Demands for nonstop flights to Paris remain on the agenda as Abu Dhabi stopover shortened to just an hour


(Posted 18th October 2014)

While the news came in already yesterday from Paris, that Air Seychelles would after all not revert to nonstop flights between Mahe and Paris CDG, was time needed to get a broader input from stakeholders in both France and from the archipelago, and the overwhelming consensus is ‘A bit of progress but nowhere near enough to have the French market come back in force’.

The Minister of Tourism and Culture, Mr. Alain St. Ange, had led the delegation to France to meet with tour operators who had paid a visit to the islands recently, to inform them in person of the decision which was taken by Air Seychelles. The primary change, welcomed by many and yet called not enough, will be that passenges booked on Air Seychelles from Paris to Mahe and vice versa, will now be able to remain on board of the aircraft, with the ground stop reduced to just one hour, during which a crew change is taking place, the aircraft refueled and additional catering taken on board.

Previously did passenger have to disembark and wait in a transit lounge to accommodate those tasks, with the stop taking considerably longer.

One regular commentator from the islands, on condition of strict anonymity, essentially had this to say:

I want to express my thanks to the Minister for standing up for the tourism stakeholders. However from both places they have made it clear that the market needs nonstop flights again. I think he got as much out of the airline as could be expected but it is obvious there are greater forces at work, resisting the nonstop concept to the end. It is the same with the China flights which were to be nonstop and then also routed via Abu Dhabi. I see some logic in doing that because to and from Abu Dhabi, in all directions, additional traffic comes on board that flight through Etihad. We understand that is a reason for the profits over the past two years but to be honest, that is purely for the shareholders and the passenger interests, the tour operator interests, come second in that game. Several of my colleagues are clear that Seychelles Airlines, if at all they ever get their license, will be an instant threat to the Air Seychelles route to Paris, because the new airline will go nonstop and the national airline will comply with the wishes of the big brother to route via Abu Dhabi. And we know that is why Air Austral was blocked to start a flight last year from Paris via Mahe to Reunion. The new measures may perhaps cut the traveling time by a bit over an hour and add extra loadfactor but what the market wants is to go nonstop. Again, we know the minister stuck his neck out and probably got as much as he could, but there is now lingering disappointment in the rank and file and these questions will not go away. You might find that by simply publishing this you run into trouble but this is the truth. Of course there was applause when the announcement was made but there was also a sense of disappointment in the air’.

Two other regular sources in almost identical words cast doubt over the assertion made by Air Seychelles that the so called tech stop was a precursor to nonstop flights once sufficient passenger numbers had been achieved. ‘When Air Seychelles still flew nonstop to Paris, the issue was not passenger numbers. These flights were codeshared with Air France at the time, no? The issue was the yield because the fares charged had to take into account competition from Emirates and back then from Qatar Airways. When you keep that in mind does the present arrangement to fly through Abu Dhabi make all the financial sense, for the airline, but not for the passengers’.

Be it as it may, the shortened stopover of the Air Seychelles flights to Paris will definitely bring some relief, allowing passengers to stay on board and avoiding the troubling and time consuming de-boarding and re-boarding, extra security checks included but in the language of computer programmes this can only be described as a programme patch and not a new programme.

Said another regular source in closing, the mail just in: ‘I think the struggle we have this year to match the 2013 arrival data has given some people a wakeup call. Our own minister fundamentally must want to see the same thing as the private sector, which are nonstop flights. He was surely given a briefcase full of data to explain why this cannot be. Yes, our national airline is making profits again but they also must appreciate that it is a fine balance to cater for passenger interests and tour operator interests and those of shareholders. But then, those decisions are probably not taken on Mahe but in Abu Dhabi. The cooperation with Etihad brought a lot of benefits but let us not fool ourselves, there is a price to be paid and that price is flights through Abu Dhabi’.

The route from Mahe to Paris, and passenger numbers, will probably be the hottest item in coming months when the pundits wait for data to be released to see how the changes will affect the loadfactors on these direct flights and be sure to read all about it as and when a conclusion can be drawn.

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