Fast 5: Egyptair’s CEO Steers Growth Plans
Engineer Yehia Zakaria was elected as the chairman and chief executive of Egyptair Holdings at the tail end of the pandemic in October 2022. The timing of his appointment was crucial, seemingly with the added responsibility and challenge of steering one of Africa’s largest aviation groups towards recovery and the next phase of growth. Zakaria spoke with Aviation Week about growth plans and collaboration in Africa’s aviation industry.
Post-pandemic, how are you keeping a lid on costs at Egyptair Holdings?
We have an array of cost reduction procedures that have been adopted, for instance, renegotiation of leasing contracts, aircraft delivery dates and engaging with aviation consultants about how to enhance our future plan for the network and fleet. Recently, figures show the group has reacted positively post-pandemic and succeeded in achieving profit of 968.6 million Egyptian pounds (approximately $31.5 million) during the first half of the current 2022/23 financial year that started in July 2022. The expected economic growth indicates that it will reach 4.8% in Egypt for the current fiscal year, and we expect strong forward bookings during the upcoming period toward the end of the summer schedule.
OEMs are struggling to meet the demand for aircraft production. Is this affecting Egyptair?
We are currently in negotiations with OEMs for acquiring both widebody and narrowbodies for the coming period, according to availability. We are also considering short-term leasing contracts to fulfill the gap until those deliveries arrive. We also expect to upgrade the cabin interiors of our [Airbus] A330s; we are currently studying the options of renewing the interiors. We have to consider the long queue from manufacturers, which will take almost two years to replace with new aircraft with better fuel consumptions and operational benefits. As for the [Boeing] 777-300, it’s leased and will be returned to the lessor during the financial year 2024/25. Our new 737-800SF is expected to enter service on March 1 and two more A330 freighters will arrive by 2025.
There is limited capacity for MRO and training in Africa. How are you responding to this market?
In early 2020, Egyptair Maintenance & Engineering had a robust plan to expand its footprint in Africa to open line maintenance stations at 12 African airport destinations. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the negative economic impact on the aviation market and, more recently, the current global economic situation, we shifted the plan slightly. We have, however, quite recently opened a line maintenance station at Kotoka international Airport in Accra, Ghana for supporting not only Egyptair flights but also third-party customers like Qatar Airways. We have our line maintenance station currently in Khartoum and we are considering reopening the Asmara station in Eritrea within the first half of 2023. Our maintenance and engineering division cooperates closely with several African airlines, providing technical services and solutions for their fleets such as base maintenance checks, engines repairs and overhaul, components repair, components pool solutions and consultancy services in CAMO and other fields related to technical support.
Do you feel there is scope for greater collaboration between Egyptair and other Star Alliance partners in Africa?
Definitely. Egyptair membership in the Star Alliance facilitates partnership and cooperation enhancement with partners in Africa. Currently, Egyptair has a wide scope of cooperation with Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airlines to link the African countries beyond the individual capabilities of each airline. Our cooperation with African airlines is not limited to the Star Alliance. We also work closely under AFRAA (African Airlines Association) to explore mutual opportunities through joints projects. For example, we already have cooperation agreements in Kenya and with Royal Air Maroc in Morocco.
Do you think the Star Alliance has lived up to expectations since you joined in 2008?
Our membership in the Star Alliance has helped enhance the level of services at airports through adherence to unified requirements and programs that the alliance is developing in accordance with industry standards for all member airlines. Also, it supports the development of companies’ capabilities regarding international standards in different areas such as: crisis management, air safety, international marketing exposure and activities, and sustainable environment. In addition, Egyptair benefits from the Star Alliance common digital platform, loyalty programs, lounge access and other joint projects to enhance the customer experience.
Joining Star Alliance added value by giving Egyptair the opportunity to maximize the cooperation with member airlines. This has resulted in serving 121 markets, of which 65 markets are served through Egyptair’s network and 56 [markets are served] through partnership with Star Alliance members. Currently, we have 14 codeshare agreements with other Star Alliance members.
Post-COVID, the industry landscape has changed dramatically, and one of Egyptair’s priorities is to maximize collaboration through Star Alliance membership as well as the airline’s regional organizations.