AIR MAURITIUS REACTS TO STINGING CRITICISM
Following more losses by Air Mauritius in the last quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, and decisions to cut initially 8 routes, leaving tour operators and holiday companies in more than just a little lurch, has the airline now apparently decided to go on the media offensive and put their own version of events into the public domain. A regular source from Port Louis made information available overnight, giving some explanations on the various decisions taken in recent weeks, to cut cost and destinations.
Routes to Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Australia were axed at the time, leaving connectivity from some of Mauritius strong tourist markets to other airlines, in particular the ever expanding Gulf carriers which are reportedly using this development to seek more flights to Mauritius, something the airline countered by saying that the resulting overcapacity had put undue pressure on revenues, thereby contributing to the disappointing financial results seen in recent quarters.
In the case of Australia, neighbouring La Reunion based Air Austral swiftly stepped into the breach, reversing their own decision taken only weeks earlier to halt flights to Sydney, now offering convenient connections with more or less immediate onward flights, news received with great relief by the Mauritius expatriate community in Eastern Australia as well as the Australian tourism trade.
In turn though did Air Mauritius announce they would up their flights to Johannesburg from one per day to two per day later in the year while adding a third flight to Nairobi / Kenya. In both cases agreements have been made to tap into the African and international network of South African Airways and of Kenya Airways, to connect passengers destined for Mauritius via their hubs on to Air Mauritius flights. A similar deal appears to have been struck with Malaysian Airlines, and again from later this year Air Mauritius intends to fly 3 times a week to Kuala Lumpur, leaving the feeding and de-feeding traffic beyond that destination to Malaysian.
As further part of cost cutting and savings it is expected that the airlines remaining A340 aircraft will be retired and sold in coming months as will the entire fleet undergo a critical analysis to ensure the best operating economics are being brought to Air Mauritius, which with a fleet of 12 aircraft and 4 different aircraft types is not possible.
Again in turn is the airline keen to up their customer rating, as determined by Skytrax, from the present three stars to four stars in coming years, and by doing so offering a much improved inflight product aimed to retain as well as reclaim market share.
Towards that end a consulting firm was retained to make recommendations to the board of directors of Air Mauritius and from available information it appears that the board did accept the various proposals for cost cutting and operational changes, including the potential divesture from noncore assets and shareholdings. Also included in the consultants reports were suggestions in the search for a strategic partner, a topic however kept very close to the chest of the powers that be in Port Louis, so as not to compromise ongoing negotiations, difficult as they are anyway considering the precarious financial position of Air Mauritius.
Since the boards acceptance of the various recommendations on February 13th, did the CEO of Air France visit Mauritius for consultations in March, intriguing as to the timing chosen for the meetings inspite the fact that Air France has been holding a minority share in Air Mauritius since its inception in 1967, although local and regional flights only started in1972 and international flights only in 1977.
There is no telling right now, if the Mauritius government will opt for a closer partnership with Air France, perhaps by selling them more shares, or if another partner could be preferred, one with deeper pockets and stronger ambitions as was seen earlier in the year in the Seychelles, where Etihad, Abu Dhabis national airline, took a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles but also assumed the management of that airline, setting an equally loss making airline on the path to recovery.
Trying times these are for Air Mauritius, so watch this space for more news, as and when available.