By year-end, hopefully
Healing the wounds caused by turmoil in Egypt to air transport is not close. Amirah Ibrahim looks into possible chances for a near recovery
The political turmoil in Egypt and the Arab region had a direct impact on the air transport business, influencing flight operations and passenger volumes to the country. Dozens of foreign airlines operating to Egypt have either suspended operation or decreased flights to Egyptian airports.
The strategies being planned to increase passenger volumes include inviting delegations from different countries to Egypt, in cooperation with official tourism departments. This started with an Italian delegation, followed by Swiss, Turkish and Spanish delegations of tour operators.
The latest was a US delegation who visited Egypt two weeks ago.
"The outcome of those visits brought instant removal of the ban imposed by those governments on visiting Egypt. We are optimistic to push tourism back to the country soon, by next winter season," explained Hussein Massoud, Chairman of EgyptAir Holding Company as he spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly.
But tourism is not the main concern for the airline, which says that tourists represent only 8-10 per cent of its total passengers volume. "As a regular airline, tourism does not represent the core of our business. Charter operators rely more on tourism, and certainly we help through domestic operations to the main tourism destinations in Egypt. We mainly target business passengers; employees, investors, and those related to economic activities, who provide a continuous traffic volume regardless of the seasonality of tourism."
This makes predicting about a near recovery is difficult. "As long as security remains missing, stability is hard to reach," concluded Hussein Massoud, Chairman of EgyptAir Holding Company. "Just tell me when we have security, political and economic stability back, and I would consequently illustrate the recovery scheme," he added.
But for the national carrier, which accounts for up to 52 per cent of operations to the country, everybody remains very optimistic that things will be back to normal by the year-end.
"We have four cards left to manoeuvre with: local tourism, Umrah and Hajj seasons, transferring Egyptians labour in and out and Arab tourism.
"With a nation that consists of more than 80 million people, it is strongly recommended to arrange a national campaign to promote internal tourism. This will help the overall economy, not only air transport and tourism."
The airline has activated more promotions to Red Sea resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxor to the south.
Umrah and Hajj operation however could be the vital card to rescue the suffering business. "We are operating almost 2,600 flights between Egypt and Saudi Arabia between March and September for the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca," explained Massoud.
"Over six weeks, we managed to transfer 80,000 Umrah piligrims. We operate daily 10 flights to Jeddah and seven to Madinah from Cairo where as we operate three flights to Madinah from Alexandria."
Ummrah season continues till the 20th of the holy month of Ramadan. The airline is set to operate more 1435 flights to the holy cities in Saudi Arabia for that duration.
The beginning of June marks the start of vacations for Egyptian workers abroad who mostly prefer to return home to spend vacations with their families. To meet the demand by Egyptians abroad, the airline scheduled an additional 217 flights with a capacity of 42,922 seats to and from Arab Gulf countries, where the main bulk of Egyptian labour is.
EgyptAir has nine subsidiaries and last year, its overall profit was around $100 million, Massoud said. The airline now has 75 aircraft, after it received its sixth Boeing B777- 300ER aircraft last month.
In the face of previous expansion plans, the turmoil which broke out four months ago forced the carrier to shrink its network and ground 60 per cent of the fleet due to a drastic drop of traffic following the 25 January unrest.
Today and after passing through the bottleneck, the airline moves slowly to recover from the aftermath of crisis. "The load factor on our flights has hit 65 per cent, jumping to 80 per cent at some destinations, whereas less than 20 per cent of the fleet is being grounded."
As for the network, it will remain 5 per cent less than last year, but 19 per cent behind scheduled expansion.
Massoud indicated the summer schedule for operation had been split in two phases: from the end of March to the end of May and from the first of June to the end of September. "We are adding more frequencies to some destinations in the Middle East; such as Jeddah, Manama, Doha, Beirut and Abu Dhabi, in Africa such as Abuja, Nairobi and Asmara and in Europe such as Rome, Milan, Brussels Copenhagen and London."
The airline will add more frequencies as such to its operation from regional airports, resuming Alexandria-Riyadh route and adding two flights from Sharm El-Sheikh to London and four flights between Upper Egypt's Suhag governorate and Kuwait.