Czech Airlines Acquires A330 for Long-Haul Flight Resumption

Czech Airlines has announced the planned resumption of its long-haul operations after agreeing to acquire a single Airbus A330 on an operating lease from the start of the summer 2013. After a major restructuring over the past three years, which had previously resulted in the closure of its long-haul scheduled activities, the Czech national carrier confirms it will introduce a link between Prague and Seoul Incheon as it deepens its partnership with fellow SkyTeam alliance member, Korean Air on the route.

In the past Czech Airlines had an extensive long-haul network that covered a mix of scheduled and charter markets across Asia, North America and South America. In Asia the airline’s network map included destinations in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam but these were mainly flown under charter arrangements as its last scheduled flights into Asia operated in June 1991 when it closed its routes to Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai and Singapore.

Since then the airline’s long-haul network had a much greater emphasis on the North America market and increasing Eastern European diasporas across Canada and the United States. Czech Airlines offered flights to a number of destinations across the countries, ending in October 2009 with the closure of its routes to New York and Toronto as its business restructuring took effect.

The first steps of a revised long-haul strategy were introduced last year, when as part of its restructuring, Czech Airlines opened a new service to Abu Dhabi, and agreed with Etihad Airways on the joint operation of long-haul service from Prague via Abu Dhabi to Southeast Asia and Africa, and in the other direction, to the Czech Airlines network.

“The success of this project has inspired us to expand our existing code-share cooperation with our long-time partner Korean Air, and to create a similar model, in this case, linking destinations in the East Asia and the Pacific to Prague and Europe,” said Philippe Moreels, President, Czech Airlines.

The Eastern European carrier will now introduce its own twice weekly link between Prague and Seoul Incheon from June 2013. The flights will supplement the existing four times weekly operation of Korean Air on the route and both carriers will codeshare on one another’s flights, offering a more competitive six times weekly combined schedule offering enhanced connection opportunities in Europe and Asia.

“We have been analysing Eastern markets since the beginning of our restructuring, looking for ways to develop in that direction. Developments confirm our belief that the future of the aviation business lies in connections to Asia,” added Moreels. In 2011, an estimated 83,000 O&D passengers travelled between Prague and Seoul Incheon, up 13.4 per cent on the previous year.

In addition to Seoul, Czech Airlines has confirmed it also plans to deploy the Airbus A330 on its existing routes when it is not committed to the Asian service. It said it is “considering using the Airbus A330 on certain flights to/from the Commonwealth of Independent States,” although other destinations are also expected to see the widebodied aircraft.

Alongside the long-haul flights, Czech Airlines will also add flights from Prague to Florence, Italy; Munich, Germany; Nice, France; Perm, Russia and Zurich, Switzerland during the summer 2013 schedule. Florence and Perm will both be new markets for the Czech carrier but it has previously served Munich (most recently in October 2010), Nice (between April 1998 and January 2001) and Zurich (served regularly until October 2011). The carrier will compete with Lufthansa CityLine on the Munich route and Helvetic Airways to Zurich, while SmartWings offers seasonal summer flights to Nice. Meridianafly previously served the Prague – Florence route between December 2006 and January 2009.

Czech Airlines will also introduce a new noon flight wave to its schedule, increasing the number of flights to destinations including Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Milan, Stockholm and Warsaw. Frequencies will also be increased next summer on its routes to Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don and Ufa in Russia. Through its codeshare with Etihad Airways, Brisbane, Nairobi and Singapore will be added the wider Czech Airlines network, while the Baltic destinations of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius will be served via an airBaltic codeshare rather than using its own equipment.

Next summer will also mark the completion of the carrier’s fleet restructuring programme as it focuses on a two manufacturer operation: Airbus for long- and short-haul and ATR for regional flights. This winter will mark the final season Czech Airlines will fly its Classic Boeing 737s and the carrier confirms it will operate its last flights with its remaining 737-500s at the end of the current winter schedule early next year.

“This step can be considered the symbolic completion of the restructuring – a three-year period of cuts. But the airline must be prepared for cuts in the future, too. With the 2013 summer season, at the end of which the airline will celebrate its 90th anniversary, a phase of careful development begins for Czech Airlines,” concluded Philippe Moreels.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…