Monday, 1 June 2015

Small steps to big prize

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When London-based Fastjet took to the skies in Tanzania in November 2012, chief executive Ed Winter vowed to “democratise air travel in Africa” by importing the low-cost carrier (LCC) model that had proved so successful elsewhere in the world.

His vision of a 40-strong fleet catalysing price-sensitive demand was dismissed by many industry experts, who rattled off a familiar roll-call of challenges facing LCCs in Africa. Bilateral restrictions, high fuel prices, monopolised ground services, and a lack of secondary airports had confounded all prior efforts by no-frills operators to break into the continent.

Fast forward two years and the start-up’s achievements to date fall somewhere in the middle of these two narratives...

One can of worms, please. Unopened

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Gulliver was surprised to discover last night that, on what was by no means a slow news day, deemed this story to be worthy of the lead slot on its international edition. The article suggests that Tahera Ahmad, a 31-year-old Muslim chaplain, was discriminated against by a United Airlines flight attendant and verbally abused by fellow passengers. Writing about the altercation on Facebook while still airborne, Ms Ahmad recounted asking the cabin crew member for an unopened can of Diet Coke “due to hygienic reasons”. The United employee refused. Cans have to be opened by attendants, she explained, because company guidelines warn that pressurised containers could potentially be used as weapons...

Turkish delights

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The Turkish civil aviation sector tends to receive less publicity than its counterparts in the Persian Gulf, but statistics on its growth are no less impressive.

Since deregulation in 2003, Turkey’s commercial fleet has almost tripled in size to 430 aircraft. More than 166 million passengers passed through the country’s airports last year – a 10.6% increase that secured fourth place for Turkey in a ranking of Europe's largest aviation markets, trailing behind only the UK, Germany and Spain.

Cargo traffic has kept pace with passenger growth, aided by the export-driven economic boom of recent years...

Low-cost in the Levant

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The Jordanian aviation sector gained a new player on 19 May, when Air Arabia launched operations from Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to Kuwait in conjunction with local equity partner RUM Group, a Jordanian travel provider.

Amman becomes the fifth hub in privately owned Air Arabia’s network, furthering its long-term aim of offering point-to-point connectivity across the Middle East and North Africa. The low-cost carrier’s main operating base of Sharjah was last year complemented by a secondary UAE hub in Ras al-Khaimah, while it also operates joint ventures in Alexandria, Egypt and Casablanca, Morocco. Expansion to Jordan, however, comes with risk...

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...