Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Shrinks in the cockpit

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In the aftermath of the deliberate crashing of Germanwings Flight 9525, pilots cautioned against a knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy by airlines and safety regulators. With hindsight, perhaps, alarm bells should have been ringing about Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old first officer who flew his plane into the French Alps, killing 150. He had been treated for severe depression in 2009, and is thought to have hidden sick notes from his bosses before the crash. Yet we also know that Germanwings followed industry guidelines for dealing with mental-health concerns. Harbouring gloomy thoughts does not preclude someone from having a pilot’s licence...

Friday, 15 May 2015

You kill it, you carry it

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Examples of multinational companies forgoing business on purely ethical grounds are rare. Despite fine words, corporations are by nature profit-maximisers. Their remit is to make money without stepping over the law; separating right from wrong, they often argue, is the job of governments and regulators. Even so, there are occasions when a perfectly legal practice is so unpalatable to the public, and any association with it so damaging to the brand, that morality is difficult to ignore...

Friday, 1 May 2015

Interview: Saloua Essghaier, Tunisair President

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To many international observers, Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution is best known as the catalyst for the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa – popular demonstrations which, by and large, fell short of their lofty aspirations.

But, for Tunisians, the legacy of the Jasmine Revolution is much rosier. The country last year held its first open and democratic election since independence from France in 1956, swearing in 88-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi as its new president.

The Economist hailed the vote as “proof of a precious truth: the Arab world can change for the better, and Islam can be reconciled with democracy”. Such idealism may be hard to stomach when considering the disastrous effects of the Arab Spring elsewhere – unleashing civil wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and replacing one dictator with another in Egypt – but it is a kernel of hope that must be preserved...

Interview: Ulrich Ogiermann, Qatar Airways Chief Cargo Officer

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Ulrich Ogiermann successfully steered Cargolux, Europe's largest cargo carrier, through troubled times. But, as Martin Rivers discovers, the industry veteran has found an even greater challenge at growth-obsessed Qatar Airways.

Following years of uncorroborated allegations against the Gulf's fast-expanding carriers, the release of a 55-page dossier detailing $42 billion of government subsidies over ten years has put the region's big three operators firmly on the defensive.

Qatar Airways is front and centre in the dispute, facing accusations by America's Partnership for Open & Fair Skies – a lobby group headed by three US legacy carriers – that it has benefited from $16 billion of unfair state support...

The new silk road

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With so many column inches about the Gulf carriers devoted to their fast-expanding passenger operations, it is easy to forget that Qatar Airways, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways carry more than just human cargo. Beneath the main decks of their passenger aircraft, the region’s big three airlines are also driving rapid growth in freight traffic over Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – turning the Gulf into a bridging point for goods as much as travellers.

The numbers are staggering, even for a sector long associated with breakneck expansion. Middle Eastern carriers nearly tripled their share of global air cargo traffic from 4% to 11% between 2003 and 2013, according to US aircraft manufacturer Boeing...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The big subsidies debate

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No-one disputes that the meteoric rise of Emirates Airline, Dubai’s state-owned flag-carrier, has changed the face of civil aviation. Having started life in 1985 with just two aircraft, the Gulf carrier has ballooned in size to become the world’s largest international airline by seating capacity. Its rapid growth has gone hand-in-hand with the broader economic development of Dubai, whose government sees aviation as a strategic priority.

Geographical advantage undoubtedly lies at the heart of Emirates’ success – Dubai sits at the cross-roads of East and West, making it an ideal stopover for intercontinental travel – but has this blessing been harnessed fairly by a commercial entity, or leveraged maliciously by a deep-pocketed government...

Interview: Skúli Mogensen, WOW Air CEO

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When Iceland’s WOW Air began flying between Europe and North America this March, it was staking its claim on a market that has confounded no-frills operators for decades.

Laker Airways is the name that typically crops up in discussions about the mythical low-cost, long-haul business model. The airline operated out of London Gatwick Airport until its demise in 1982. But it was in fact another Icelandic carrier, Loftleiðir, that first opened up affordable transatlantic flying to the masses – albeit with the annoyance of a stopover in Reykjavik.

Loftleiðir was dubbed the ‘Hippie Express’ throughout the 1960s, proving popular with American students who were visiting Europe on a shoestring budget...

Floriculture keeps its cool

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On an average day at the Aalsmeer flower auction in the Netherlands – long considered the flower capital of the world – some 20 million stems will change hands. During peak holiday periods trading in the country, which handles around 52% of global volume, is even more frantic.

The week running up to Valentine’s Day 2015 saw an estimated 200m red roses and tulips, 100m assorted other varieties and 20m pot plants exported by truck and air from Amsterdam. Many of those flowers had just arrived from Nairobi, which despatched 45 aircraft freighters to the Dutch capital that week alone.

It wasn’t always this way. While few exporters emerged from the global economic downturn unscathed, shippers of price-elastic, discretionary goods bound for Europe were particularly hard hit...

Monday, 30 March 2015

A human response to a human tragedy

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It has been less than a week since the catastrophic loss of Germanwings Flight 9525 and its precious cargo of 144 passengers and six crew. In that short time investigators have pointed the finger of blame squarely at Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old first officer who appears to have locked his captain out of the flight deck and deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps. Though incomprehensible, his gruesome deed is not without precedent for commercial pilots. Fear of falling victim to such asymmetric evil will, inevitably, plague the minds of the 9m passengers who take to the skies each day. It will take time to soothe their concerns. But one Germanwings pilot has already started the healing process, unburdening his heart with emotional, pre-flight speeches to passengers...

Friday, 6 March 2015

Gulf carriers feeling the heat

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Allegations of unfair competition are nothing new for the Gulf's carriers. The region’s big three airlines—Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways—have long been accused of receiving government subsidies by their rivals in Europe and America. But supporting evidence has been in short supply. That apparently changed yesterday, when a group of airlines disclosed details of “obvious and massive” Gulf-carrier subsidies totalling $42bn since 2004. The findings have been submitted to the American government in a 55-page dossier urging a re-think of Washington’s open-skies treaty with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)...