THE END OF AIR SEYCHELLES AS WE KNOW IT OR A NEW BEGINNING
The short reign at the helm of Air Seychelles of Bram Stellar has brought about some activities, which the word restructuring no longer captures. First came the successful negotiations with ILFC for the premature return of two older B767-200 aircraft, surplus in the fleet after the contract with the British Ministry of Defence for regular charters to the Falkland Islands expired.
While the national airline then launched its new livery, looking bright and fresh, Bram Stellar embarked behind the scenes on one of the most comprehensive reviews the airline had seen in a long time, and with an almost ruthless streak he then went on to start the almost inevitable cuts.
Singapore, a destination which HM served once a week, was cut first as new cost cutting measures took hold, but the announcement yesterday of yet more route cuts, shocked the nation and aficionados of flying the Creole Spirit.
London, Milan, Rome and Paris are on the chopping board too now it was learned, leaving questions on where the new look Air Seychelles will fly thereafter. From 08th January, it was learned, will flight from Mahe via Rome and Milan to London cease to operate and Paris, the milk run route operated jointly with Air France under a codeshare arrangement, is to be scaled back initially to only three flights a week after the end of the peak Christmas and New Year season, before being halted altogether by March 2012. This will leave Air Seychelles with Johannesburg as its presently sole African destination and the airline offices are buzzing with questions over what next to expect.
A usually well informed source did indicate, without wishing to go on record considering the sensitivity of this entire affair, that an extensive code share arrangement is being put into place with Etihad, the national airline of Abu Dhabi, to carry traffic from London, Paris, Milan and Rome to Mahe, although the extent of such an arrangement and the duration of the agreement of it have yet to be unearthed.
In recent years have carriers like Emirates under an increasingly liberal regime of bilateral air services agreements entered the Seychelles market in force, aiming to be double daily by the start of this years Christmas high season, while Qatar Airways now flies daily to Mahe, with Etihad joining the band wagon with initially four flights of their own. It was largely this competitive environment which led to Frankfurt being dropped by Air Seychelles last year, as they were unable to match the fares Gulf based airlines were offering, and at a time when Emirates for instance had not even gone daily. Etihad is expected to go daily soon now that they can be assured of flying the Air Seychelles faithful from Europe to the archipelago and the choice of Abu Dhabis flag carrier as preferred partner is no surprise to regular observers of the islands politics either, considering that close and personal ties exist between the two countries, President James Michel and Abu Dhabis ruler.
Aviation observers are now intensely speculating over the future of Air Seychelles, and if it is to be turned into a regional airline, eventually switching from the B767s to possibly B737NGs, and to begin serving mainland and Indian Ocean island destinations. Those strategic details however appear to be kept close to the CEOs chest and the various rumours lack confirmation at this stage, not warranting mentioning them here at this early stage. What is certain though is that the affected on line stations, when flights cease, will see staff being made redundant, which might well spread to the airlines hub in Mahe too, inspite of assurances earlier in the year, that jobs were safe.
Meanwhile these developments have also triggered the alarm bells in the quarters of Air Mauritius, an airline equally struggling with market shares, recent losses and growing competition, and while Mauritius government has been decidedly more protective of its national airline, the question is how long they can stem the tide, in particular as key tourism stakeholders have demanded a lifting of such measures to allow international airlines to bring in more tourists clearly a double edged sword as the development with Air Seychelles now confirms. For now though, all eyes are on Bram Stellar and what he and his senior staff, and the board, are up to next and which direction the new Air Seychelles will fly to and what shape a restructured and leaner HM will take. Watch this space for the most current updates, breaking news and information from the East African and Indian Ocean islands aviation scene.
Archive for November 19th, 2011
Seychelles aviation news – Which way Air Seychelles after shock news emerge of European destinations being axed
THE END OF AIR SEYCHELLES AS WE KNOW IT OR A NEW BEGINNING
Uganda aviation news – Brussels Airlines’ CEO Bernard Gustin shows ‘flag’ in the face of new rivals entering Ugandan market
BRUSSELS AIRLINES PULLS OUT THE STOPS IN KAMPALA
The timing of Brussels Airlines CEO Bernard Gustin visit to Uganda for a media blitz was certainly intriguing as far as the timing was concerned, falling half way between the launch of flights by Qatar Airways in early November and by Gulf Air in early December.
SN has been flying to East Africa already in the old Savoir Vivre days of Sabena, and when Swissair had brought the Belgian flag carrier to its knees, the new Brussels Airlines resumed flights to Entebbe as one of the first destinations on the African continent. That presence and history stands undisputed, though questions remain why the airline currently flies only three times a week between Brussels and Entebbe, admittedly soon restoring the fourth flight which for the off peak season was taken temporarily off the schedule, while rivals KLM are now up to 5 times a week.
The arrival of new A330 aircraft on the fleet have certainly boosted SNs capacity to increase their flights, and in particular West African destinations have benefitted from that development, though East Africa still sees room for a greater presence by SN, the only airline to connect East Africa directly to the European capital city of Brussels.
Bernard Gustin brought good news with him to Kampala, namely that the airline had signed an agreement with the American authorities over the Anti Trust regulations, and will commence nonstop flights between Brussels and New York in early 2012, with other Star Alliance partners joining as codeshare partners. An additional A330 will join the fleet by then, giving East Africans, and in turn Americans, the added option of flying either to the Big Apple or else come to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda or Burundi for holidays or on business.
As mentioned before, the timing was certainly interesting for this visit, clearly aimed to show flag in the face of Qatar Airways having started daily flights, while Gulf will soon add four of its own, bringing further competition to a market already generously endowed with flights, and with sales personnel working the market hard to fill their planes. When asked about the competition with the Gulf based airlines, Bernard Gustin was as outspoken as one is used to from Qatar Airways Al Baker, saying: it is hard to compete with airlines where profit is not the main objective. These airlines are tools by their governments which own them and take advantage of cheaper fuel cost in their home countries and the freedoms granted to them to fly almost anywhere, before their true intent became clear. When asked further about the level playing field between European and Gulf based carriers, Bernard Gustin also laid heavily into the EU administration over the forthcoming ETS, which he considered misguided and only an added cost factor without channeling any of those funds back into the aviation sector. Al Baker, while recent in Kampala, had told this correspondent that such taxes were bullshit, a sentiment echoed in Bernard Gustins response too. The European governments and the EU have to make up their mind what sort of aviation industry they want clearly expressing his sentiments also over the almost free access by Gulf carriers to the European markets, free of the constraints heaped upon home based airlines by over taxation, operating restrictions at airports and other regulatory requirements and dictates.
Commendably though did Brussels Airlines stand up to be counted and showed that they continue to be Passionate about Africa, also demonstrated by an entire crew being at hand in greeting arriving guests and then performing a mock service with the distribution of face towels and drinks to the sizeable crowd which made the way to the Kabira Country Club on a Friday evening.
The night also saw the last appearance in SN colours by outgoing Country Sales Manager Roger Wamara, who will join Qatar Airways next week. Guest of honour for the night was Tourism Minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, who commended the airline for their long association with Uganda while expressing his, and everyone elses hopes that one day soon Brussels Airlines will also come daily to the Pearl of Africa. Watch this space for regular aviation updates from the East African region and the Indian Ocean islands.