The blue appeal
Talks to Air France about shifts in the regional aviation market
For many Lebanese travelers, Air France is not just any airline but an institution of memories. When times were tough, flying from Beirut to Paris represented a lifeline connection to personal safety, not to mention savoir vivre and commerce. Today, the links between Lebanon and Europe are numerous and airlines have to win over travelers with more than just their name. But the journey to Paris still has many meanings and commercial values, and Executive sat down to discuss these facets with Patrick Alexandre, Air France’s executive vice president commercial, sales and alliances.
Beirut and Paris were joined last November in shared tragedies and there were news reports of flight cancellations and flight diversions because of bomb threats. Given that
First of all, we never canceled any flights after the events of Paris. We maintained the full network and the full flight schedule everywhere. Secondly, the safety rules changed a bit, of course, in Charles De Gaulle [Airport] but traffic remained fluid and on track at all times. We kept the operations going with the safety measures that we have [always had in place] and with extra measures for airports like Charles De Gaulle and also for Rafic Hariri Airport in Beirut. For the second part of your question, the answer is that, yes indeed, Paris as a destination was hit during the last 15 days of November, but what I can tell you is that as far as we can see for January we have now a positive sense of booking. Is there a special impact on [the route to] Beirut? The answer is no. Beirut traffic to Paris has been affected more or less the same way as others. But to be frank with you, markets are not reacting the same way to those events. The more affected markets were Japan for individuals, groups and business; North America, the USA in particular, and a little bit the Gulf region. We have seen less effects on Africa and South America, and in Europe it depended on the situation.
Lebanon has been requested to comply with Annex 17 of the Chicago Convention that relates to the security of airports. And while Lebanon has been trying hard to comply with these requirements, we know for a fact that there have been shortcomings in compliance. Given the heightened need for security in the current environment, to what extent does an airline like Air France see it as part of its duty to also put pressure on a government like the Lebanese government to comply with these globally recognized security regulations?
The application of international safety rules is an approach that we and the other airlines have everywhere, and that has a political expression through IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization). Secondly, [adherence to] the rules and regulations for safety is a must for us. So you can imagine that we ask [in every country] for compliance with our safety rules mainly via those organizations and sometimes directly. The minimum that we request is more or less international. On top of those local measures, Air France itself applies some [safety] measures for its aircraft. But as long as we fly [to a destination] it means that we consider we can make [this destination safe]. And we fly [to] Beirut.
What do you rate as the top challenges for the airline industry today?
I think it’s a mix of at least two things, maybe more. Of course there are challenges related to operations, such as what are the aircraft and the most problematic issues, such as safety etc. But then the story is about the combination of product and price. This is why we actually do invest in the best approach with the long-range product presented today, which we have been flying to Beirut for a few [months] now, since the 14th of September. So first of all [the challenge] was investing, and investing a lot. Talking for Air France, we have made an investment of more than 500 million euros only for the long-range as the first part of the investment [into our fleet of Boeing] 777 for all the cabins including La Premiere, Business,