AIR SEYCHELLES SHRUGS OF OPPOSITION CLAIMS, FOCUSES ON FUTURE
A press conference last Friday in Victoria saw the Minister for Home Affairs and Transport, the Hon. Joel Morgan, make a joint appearance with Etihads CEO and President James Hogan and Air Seychelles CEO Cramer Bell, outlining the future of the airline. Earlier in the week did opposition sources raise issues over the need to form a new national airline, not quite sure though if for domestic flights only or also on international routes, exposing a lack of understanding to the complexities of airline start ups and operations, the huge capital required, leave alone giving a chance to how the new Air Seychelles was intending to reposition itself and what the new partnership would bring in benefits to the airline and the country.
The late in the week press conference subsequently reassured the Seychellois public but also friends of Air Seychelles abroad, that the airline was on track towards a fleet renewal and new strategy. The press conference confirmed that the current B767-300 will be returned to the lessor ILFC and that two Airbus A330 will be introduced to the airline, once the lease arrangements have been made and the crews been retrained for certification on this type of aircraft at the Etihad aviation academy in Abu Dhabi.
Presently Air Seychelles is flying to Mauritius and Johannesburg but is understood to eye additional destinations on the African mainland while the present two flights a week to Abu Dhabi complement Etihads four weekly flights on the route on a close code share cooperation, with a daily frequency shared between the two partners due for June this year, when daily flights between Mahe and Abu Dhabi ensure full connectivity on a daily basis for travelers to the archipelago. The press conference also confirmed a hardly kept secret that Air Seychelles was planning to fly to China, namely Beijing, to establish a nonstop route between the two countries and tap into a fastest growing market for the country with a convenient connection. Also discussed where the benefits of code shared flights to a number of European destinations beyond the previous Air Seychelles routes of London, Paris, Milan and Rome and the benefits of having Germanys second largest airline, Air Berlin in the Etihad stable too, allowing for one stop connections from Germany to Mahe.
Etihad took a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles following an agreement between the Seychellois President James Michel and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates and it is now becoming increasingly clear which way forward the new Air Seychelles is taking in coming months.
What is still under intense review though, it is understood from a regular aviation source from Victoria, is the extend and future of Air Seychelles domestic operations, which presently connect the international airport with the second largest island Praslin on a scheduled flight basis and other islands on a charter basis. Here some announcements are expected soon, as to frequencies and fares which in the past were different for foreign visitors and Seychellois citizens and residents. The first joint board meeting under the new board composition was concluded later in the evening with cocktails at the Banyan Tree Resort where the partnership between Etihad and Air Seychelles was formally launched in the presence of leading tourism and aviation stakeholders including Ministers Joel Morgan, Alain St. Ange, the Chairman and CEO of Seychelles Tourism Barry Faure and Elsia Grandcourt, the Chairman of Seychelles Civil Aviation Capt. David Savy and the Chairman of the SHTA Louis DOffay, amongst many others.
While in the Seychelles recently it was also established that former CEO Bram Stellar has remained on site and is now acting as a senior aviation advisor and consultant, after Etihad took a major stake in the airline and brought in a top team comprising of CEO and CFO in accordance with the partnership agreement. Bram came from Kenya Airways in October to join Air Seychelles as CEO, initiated the painful downsizing and cost cutting exercise and was part of the team putting the Etihad deal together and he is reportedly much missed by his former colleagues and staff in Nairobi so watch this space with a keen eye.