-called metasearch engines invite you to key in your desired travel itinerary, before pulling data from other websites—mostly airlines, travel agents and rival search engines—and aggregating the results into a list of available airfares. You can then orbit to the cheapest ticket and click through to the booking website. It’s not rocket science, and with a little flexibility you can usually find a bargain. But metasearch engines are not perfect. They are only as powerful as the data that feed into them, and some airlines refuse to cooperate...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Interview: Abdel Aziz Fadel, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister

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The decision by Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office to relax its travel advice for Egypt could not have come too soon for the North African country, whose leaders are desperate to consign the political upheaval of recent years to history.

Announcing the move on 8 November – two days before Cairo hosted the inaugural Egyptian Development & Strategies of Civil Aviation (EDSCA) conference – Britain said the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada were once again safe for holidaymakers. A fortnight later it added Cairo and the Great Pyramid of Giza to the list of approved destinations, easing the stranglehold on a tourism sector that contributes 12% of Egypt's GDP...

Air smiles at Ethiopian

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Articles about African aviation almost always pay heed to two inescapable truths. The first is the continent's undisputed economic potential, stemming from its vast natural resources and youthful, aspirational workforce. The second, less encouragingly, is the near-insurmountable challenges that prevent airlines from unlocking this potential.

Most politicians concede that civil aviation will play a key role in igniting and sustaining pan-African prosperity. In practice, however, a toxic mixture of bureaucracy, corruption and protectionism keeps much of the industry grounded. African governments still regard flying as a middle-class luxury deserving of heavy taxation. They are also in no hurry to liberalise regulations and bilateral restrictions that protect the status quo for privileged operators.

But there are some exceptions to the rule. State-owned Ethiopian Airlines has grown its turnover by 700% since 2005, and it plans to expand another fivefold by 2025...

Comair on the flight side of the law

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The decision by FastJet to postpone its domestic launch in South Africa – originally slated for July last year – has given Comair breathing space to consolidate its network and prepare for the arrival of four aircraft in 2015.

Chief executive Erik Venter remains sceptical that the low-cost model can been rolled out across Africa, so he is resisting the urge to deploy low-cost unit Kulula in neighbouring countries.

But Comair will have to keep on its toes in the fast evolving competitive landscape. Flag carrier South African Airways (SAA) has just embarked on a long-term turnaround plan – likely to involve elevating the role of low-cost subsidiary Mango – while FastJet has already become a regular fixture in the country, following the launch of its Dar es Salaam-Johannesburg route in October...