Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 December 2011
Issue No. 1076
Sky High
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

One more take-off

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Hussein Massoud

The new Cabinet includes a new aviation minister among 14 other ministers who joined the new government. Protesters over the weeks before the new minister was named demanded that military ministers step out. Hussein Massoud, who has occupied the post of chairman of the national carrier EgyptAir for two years, was promoted to minister of aviation, Amirah Ibrahim reports.

Following the ousting of the Mubarak regime, two ministers took the office each for a few months. The latest was the ex-Air Forces chief of staff Lotfi Kamal, who only occupied the office for four months. As the political crisis heated up, workers organised many demonstrations to demand all military officers employed in the ministry to step out and allow civil employees to manage the administration

Massoud served as an engineer in the Air Forces in his youth but quit the military in 1992 and established a family business in electronics.

He came back to airspace business in 1999 when he joined a consultant office in Cairo for aircraft equipment. In 2007, Massoud was appointed as a deputy for the national carrier, which had been the subject of an extensive upgrade and modernisation process.

Ten days after taking the office, Massoud invited the media for a meeting on Tuesday for a briefing.

"Our top priorities are two essential issues: to recover the losses and settle the protests of employees," explained Massoud. "The traffic to Egypt dropped in February by 80 per cent. This is a serious figure considering the fact that air transport is such a fragile industry with a poor margin of profit that does not exceed 2 per cent. For seven months after the revolution, airports and airlines as well as air navigation and all related services suffered a cut of revenues while expenses increased."

Massoud indicated that the national carrier, with almost 80 per cent of its fleet grounded, had hit more than $450 million of losses over the months of February and March, each.

"The load factor just days before the violence broke out at Masbero on 9 October, reached 74 per cent, promising a recovery of traffic. But due to violence, on 11 October, load factor collapsed to 54 per cent and the day followed it went down to 42 per cent. This was a disastrous situation." Massoud highlighted the need to bring security, safety and then political stability before speaking of predictions about the future.

"Egypt was scheduled to host a number of international events such as the IATA AGM. But now we need to think positively about the future. Safety and security will pave the way for investments to return and thus push the economy and community forward."

Massoud expressed his belief that the employees who serve at the air transport business had a point when demanding better work conditions. "They have the right to demand and we are obliged to listen and do what we can to solve the problems and end their troubles. The question is when and with what means to make your demand accepted and welcomed."

Massoud's administration faces many difficult situations. Many European and Arab carriers either stopped or reduced operation to Egyptian airports. Many replaced the regional airports with additional frequencies to the main airport in Cairo .

According to Massoud, strategies are to be amended to meet the new cabinet's policies. "With regard to air transport, we are committed to boost cooperation with African nations. This is not new as a matter of fact. The national carrier adopted such a trend years ago, expanding its network, business and services."

Massoud highlighted the need of African air transport industry to be modernised and upgraded.

"The African fleet consists of 654 aircraft which are 15 years average age while Europe's fleet consists of 4912 aircraft of 10 years age average. We need to close ranks and cooperate in a better way. This should cover maintenance and technical support, ground services, training, exchanging experiences, etc."

Only the interests of the industry and the country would govern the coming phase as Massoud explained, replying to a question about whether his administration would push for cooperation with the Iranian aviation sector.

"Definitely, this is a topic with a lot of politics and security issues to talk about. However, everything has a place on the table for the government to discuss and study. Our main guideline is the benefits and profits while protecting social peace as well," he concluded.

Massoud has not yet been tested as an government administrator for the industry, though he proved success in managing the flag carrier, which is affiliated to the state.

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