By Rana Yehia
Daily News Egypt interviewed President of the Egyptian Federation for Private Aviation and Chairman of Al-Masria Universal Airline, Hassan Aziz, to discuss the participation of private airlines in promoting tourism investments in Egypt. During the interview, Aziz also talked about the current status of private airlines companies.
How can the Federation of Private Aviation help promote Egypt’s tourism investments?
The Federation of Private Aviation, which is still under construction, is the official speaker on behalf of all private airlines, looking for their rights and trying to reach them, if any company needs to speak to a particular State Authority, we speak to it in the name of the federation, and it is well known to all government authorities. Regarding promoting tourism, the private sector is a huge supporter of tourism, and most companies have flight lines between Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, and many European Countries such as Poland, Germany and Italy.
As forthe company for which I am president, Al-Masria Universal Airline, we were discussing and have almost agreed upon linking flights between Egypt and Russia to have regular flight lines linking Moscow with Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, but due to the big decrease in the Russian currency rates, we have postponed the agreement until the Russian economy improves and citizens have money to travel.
Are there other potential states you’re looking forward to link flights to?
Al-Masria will launch in June a new flight line between Cairo and Djibouti and between Cairo and Kuwait, with two flights per week. We would also look forward to link flights to United Arab Emirates, if we find the opportunity, but there is always difficult competition between Egyptian and Emirati companies. The UAE supports its companies in fuel supplies and a lot of other things, besides their possession of a large number of aircrafts. All Gulf States support the aviation sector, whereas the economic situation of Egypt doesn’t allow the government to support us. As a consequence, Egyptian airlines perform independently, then to work between Egypt and UAE, the competition will be extremely difficult with Emirates Airlines, Fly Dubai and Etihad Airways. These are three strong companies, where we can’t compete with the luxury of Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways or with the low-cost of Fly Dubai.
So what does Egypt need to compete in the market?
Egypt as a state needs to have a low-cost airline, besides EgyptAir. If the government started to support and encourage the establishment of an entity with a real low-cost concept, to serve travellers and citizens, to attract tourism and to enter in emergent markets and also competitive markets with Fly Dubai and Jazeera Airways and others then we can compete. Then, Egypt needs to have its own low-cost airline with 30 or 40 aircrafts. I made an example with the UAE, as Dubai Airport now has “open skies”, which means any country’s airline can pick-up travellers from it providing the same for UAE, but the Egyptian government wouldn’t do the same in order to protect EgyptAir.
If Egypt liberated its skies, it would benefit the stronger airlines in the region like Emirati airlines, so this might destroy the industry, and so we should think out of the box. The government can’t keep protecting EgyptAir, because this will damage the whole aviation sector.
So Egypt will not apply the “open skies” policy soon?
It’s not in the plan, but I’m afraid it might come by force as Egypt has signed agreements with about 54 African countries attempting to reach 1.2bn travellers inside Africa, and that by 2017 “open skies” will be applied all around Africa. Knowing that there is an African-Arabian partnership in this sector, the Gulf aviation companies will be the biggest beneficiaries from this. Egypt must start considering this and put in place a plan for the state to be prepared.
Do private aviation companies intend to link flights to more destinations inside Egypt?
Last December, Al-Masria Universal Airlines started three flights a week to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh. Egyptian travellers have started to become aware that there is an Egyptian airline company, EgyptAir Express, having regular flights besides that can give you affordable tickets to visit these two destinations, we reduced the ticket prices to EGP 760, which made EgyptAir reduce the prices as well. This attempt will be also applied to Luxor and Aswan next winter, we started with Sharm and Hurghada as Egyptians prefer beach tourism more than cultural tourism.
Later, we are planning to link Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh with Alexandria in order to make the mission of security forces easier as securing airports is easier and more efficient than securing the roads.
How many Private Aviation Companies in Egypt?
There are about twelve companies, namely Al-Masria Universal Airline, Nile Air, Nesma Airlines, Air Go, AMC Airlines, Aviator Airlines, Fly Egypt, Air Cairo, Smart Aviation and Petroleum Air Services (PAS), Cairo Aviation and AirArabia. PAS mostly works for the petroleum sectors and sometimes allocating some of its aircrafts to tourism. Nesma Airlines has mixed operations, between tourism charters and regular flights. Nile Air operates only regular flights as well as Al-Masria. AirArabia Egypt is a low-cost airline, and Cairo Aviation has Russian aircrafts and is currently in a rehabilitation phase so it’s unknown how it operates. AMC has only one aircraft working as charter and smart aviation has ambulance aircrafts, cables cleaning services helicopters and businessmen aircrafts.
How many aircraft do private airlines have, and is there any intention to increase this number?
If we total them all, they wouldn’t reach 50 aircraft, but we are trying to increase the number. Al-Masria now has three aircrafts, and we are extending the number to five by one in 2015 and one in 2016, targeting the possession of ten aircrafts by 2020. As for the rest of the companies, every one of them has its own policies, but we see that most of them are increasing the number of aircrafts such as Nile Air that bought the third aircraft and is buying the fourth, Nesma reached three aircrafts, and as for Air Cairo they reached aircraft number seven and that’s a good indication. Unfortunately, all of them together don’t reach the number of aircrafts owned by regional competitors, such as Fly Dubai which has 150 aircraft, Easy Jet which has about 300, and Ryan Air which exceeds 350 aircrafts. It’s also noted that there are rumours saying that Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is planning to found an airline with 40 aircrafts. It wasn’t announced officially, only rumours but we really hope they’re true.
Did the Ministry of Petroleum agree on making fuel payment with EGP instead of US dollars?
No, they still didn’t agree on this, and this is a very important issue. We are asking the Ministry of Petroleum to deal with us on issues like vehicles’ fuel, where they provide it and then it’s sold in EGP. Otherwise, with strict policies of the Central Bank [of Egypt (CBE)], companies are forced to obtain dollars on the black market at prices that depend on supply and demand, and as a result, the dollars rates will increase affecting the Egyptian economy. We also demand the CBE governor consider the aviation industry as one of the national industries that can improve the economy, and that has requirements. We need foreign currency to use outside the country as Egypt doesn’t manufacture aircrafts’ spare parts, and to pay landing fees in other countries, and with the strict policies of the Bank it’s difficult to transmit the money. So we need to have some sort of facilitations from the CBE.
How do you see the development operations of some Egyptian airports?
This is positive, as the government started expecting an increase in touristic flows and plan for it instead of just making reactions. Even if the flows didn’t significantly increase this year, it might do the year after, then the Ministry of Civil Aviation is making a great job by preparing airports to the expected flows. With targeting promoting tourism, we must have a good infrastructure of airports and roads. We also need new airports in several places like Ras Sedr, Ain Sokhna, Port Said and Alexandria in order to serve the Suez Canal. It might as well enter the “one day” tourism from Cyprus and Greece to Alex and Port Said.