Thursday, 28 January 2021

Why Wizz Air will be a structural winner from the coronavirus pandemic

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In December, nine months after Covid-19 swept around the world – plunging the air transport industry into its worst ever crisis – shares in European low-cost carrier Wizz Air reached an all-time high on the London Stock Exchange.

That the market shrugged off the grim outlook for airlines was no surprise: global indices have bounced back from their March lows as investors, flush with government stimulus, pile into risk assets and growth stock. Low-cost carriers are a compelling bet given their rapid expansion in recent years – fueled by insatiable passenger demand and the inferior cost structures of legacy rivals.

But Europe’s other budget airlines have not fared as well during the crisis. Shares in market leader Ryanair – more than three times the size of Wizz Air – fell short of their all-time-high by 14% during last month’s peak. Hybrid carrier EasyJet failed to come within even 50% of its highest-ever stock price.

For chief executive József Váradi, Wizz Air’s rising fortune in the midst of a global pandemic is recognition of the company’s obsessive focus on cost reduction, scalability and liquidity...

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Interview: George Uriesi, Ibom Air COO

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Before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted that air passenger numbers in Nigeria will rise by 174% over the next two decades.

Its forecast came as no surprise to anyone familiar with the country’s runaway demographics. Nigeria already has the largest headcount of any African nation: 206 million citizens as of last year. With annual growth rates of 2.5%, The Lancet expects it to become the second most populated country in the world by the end of this century.

That will mean overtaking China, whose own population is set to nearly halve during the same period.

Yet, despite its rising fortunes, Nigeria is ill-prepared for the coming boom in aviation. There are currently no domestic airlines strong enough to compete on long-haul routes from the country, meaning the spoils of its growth are largely accruing to foreign operators...

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Time to take aim at shootdowns

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Few readers will be aware that, on 4 th May, an Embraer EMB-120 passenger plane operated by African Express Airways was shot down with the loss of all on-board.

The aircraft was making a humanitarian flight from Baidoa to Berdale in Somalia, carrying medical supplies for the country’s fight against covid-19. It was downed by Ethiopian soldiers who apparently mistook its “unusual” flight path for a “potential suicide mission” by Al Shabaab, the Islamist terror group.

Six people died, including Captain Hassan Bulhan, the son of the airline’s owner.

Four months earlier, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 (PS752) was blown out of the sky by Iranian soldiers who feared it was a cruise missile launched by the US military. That catastrophe claimed 176 lives.

And six years ago – in what was supposed to be a watershed moment for the airline industry – Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was shot down by Russia-backed rebels over the skies of eastern Ukraine. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) pledged to honour the 298 victims of that tragedy by ensuring that “civilian airliners will never again be brought down by weapons of war”.

Clearly, those words now ring hollow...

Interview: Cosmos Gombura, Sky Navigator Managing Director

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Last year, Cosmos Gombura, the managing director of Sky Navigator, a new South Sudanese airline, drove to neighbouring Uganda to attend a friend’s wedding.

His group made the journey via the Nimule highway – the only tarmacked highway in South Sudan – which stretches from capital city Juba across the Ugandan border to the northern town of Gulu.

Shootings, bombings and sexual assaults are a common occurrence on the notorious road. So, when Gombura’s party became stranded, he inevitably feared the worst...

Friday, 1 May 2020

Interview: Yossrey Abdel Wahab, Nile Air Managing Director

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In recent years Nile Air had seemed to be a rare bright spot in Egypt’s civil aviation market, spreading its wings even as the country grappled with a series of political and security crises.

Former boss Ahmed Aly attributed the airline’s success to its varied customer base of business travellers, pilgrims, tourists, and visiting friends and relatives. Under his watch, the full-service carrier grew its fleet from two to seven aircraft while launching a host of new routes.

But the expansion ground to a halt in 2017 and Aly’s successor, Yossrey Abdel Wahab, is far from convinced about the wisdom of the strategy...

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Interview: Bushra Abushora, Tarco Aviation Strategic Planning Director

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Last November, Apollo Aviation Group, a US company that manages aircraft assets, was fined $210,000 by the US government for unwittingly leasing out engines that wound up in the hands of Sudan Airways, the flag-carrier of Sudan, in 2014.

The fact that America lifted its economic embargo of Sudan three years ago failed to deter the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the wing of the US Treasury responsible for sanctions enforcement, from pursuing Apollo.

So, too, did the many mitigating factors that OFAC acknowledged of the case: Apollo had no advance warning that its engines would be passed via intermediaries to Sudan Airways; the engines were ultimately in Sudan for just four months on wet-leased aircraft; and the contract was immediately dissolved when Apollo discovered the slip-up.

To even casual observers, this heavy-handed response leaves little doubt about the seriousness that Washington attaches to violations – deliberate or otherwise – of its sanctions regime.

But it also partly explains why the removal of the decades-old US embargo has done little to ease Sudan’s problems...

Interview: Mustafa Maatug, Afriqiyah Airways Chairman

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Mitiga Airport, Tripoli’s only functioning gateway, resumed operations in December after it was closed for three months due to airstrikes by Khalifa Haftar, the country’s most powerful warlord.

The disruption was just the latest blow for Libya’s long-suffering airlines – their previous hub, Tripoli International Airport, was destroyed in 2014 – yet Mustafa Maatug, the chairman of Afriqiyah Airways, one of Libya’s state-owned flag-carriers, is quick to find a silver lining.

“This sort of problem is happening very rarely,” he told African Aerospace. “It happens from time to time, but these problems will not stop us from operating...

Tunisair's Plan B

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Tunisair is working on a new restructuring plan after its government owner walked away from a proposed overhaul that would have cost $1.3 billion Tunisian dinar ($457 million).

“We will use another plan that doesn't need for us this quantity [of money],” Ilyes Mnakbi, the airline’s chief executive, said on the sidelines of an industry conference in Kuwait. “We will make our own plan – not the government's plan – for restructuring the company. It will be less money than the other one … The government doesn't give us this amount."

Mnakbi provided few details about the revised plan, insisting that management were still weighing up several options. But he reiterated his support for three strategic priorities: fleet renewal; rationalisation of the workforce; and an increased focus on Africa...

Monday, 23 March 2020

New charter airline Aero Georgia targets September launch

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The Caucasian country of Georgia could be served by a new charter airline as soon as this September following successful talks with two eastern European investors.

Aero Georgia is aiming to launch flights with a single narrow-body aircraft capable of carrying up to 150 passengers, Igor Aptsiauri, the company’s chief executive, told me in a telephone interview.

“This will be the first time that Georgia will have a purely charter airline,” he said.

“What we have noticed here in Georgia is that there's a very big demand for charters. And not only in Georgia … If we look at the big airlines in eastern Europe and the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] region, the ones that are doing more or less OK financially are all charter airlines...

Sunday, 8 March 2020

This is why flights are still operating from Milan’s airports

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When Italy’s government placed the northern region of Lombardy on lockdown this weekend, many assumed that Milan’s airports would immediately halt flights.

The reason for isolating Lombardy, after all, is to slow the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus disease that has so far infected 109,500 people worldwide, killing 3,800. Italy is by far the European country worst affected by the outbreak, with 7,375 cases and 366 deaths. Lombardy is its worst hit region.

Several countries and airlines have already taken matters into their own hands by grounding flights and cutting frequencies to northern Italy.

Yet, as of Sunday March 8th, the day that the lockdown began, Milan’s Malpensa Airport and Bergamo Airport were both insisting that it’s business as usual in their terminals. Bergamo Airport’s operator is still sharing a video that encourages its customers to #keeponflying...