Friday, 1 April 2016

Interview: Abderahmane Berthé, Air Burkina CEO

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Recent years have not been kind to Celestair, the grouping of small African flag-carriers established by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), an international agency based in Geneva.

The alliance, in truth, no longer really exists. Two of its official members have ceased operations since the turn of the decade – Air Mali in 2012 and Air Uganda in 2014 – while AKFED sold its shareholding in a third affiliate, Air Côte d'Ivoire, in 2013.

But the last member of Celestair soldiers on defiantly. Though small in size and almost unknown outside of its Ouagadougou base, Air Burkina, the flag-carrier of Burkina Faso, is holding its own in the notoriously difficult West African market...

Interview: Ben Dahwa, Air Botswana CEO

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The board of directors at Air Botswana was dissolved in November, when Transport Minister Tshenolo Mabeo pledged to reboot the flag-carrier with a "clean slate" after years of losses.

It was not the news that Ben Dahwa, the airline's general manager, had been waiting for. The former engineer was in the final stages of securing funding from the Government for his five-year turnaround plan, drawn up with help from ICF Consultants.

Dahwa had no illusions about the difficulties facing Air Botswana – a minnow in the African aviation market with a history of corrupt management and inefficient operations.

"Please do not write us off. We are intending to greatly improve," he told journalists four months before his dismissal, acknowledging the parastatal's poor reputation but promising change for the better...

Budapest bridgehead

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Emirates Airline is a step closer to launching its second nonstop passenger service from Europe to America, after officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Hungary expressed interest in Gulf-operated transatlantic flights out of Budapest. Although Dubai's flag-carrier focuses on sixth-freedom traffic – flights into and out of its home base – it has always been open to fifth-freedom links, which involve onward flights between foreign countries. Dubai-Milan-New York was launched in 2013, and Dubai-Budapest-New York will be the most likely prize from the Hungarian talks...

Friday, 18 March 2016

Emirates makes Hungary latest front in Gulf-US battleground

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Although no formal announcement has been made, it looks increasingly likely that Dubai's flag-carrier, Emirates Airline, will soon launch nonstop flights from the Hungarian capital Budapest to America.

Senior transport officials from Hungary and the UAE have voiced support for the so-called fifth-freedom route – an industry term for connecting flights between two foreign countries.

Saif al-Suwaidi, the director general of the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority, confirmed this month that the Gulf country has requested access to two fifth-freedom services over Budapest. Without naming the destinations being discussed, Péter Szijjártó, Hungary's foreign minister, added: “We are prepared to provide this freedom and will conduct the required procedures rapidly with both the Emirates and the European Union.”

New York, home to a large number of Hungarian expatriates, is considered the most obvious choice for fifth-freedom connectivity...

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Interview: Colin Copp, Jazz Aviation President

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On 19 February, an unremarkable statement by Chorus Aviation, the parent company of Canada's Jazz Aviation, announced that the airline's maintenance workers have ratified a new labour agreement.

To many observers in the fast-paced airline industry, the 92-word press release will have failed to stir even the briefest flicker of interest. But to anyone who has been following the twists and turns of Canada's aviation market, this crucial maintenance deal consummates an extraordinary change of direction for one of the world's most operationally accomplished – yet commercially exposed – regional carriers...

Friday, 4 March 2016

Jazeera Airways on collision course with Kuwait’s flag-carrier

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Jazeera Airways marked Kuwait’s 55th National Day last week by unveiling a special aircraft livery emblazoned with the emirate’s flag.

Commemorative color schemes are popular in the airline industry – recall British Airways’ dove livery during the 2012 Olympic Games – but Jazeera’s paintjob is more than a marketing exercise. The nationalist makeover comes amid a souring of relations with prospective partner Kuwait Airways, which has all but abandoned its privatisation drive in a bid to protect public-sector jobs.

By draping one of its seven A320s with the Kuwaiti flag, Jazeera is reaffirming its status as a self-proclaimed “national carrier” – a role it is adopting with or without the real flag-carrier’s consent...

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Kuwait Airways turns a corner

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It was no great shock when Kuwait Airways announced last summer that its troubled privatisation programme has effectively been abandoned. The state-owned flag-carrier is still officially looking for equity buyers, though only through a watered-down proposal that will leave politicians firmly in the driving seat.

Taken in isolation, the decision to keep Kuwait Airways in the public sector might have been disastrous. The airline has performed miserably over the past two decades, steadily losing ground to a new breed of more efficient, better funded Gulf rivals. Parliamentary bickering over strategy and fleet renewal are largely to blame for its sclerotic performance – creating an opening for Dubai's Emirates Airline, Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways to funnel Kuwaiti passengers through their own hubs.

However, the move away from privatisation did not occur in a vacuum...

The early bird catches no returns

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Few issues drive a wedge between airlines and their customers like the thorny matter of compensation. In Europe, anyone whose flight is delayed by more than three hours can claim between €250 and €600 ($270 and $650) for the inconvenience, provided the delay is not caused by “extraordinary circumstances”. Airlines, as you would expect, interpret force majeure more broadly than passengers, lumping all manner of disruptions under the get-out clause. Along with extreme weather, terrorism and industrial action—events that are universally deemed “extraordinary”—airlines have attempted to withhold payment over bird strikes and technical faults. Successive court rulings have come down on the side of passengers, forcing the industry to stump up compensation more often...

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Spirit Airlines nears its 'Ryanair moment'

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The new chief executive of Spirit Airlines, Bob Fornaro, is vowing to soften the airline’s uncompromising approach to customer service, mimicking the charm offensive pursued by Europe’s Ryanair three years ago.

Spirit, Ryanair and other ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) base their business models on an extreme interpretation of airline economics – stripping fares to the bone and imposing surcharges for all non-essential services. Whereas most airlines show flexibility over fee structures in order to build customer loyalty, ULCCs compete solely on price and use punitive penalties to influence passenger behavior.

The strategy clearly works: Spirit’s no-nonsense persona under former chief Ben Baldanza secured the lowest unit costs in the US airline industry (5.15 cents per Available Seat Mile). Its parsimony fed through to lower airfares, catalyzing price-sensitive demand and driving 30% capacity growth last year.

But the airline’s bad-boy image creates a different type of cost...

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Another bomb is detonated aboard an international flight

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The extraordinary events that unfolded over the skies of Somalia on February 2nd have now become clearer. About 15 minutes after Daallo Airlines Flight 159 departed from Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, an explosive device carried by Abdullahi Abdisalam Borleh, one of the passengers, blew a gaping hole just above the right wing of the plane (a spot identified in al-Qaeda literature as being the most effective place to detonate a bomb). Mr Borleh, who is suspected of being a suicide bomber, was sucked out of the aircraft and fell to his death. Everyone else survived. Had the incident occurred minutes later, once the plane reached cruising altitude, the resultant explosive decompression would almost certainly have killed all aboard. To say that the 73 innocent passengers on Flight 159 had a lucky escape is an understatement...