Thursday, August 27, 2015

Toronto - Zagreb flights cancelled

SkyGreece Airlines likely to suspend all operations

Services between Toronto and Zagreb are likely to be terminated as operator SkyGreece Airlines begins cancelling flights, with rumours circulating the carrier will suspend all operations. SkyGreece Airlines’ services to and from Toronto on Wednesday and Thursday have been cancelled "due to operational reasons", a week after its flights out of Pearson Airport were delayed for four days. A total of 178 passengers travelling from Zagreb to Canada’s largest city yesterday were left stranded at the airport with no accommodation, food or alternative transport offered by the embattled carrier. The fledgling airline's Twitter and Facebook accounts have also been taken down, sparking rumours that it was ceasing operations entirely. A recorded message from the airline said that its Wednesday Athens - Zagreb - Toronto flight has been cancelled, as have two flights between Toronto and Greece via Budapest. Staff at Toronto Airport tsaid the airline was grounded because it hadn’t paid its landing fees to the airport.

Officials from the airline have been unreachable. However, earlier this morning, co-owner Bill Alefantis said the leisure carrier would issue an official statement on its future later today. A Facebook group called “SkyGreece Troubles” has been set up for stranded travellers to discuss their experiences online, with many complaining the airline has not responded to their requests for information. SkyGreece Airlines launched operations on May 22, while its one weekly seasonal service from Toronto to the Croatian capital was inaugurated a month later. A 274-seat Boeing 767-300ER is used on the route. The flights have proven popular with both holidaymakers and those visiting family and relatives. A total of seventeen rotations were to operate to Zagreb until October 7, with some 4.500 passengers booked on these flights.

Earlier this summer, SkyGreece’s Regional Manager for Croatia, Mark Mocnaj, told EX-YU Aviation News that the carrier was evaluating the possibility of extending its services to Zagreb and even introducing flights to other cities in the region. “We are monitoring demand and evaluating the possibility of extending and renewing our service and frequencies for this year and next to possibly even include new routes to the region. This, however, will only be announced in Q4 of this year”, Mr Mocnaj said at the time. SkyGreece is a Greek-registered airline, founded by a group of Greek entrepreneurs, with its offices in Toronto, Montreal and Athens. Some 150 of SkyGreece’s employees have come from Greece’s former national carrier Olympic Airways. The Toronto – Zagreb route marked the resumption of transatlantic flights from the Croatian capital after a seven year hiatus.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Finnair evaluating further EX-YU expansion

Asian demand fuelling Finnair’s growth in the former Yugoslavia

Finland’s national carrier Finnair will put a greater emphasis on the former Yugoslav market in the coming year as the airline expands its seasonal flights to the region, which are being fuelled by demand from Asia. The carrier currently operates flights from Helsinki to Ljubljana, Dubrovnik and Split. Next year it will launch two weekly seasonal flights to Pula and increase frequencies on its existing routes, adding two weekly services to Split, for a total of four flights per week, and an additional flight to Ljubljana for a total of five per week. The airline is satisfied with its performance on the Croatian and Slovenian markets but also says it is “carefully following” potential destinations such as Belgrade.

Finnair’s spokesperson, Mark Bosworth, tells EX-YU Aviation News, “The Croatian market serves as a great destination for Finnair customers from Northern Europe and Asia. We have also seen increasing numbers of passengers from Croatia using Finnair on their trips. Demand for Croatian destinations has been growing year by year and we have increased our flights to the area consequently”. Finnair’s Ljubljana service has also proven popular with travellers from Asia, with the Finnish carrier handling some 30.000 passengers on the seasonal route last year. “Ljubljana is developing well and we hope that some day it will be feasible to operate there year round”, Mr Bosworth says, adding, “We actively follow many markets where we could either increase frequencies or make them year round operations”.

Next month Finnair is due to become the first European airline to receive Airbus's new A350 long-range jet, which entered service this year with Qatar Airways. It will start operating the long-haul plane on its Shanghai route in October and is set to receive four A350 jets this year. Finnair, which has carved out a niche with direct flights to Asia, says future expansion in the former Yugoslavia is highly influenced by demand from the Far East. “For the time being, the demand from our Asian units has been to Croatian coastal areas. However, when Asian tour operators create more products for the former Yugoslav area we want to be their first choice of airline and then it will be very important to have multiple entry and exit points including Belgrade. At the same time we are following carefully the corporate travel market development to and from the area, because those traveling for work are one of our focus groups”, Mr Bosworth concludes. Finnair flies between Asia, Europe and North America with an emphasis on fast connections via Helsinki, carrying more than nine million passengers annually and connecting fifteen cities in Asia with more than sixty destinations in Europe. It is part of the Oneworld airline alliance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mairbor Airport in talks with Wizz Air

Maribor Airport turns to Wizz Air for low cost flights

Maribor Edvard Rusjan Airport is in talks with low cost airline Wizz Air over potential flights from Slovenia’s second largest city. The newly appointed Managing Director of Maribor Airport, Ladimir Brolih, says the two sides are locked in talks over potential services but adds further analysis and discussions are required. Northern Germany and Scandinavia have been identified as underserved markets from Slovenia. Wizz Air previously planned to launch additional flights to Ljubljana, complementing its existing services from Charleroi and London Luton. However, despite talks with Ljubljana Airport in late 2013 and early 2014, the planned flights never materialised. Wizz Air was the fourth busiest carrier operating out of Ljubljana in 2014, handling just under 150.000 passengers.

Wizz Air says it is continuously looking at opportunities to expand its network of destinations in the region. It says, “Wizz Air is committed to achieving the lowest cost base in the region and airport choice has a crucial impact. This is why Wizz Air operates to a mix of primary, secondary and regional airports, which provide low costs that reflect in price and provide friendly and fast customer service”. The no frills carrier boasts three bases in the former Yugoslavia - Skopje, Tuzla and Belgrade - and maintains services to Ljubljana, Ohrid and Niš, as well as seasonal summer flights to Split. Furthermore, the airline has held talks with Sarajevo, Pristina and Podgorica airports over the past year over potential services. However, Wizz has conceded that all three must first lower their fees before the airline could consider flying there. Furthermore, its operations in Croatia have been limited as a result of pricing. CEO Jozsef Varadi recently told EX-YU Aviation News, “Croatia is very expensive. If Zagreb Airport becomes more reasonable we will certainly consider that airport as an opportunity for expanding our network but this is not yet the case”.

Maribor Airport is looking to attract new carriers in an attempt to boost passenger numbers. In addition to Wizz Air, the airport has entered talks with Express Airways, which has a flight school at the airport and offers panoramic flights over Slovenia, as well as seasonal commercial services from Brač and Split in Croatia to Germany and Sweden. It currently operates its flights with a leased ATR72-500 aircraft. Maribor has suggested for the airline to launch scheduled services from the city. Furthermore, Adria Airways is expected to announce by the end of the month whether it will extend its seasonal service from Maribor to London Southend Airport into the winter season. Mr Brolih says that, following the decision, the two sides will discuss plans for Adria to base an aircraft at the airport in an attempt to minimise costs. Maribor Airport handled 17.568 passengers last year, the majority of which were flown on charter flights. During the first half of 2015, the airport welcomed 5.289 travellers, up 41% on the same period last year.

Monday, August 24, 2015

EC: Air Serbia investigation ongoing

European Commission continues investigation into effective control

The European Commission (EC) says its investigation into Air Serbia’s ownership structure is progressing. The EC launched an investigation into Etihad’s investments in European airlines in April last year as part of a wider examination into whether foreign ownership of European carriers complies with EU airline licensing rules. An EC spokesperson for Transport says, “We can confirm that the Air Serbia investigation is still ongoing. For confidentiality reasons, we cannot go into further details at this time. The Commission has doubts whether Etihad’s investments are in line with European Union rules on ownership and effective control of EU airlines”. While Serbia is not an EU member state, as a candidate country it must adhere to the Union’s pre-accession policies and guidelines. Following Etihad’s takeover of Jat Airways, the EC requested for Serbia to clarify the airline’s new ownership structure. While a carrier from outside Europe can hold a minority stake in an EU airline or a country aspiring to join the block, it must prove that the effective control is still in the hands of the majority shareholder.

The EC has already issued suggestions to the Serbian government in order to deal with the issue, which have since been approved and implemented. Last year, Siniša Mali, the President of the Air Serbia Supervisory Board, said. “The European Commission, in a way, did us a favour, by reducing Etihad’s participation. Etihad now doesn’t have the right to decide but only gives suggestions for preparation of the business plan”. He added, “None of the agreements signed between the Serbian government and Etihad Airways are contrary to the European Common Aviation Area Agreement, including those concerning corporative control. The most distinguished lawyers from London drafted these agreements and they wouldn’t make an oversight”. Etihad Airways has maintained that the effective control in each of its investments lies with the majority shareholder “I can’t sit in Abu Dhabi and manage a Swiss, German or Serbian business but I can be a strong and responsible shareholder. There is a strong local team running each airline”, Etihad’s CEO, James Hogan, said previously.

Other airlines can influence the Commission to open formal investigations into cases concerning fair competition. Low cost airline Rynair made it no secret it played a major role in the EC’s decision to investigate Adria Airways over state aid and went as far as publicly criticising the Commission for being too slow to rule on the case. It is believed Lufthansa played an instrumental role in the EC's decision to investigate Etihad’s investments in Europe, irked by the carrier’s plans to increase its capital in Germany’s second largest airline Air Berlin and its investment in Alitalia. As a result, Air Serbia found itself in the crossfire of Lufthansa’s dispute with Etihad. Lufthansa CEO, Carsten Spohr, said in April this year, “Etihad should respect European laws and engage in more due diligence in order to avoid clashing with the EU in relation to its purchase of equity stakes in European airlines. In Germany and Europe we believe in the law and whatever the law allows to be done shall be done, like it or not … if it’s illegal it shall not be done”.