AIRLINES COMING OUT OF OIL PUSHED CRISIS

AIRBLUE EXPANDING FLEET WITH BRAND NEW 14 AIRCRAFTS WORTH $1B

AMANULLAH BASHAR
Apr 13 - 19, 2009

Despite operating in a difficult situation aggravated by the global financial meltdown, abnormal rise in jet fuel, and huge depreciation in exchange rate especially against dollar, Airblue has not only weathered the storm but has successfully acquired 14 brand new A320 aircraft to make itself exemplary in Pakistan.

This was stated by Syed Nasir Ali, Managing Director of the rising private airline in Pakistan while explaining how his airline successfully steered out of the difficult times especially in 2008 and the measures based on economy drive which not only saved Airblue from losses but concluded the year with margin profits-an example for the peers in the country and the region.

Nasir disclosed that his airline was eyeing for operating on Saudi Arabia which is the most cherished route for most of Pakistan especially when two Saudi private airlines namely NAS & SAMA have already been granted permission to fly for Pakistan. Nasir said that the management was in dialogue with the government seeking support for to fly for Saudi Arabia the plan which he expressed the hope would be materialized soon.

He said that this route has a huge traffic which is shared besides the National Airline by Saudi Airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines; hence Airblue with strengthening of its fleet, the youngest in Pakistan with an age of 7.3 year, is well equipped to serve the country on this route. With the increasing number of passengers for Umra pilgrims as well as during Hajj season foreign flag airliners are taking advantage of the passengers' traffic while Airblue the Pakistani private sector airline deserves on merit to share in this growing business, he remarked.

Currently, Airblue is operating besides UK, on Dubai, Sharjah, Kuwait, Qatar, and other destinations in the Middle East but earnestly looking to add Jeddah to its destinations.

While the traffic opportunities are being availed by foreign flag airliners why the local private airline should not be given its due share especially in the difficult economic conditions prevailing all over the world, he remarked and added in fact strengthening of a local private sector airline would ultimately support the economic development of the country.

DELHI-BOMBAY FLIGHTS

Nasir was of the view that huge air traffic is available within the region especially between India and Pakistan because of enormous economic potential of the two countries. Pakistan has a huge market of over 170 million while India has a market of over one billion plus population. Existence of such a huge market in this region offers great economic opportunities in different sectors including aviation. Airblue has the permission to operate on Delhi and Bombay routes. These two routes would be added to the destination list of Airblue but at a proper time.

Currently, the situation is not in favor of launching these two flights however it can be put into operation whenever the situation allows us to go ahead, Nasir observed.

FUEL PRICES

Replying to a question, Nasir agreed that the abnormal rise in fuel prices had a severe blow to the profitability of the airlines all over the world and the Airblue was not an exception to this melee. However, by applying various methods of cost efficiency we managed to get through the difficult times.

With the softening of oil prices the stress on profit margin has eased to a great extent and we are doing everything to pass on the benefits to the customers in accordance with the current prices. He agreed that low cost of traveling helps a lot in making economy vibrant however the turnover of passengers on domestic routes is still low which needs to be improved with the decline in inflationary pressures as well as improvement in the exchange rate against dollar and other European currency which would help reducing the cost of flight operations and maintenance as well.

As a part of the economy drive, Airblue like other airlines has made some amendments in the food menus especially on domestic flights by replacing meat food with snacks and other light refreshments. When asked whether Airblue has a plan to reintroduce serving food on domestic routes after easing the oil pries, Nasir said actually serving food on a two hour or less duration flight is a difficult task to accomplish with a short span of time hence the current practice of serving snacks is quite reasonable and easy to manage for the crew on domestic flights.

He was of the view that a level playing field is imperative for a fair and healthy competition in aviation industry which would allow the private sector to play its due role for economic revival of the country.

Airblue has won the confidence of the leading financial players like IFC, Standard Chartered and others in providing finances for acquiring brand new aircraft for this young airline which is rising up to the expectations of the customers.

Besides the professional leadership, Nasir also acknowledged the team spirit of the efficient and willing people working for the airline and whose professional skill and integrity reflected in their outstanding performance and complimented them as the asset of the company.