IT IS BRAM STELLER ALL OVER AGAIN AS LONG HAUL FLEET SET TO GO AND AIRLINE TURNS TO REGIONAL FLIGHTS ONLY
(Posted 23rd January 2018)
Seven odd years ago, when the current Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine Mr. Maurice Loustau-Lalanne was in fact the Executive Chairman of Air Seychelles, was the Skytrax 4 star airline faced with similar hard choices as is the case today.
Bram Steller, who came from Kenya Airways after a successful spell as Chief Operating Officer – arguably one of the best that airline ever had – came to the Seychelles with the unenviable task to turn a loss making national airline around. His decisions, taken back then, still echo in the minds of many as an almost brutal pruning saw the entire long haul fleet of Boeing B767-300’s made surplus after axing the key routes to London, Paris and Italy. Bram’s plans then focused on turning Air Seychelles into a regional airline, using Boeing B737-800NG aircraft and only serve other Indian Ocean islands and Johannesburg.
Then, at the eleventh hour, was a deal struck courtesy of the friendship between then President James Alix Michel and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi which saw Etihad acquire a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles and got an injection of 20 million US Dollars as working capital, if memory serves right.
With key functions like training, purchasing and maintenance moved to Abu Dhabi did the airline see a massive turnaround, Bram Steller exited and made way for an Etihad team led by the charismatic Cramer Ball. Cramer steered the airline back into profit territory and by 2014 was Paris back on the destination list, later followed by Hong Kong.
Cramer eventually left to take charge at another Etihad partner airline, Jet Airways and was succeeded by first Manoj Papa before Roy Kinnear was brought in after Manoj suddenly left the airline.
A domestic fleet renewal was undertaken, exchanging older Twin Otter models against brand new ones and the two Airbus A320’s were joined by sisterships of A330 make, flying long haul for Air Seychelles.
Today is it the current and still Interim CEO of Air Seychelles, Remco Althuis, who has the unenviable task of taking drastic steps to cut cost and trim the fleet size, especially now that Air France’s subsidiary JOON will begin flights between Paris and Mahe soon, two of their traffic days in fact clashing with the Air Seychelles departures – a decision which at the time when traffic rights were negotiated already raised intense speculation as to the why.
It is little wonder therefore that Paris, besides Antananarivo on Madagascar, will be struck off the destination list effective 24th of April and that from that date onwards Air Seychelles’ focus will be turned to the region.
Said Air Seychelles’ Chairman Jean Weeling-Lee, when making the announcement: ‘The aviation industry is fiercely competitive and will become even more so in 2018 as some of the largest carriers begin flying to Seychelles. This transformation plan has been designed to restructure the Air Seychelles business to meet the challenges of the future while continuing to deliver strong results for the economy and people of Seychelles‘.
It is understood that Etihad will provide codeshared services via Abu Dhabi for passengers from and to Paris and even other French cities, but vacationers are notorious in looking for nonstop or direct flights without having to change planes at an intermediate airport, precisely the reason why Air Seychelles a few years ago brought back their Paris services only to now drop them again in the face of fierce competition.
Added Remco Althuis: ‘The launch of competing air services from Europe to Seychelles will significantly impact Air Seychelles’ flights to and from Paris, which account for approximately 30% of total passenger revenue at the airline, making the route unsustainable in the long-term. After considering all the options, we have taken the decision to withdraw from both Paris and Antananarivo and refocus on our core strengths – our domestic and regional networks. Doing so will enable us to concentrate on more profitable areas of the business, while people in Seychelles will continue to have non-stop access to France and wider Europe through airlines that can operate at more efficient international scale than Air Seychelles‘.
As part of this strategic transformation, Air Seychelles will replace its regional fleet of two Airbus A320 aircraft with Airbus #A320NEO’s aircraft in 2019, enabling the airline to offer greater levels of comfort while increasing seat capacities and reducing operational costs.Continued Mr. Althuis: ‘The key differentiator of Air Seychelles has always been its creole spirit and exceptional service, and we will explore ways of building on this foundation while developing our offering to better meet the needs of modern travellers, who are increasingly looking for a more personalised travel experience. Our goal will be to restructure our cost base while retaining all the standout qualities that make Air Seychelles so unique. We fully understand how challenging these changes will be and we are establishing the optimum way of dealing with the transition. During the coming months, the airline management team will be working closely with the Supervisory Board, Etihad, and the Government of Seychelles to preserve as many jobs as possible and provide assistance to staff. Resizing the workforce to our changing business requirements is a necessary step to create a lean and efficient company‘.
Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, the Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine added his own take when he said: ‘As an island nation, we have always risen to the challenges placed before us by international economic forces, and I am confident that, with the full support of its stakeholders, our flag carrier will adapt to the winds of change. It is important that we take these tough but necessary steps at this time to safeguard the future of Air Seychelles‘.
Watch this space for breaking aviation news from the wider Eastern African region.
and one article of 7 years ago when the airline went through a similar period of ‘pruning’ before Etihad came to HM’s rescue