THE END OF AIR SEYCHELLES AS WE KNOW IT OR A NEW BEGINNING
The short reign at the helm of Air Seychelles of Bram Stellar has brought about some activities, which the word restructuring no longer captures. First came the successful negotiations with ILFC for the premature return of two older B767-200 aircraft, surplus in the fleet after the contract with the British Ministry of Defence for regular charters to the Falkland Islands expired.
While the national airline then launched its new livery, looking bright and fresh, Bram Stellar embarked behind the scenes on one of the most comprehensive reviews the airline had seen in a long time, and with an almost ruthless streak he then went on to start the almost inevitable cuts.
Singapore, a destination which HM served once a week, was cut first as new cost cutting measures took hold, but the announcement yesterday of yet more route cuts, shocked the nation and aficionados of flying the Creole Spirit.
London, Milan, Rome and Paris are on the chopping board too now it was learned, leaving questions on where the new look Air Seychelles will fly thereafter. From 08th January, it was learned, will flight from Mahe via Rome and Milan to London cease to operate and Paris, the milk run route operated jointly with Air France under a codeshare arrangement, is to be scaled back initially to only three flights a week after the end of the peak Christmas and New Year season, before being halted altogether by March 2012. This will leave Air Seychelles with Johannesburg as its presently sole African destination and the airline offices are buzzing with questions over what next to expect.
A usually well informed source did indicate, without wishing to go on record considering the sensitivity of this entire affair, that an extensive code share arrangement is being put into place with Etihad, the national airline of Abu Dhabi, to carry traffic from London, Paris, Milan and Rome to Mahe, although the extent of such an arrangement and the duration of the agreement of it have yet to be unearthed.
In recent years have carriers like Emirates under an increasingly liberal regime of bilateral air services agreements entered the Seychelles market in force, aiming to be double daily by the start of this years Christmas high season, while Qatar Airways now flies daily to Mahe, with Etihad joining the band wagon with initially four flights of their own. It was largely this competitive environment which led to Frankfurt being dropped by Air Seychelles last year, as they were unable to match the fares Gulf based airlines were offering, and at a time when Emirates for instance had not even gone daily. Etihad is expected to go daily soon now that they can be assured of flying the Air Seychelles faithful from Europe to the archipelago and the choice of Abu Dhabis flag carrier as preferred partner is no surprise to regular observers of the islands politics either, considering that close and personal ties exist between the two countries, President James Michel and Abu Dhabis ruler.
Aviation observers are now intensely speculating over the future of Air Seychelles, and if it is to be turned into a regional airline, eventually switching from the B767s to possibly B737NGs, and to begin serving mainland and Indian Ocean island destinations. Those strategic details however appear to be kept close to the CEOs chest and the various rumours lack confirmation at this stage, not warranting mentioning them here at this early stage. What is certain though is that the affected on line stations, when flights cease, will see staff being made redundant, which might well spread to the airlines hub in Mahe too, inspite of assurances earlier in the year, that jobs were safe.
Meanwhile these developments have also triggered the alarm bells in the quarters of Air Mauritius, an airline equally struggling with market shares, recent losses and growing competition, and while Mauritius government has been decidedly more protective of its national airline, the question is how long they can stem the tide, in particular as key tourism stakeholders have demanded a lifting of such measures to allow international airlines to bring in more tourists clearly a double edged sword as the development with Air Seychelles now confirms. For now though, all eyes are on Bram Stellar and what he and his senior staff, and the board, are up to next and which direction the new Air Seychelles will fly to and what shape a restructured and leaner HM will take. Watch this space for the most current updates, breaking news and information from the East African and Indian Ocean islands aviation scene.