The blue ap­peal

Talks to Air France about shifts in the re­gional avi­a­tion mar­ket

Executive Magazine - - Companies & Strategies - By Yasser Akkaoui

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,

Pa­trick Alexan­dre

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