ARE COOPERATION OR MERGERS THE WAY FORWARD FOR INDIAN OCEAN AIRLINES?
The social media and blog sites are running hot with input of friends, staff and aficionados of Air Seychelles, who cannot bear the thought that The Creole Spirit is to be reduced to a small regional carrier, which besides operating domestic routes between the various islands will in the end be left with probably not more than a single narrow body aircraft serving some routes to the African mainland and best to some of the neighbouring vanilla islands.
But reality is unfolding, Singapore has already been eliminated from the network and very soon will London, Milan and Rome follow before by end March the door will close on Paris too, leaving HM as a shadow of its former self. Economic realities apart, some of which are blamed on the relentless opening of the Seychelles skies to aviation heavyweights which however has resulted in record arrival figures for the archipelagos tourism industry while others blame differences in the vision and strategy of the airlines former management, board and owners of how best to ensure the long term survival of the countrys aviation pride and joy.
Similar fears are now also emerging in Mauritius, where the tourism industry has strongly lobbied for the opening of the skies over that island too, with Emirates now already at 11 weekly frequencies but reportedly, like in the Seychelles, eyeing double daily flights, and other Gulf Airlines are also strongly pushing for an entry ticket to Mauritius. Talk has been dominating the corridors of the internet, the aviation discussion groups and blogs, that some of the airlines who are now dominating the traffic to the Seychelles, have already made fresh representations to the government in Victoria to get 5th freedom rights. This would mean to combine their flights to the archipelago with onward destinations, either other Indian Ocean islands or selected routes to the African mainland. This has in the past been rejected by the countrys Civil Aviation Authority and transport ministry, and in fact been discussed in an interview earlier in the year with the Seychelles Minister for Transport, the Hon. Joel Morgan, but while back then still fended off it now appears a foregone conclusion and emerging reality.
An airline source in Mauritius openly expressed his fears that, considering Air Mauritius too is in a precarious financial position with losses incurred, they could also face a similar pruning, which would only leave Air Austral of Reunion as the one remaining major airline of the African Indian Ocean Islands, for the time being at least.
We had warned of this scenario and cautioned our owners of the consequences of opening the Seychelles skies to that effect, so fast and so far reaching. We got more visitors, that is true, but our national aviation sovereignty we have given up. Air Seychelles was a national strategic asset, the ONLY guarantee of connecting our islands by air in hard times. We have seen foreign airlines pull out, citing losses, lower revenues, not enough passengers before, and back then only Air Seychelles kept us connected to the world. Now, with this process cutting all intercontinental routes, this will be almost impossible to achieve should the same situation happen again. We are in contact with our colleagues in Mauritius too and they now have the same fears, that powerful political and economic interests will lead to the dismembering of that airline also. Could our governments not have explored closer cooperation, even considering a merger? We are working in many areas closely with Mauritius and this would just have been another sector in which we could have pooled out resources. Tourism marketing already combines as vanilla islands and aviation cooperation would have been a logical extension. In this climate of economic problems around the world no one can be sure of any outcome, but to be honest, we should have at least given it a try to combine our routes, networks, stations overseas, marketing and aircraft utilization and not rushed into just giving it all away. We could have brought Air Austral into the discussions, combining the aviation expertise of three, La Reunion joining hands with Air Seychelles and Air Mauritius perhaps to give such an airline cooperation greater strength, greater reach and better negotiating power, combined routes via neighbouring islands coming from Europe or going to intercontinental destinations. Personally I feel that not all avenues to rescue Air Seychelles have been looked at or considered and that the cutting was hasty and we Seychellois have to pay the price long term. At least our staff, many of them, can find new jobs as expatriates abroad, but they really wanted to stay home, serve their national airline with pride and not see the roof come down on them said a regular source from the Seychelles when discussing this issue, and the question is now standing tall, where to will Air Mauritius go, will they face a similar fate, standing alone or could such have been avoided for Air Seychelles through a partnership, cooperation and even merger with other partners in the Indian Ocean island region of Africa. Fodder for thought, and there is still some time left to get such talks underway, before more hammers fall on the unprepared. Watch this space.