Thursday, 21 January 2016

Why you can safely ignore airline safety rankings

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Travel websites were abuzz this month with the latest safety ranking from Airline Ratings, an industry data provider. Australian flag-carrier Qantas was crowned the safest airline in the world for the third year in a row, while other big names like American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates also made it into the top ten. At the bottom of the list were some rather more obscure carriers like Batik Air and Kalstar Aviation.

Airline Ratings came up with its ranking by looking at a range of factors perceived to reflect safety performance – prior accident history, current fleet type, recognized industry certifications and so forth. At least two other websites also claim to rank airlines by safety: the Air Transport Rating Agency; and the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Center.

Each of these reports, though, comes up with wildly different rankings. And that is not surprising, given that their authors are engaged in PR exercises bereft of any statistical validity...

Friday, 15 January 2016

Interview: Mbuvi Ngunze, Kenya Airways CEO

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After several months in the doghouse, management at Kenya Airways (KQ) have bounced back from their worst ever financial performance by announcing an urgent restructuring plan. The ailing flag-carrier now aims to restore profitability under an 18-month turnaround strategy developed by consultants McKinsey & Company.

Many analysts are reserving judgement on the plan until further details are disclosed, but chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze promises that a slew of measures will help reverse last year's devastating 25.7 billion shilling ($254 million) loss.

Ostensibly turning his back on Project Mawingu, the ten-year growth strategy launched in 2011, Ngunze is pursuing an urgent overhaul of KQ's finances in a bid to raise up to $346 million. Some $200 million of that will be generated from unspecified cost-cutting measures – job losses are widely expected – with the remainder coming from the sale of four Boeing 777-200ERs and other assets...

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Arab-Jewish tensions spill over on Aegean flight

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It started with a flickering of paranoia in the mind of one Jewish passenger; perhaps justifiable, given the recent surge of terrorist attacks in Israel; perhaps prejudicial, emblematic of the deep distrust between Arabs and Jews, who both see a homeland in the Holy Land. It ended with two entirely innocent customers being hauled off a commercial flight, and with senior Palestinian officials accusing their Greek counterparts of reviving "the worst years of the South African apartheid". The debacle unfolded on a routine Aegean Airlines flight from Athens to Tel Aviv...

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Etihad's backdoor access to Europe slammed shut

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It is a strategy that has won James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad Airways, plaudits from the across the airline industry.

Shackled by restrictive traffic-rights agreements, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad has in recent years gone on a shopping spree across Europe. Equity stakes in Alitalia (49%), Air Serbia (49%), Switzerland’s Darwin Airline (33%) and Germany’s Air Berlin (29%) have allowed the Gulf carrier to pursue backdoor expansion across the continent, swapping traffic with local partners and restructuring their networks to feed Abu Dhabi.

The investment model has narrowed the gap between Etihad and its two older, larger Gulf rivals – Dubai’s Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways – contributing an estimated $1.1 billion to the newcomer’s top line in 2014...

Friday, 1 January 2016

Winds of change at Saudia

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Discussions about Gulf aviation invariably focus on the so-called 'big three' carriers in the region: Dubai's Emirates Airline, Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways. Saudia, the flag-carrier of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, rarely gets a mention – despite deploying more aircraft than Etihad, and boasting a history that stretches back decades before the launch of the new breed of Gulf super-connectors.

Saudia's absence from the global limelight is partly down to its focus on domestic flying, with two-thirds of the airline's seating capacity deployed inside the kingdom. It is also a reflection of the conservative values of its government owner. The big three Gulf carriers, by contrast, have designed their businesses around intercontinental transfer traffic, forcing them to invest heavily in global marketing campaigns and high-profile sponsorship deals. Saudia neither wants nor needs to make as much noise...

Open skies still up in the air

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"The African Union is as old as the European Union. The European Union has achieved a lot, and the African Union has not achieved as much." So said Tewolde GebreMariam, chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines, during the annual meeting of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) in Congo Brazzaville in November.

GebreMariam has earned the right to pass judgement. Since taking the reins at Ethiopia's flag-carrier in 2011, he has continued and expanded the ambitious growth strategy designed by Girma Wake, his illustrious predecessor, who laid the groundwork for Addis Ababa to become the continent's pre-eminent aviation hub. Today, the only thing growing faster than Ethiopian Airlines' fleet is its bottom line – net profits have quadrupled over the past four years.

Elsewhere on the continent, however, aviation success stories are few and far between. The African Union must accept some of the blame...

Monday, 21 December 2015

Don't blame Kuwait Airways for discrimination against Israelis

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Kuwait Airways has suspended flights between New York’s JFK Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport after the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) took umbrage at its longstanding policy of turning away Israeli passport-holders. The flag-carrier will still fly nonstop between New York and Kuwait – and will continue refusing Israelis on that service – but it has been forced to abandon connecting flights via the U.K. capital. The decision amounts to a legal victory for Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen who filed a discrimination complaint with the DoT in 2013 after being refused a ticket for the New York-London route...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Heathrow third runway: How democracy is killing the world's busiest hub

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Have you spotted the problem with my headline? London’s Heathrow Airport is no longer the world’s busiest hub for international traffic. Dubai International Airport (DXB) stole that title last year, handling 70 million passengers compared with Heathrow’s 68 million. DXB will eventually be replaced by an even larger Gulf mega-hub, Dubai South, with an annual capacity of 250 million people. Further East, China will have constructed 58 new airports by the end of the decade. Even North Korea opened a new one this year. In totalitarian societies, it seems, airport infrastructure projects are all the rage...

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Interview: József Váradi, Wizz Air CEO

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József Váradi, the founder and chief executive of Wizz Air, coined a new term for the aviation industry at last year's World Travel Market in London: "lazy low-cost".

His neologism drew a line between two types of low-cost carriers (LCCs): on the one hand, true LCCs that have an obsessive focus on cost-cutting and ancillary surcharges; on the other, "lazy" LCCs that allow legacy expenses to creep into their business models.

"Only Wizz and Ryanair are [true] low-cost," he told delegates at the industry conference. "The likes of EasyJet and Norwegian [Air Shuttle], we would call them 'lazy low-cost'."

Fast forward to this summer's World Low Cost Airlines Congress in London, and Váradi took to the stage in a more nuanced environment for the fast-paced LCC sector...

Made in the USA... by Airbus

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At some point in the middle of 2016, for the first time in history, an Airbus aircraft will roll off the production line on American soil.

JetBlue Airways is lined up to receive the first of the US-made jets, followed later in the year by American Airlines. Both carriers have ordered A321s, though Airbus's new $600 million facility in Mobile, Alabama – which opened amid much fanfare on 14 September – will also produce A319s and A320s. Its output is due to reach four aircraft per month by late 2017...