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in Air Transport / Features

Moneir's back in business, bearing fruit for Air Leisure

Posted 26 March 2018 · Add Comment

Mohamed Moneir had been retired for five years and was growing citrus fruit on his farm when he was given the chance to cultivate something rather different than oranges and mandarins… an airline.

The airline that Mohamed Moneir was called back from retirement to oversee was Air Leisure.
Previously known as Air Memphis, an Egyptian charter airline that had been operating for 20 years, it had been bought by new owners in 2013, renamed and given a new role of operating long-haul charters.
“The vision of the airline is to operate long-haul routes, concentrating on Asia,” explained Moneir who, before he became Air Leisure’s chairman, had a long career with EgyptAir including as vice-president, commercial of EgyptAir Holding Company and several regional manager roles around the world.
One advantage of focusing on Asia, he said, was that the region (with the exception of Japan) was not so sensitive to the Middle East’s geopolitical problems and so did not suffer from sudden dips in tourist traffic. Another was simply to break away from what he described as “cut-throat competition” in the shorter-haul charter market.
Air Leisure particularly focuses on China, with charter services operating from more than 10 Chinese cities. Chinese tourists tend to want to sample different aspects of Egypt, combining time at the historical sites of Upper Egypt with a few days’ relaxing at Red Sea resorts, such as Sharm El-Sheikh or Hurghada, followed by a stay in Cairo.
From January to the end of September 2017, Air Leisure flew some 60,000 Chinese tourists into Egypt. This market is particularly attractive, not only because of its size – Boeing has estimated that 130 million Chinese took foreign holidays in 2016 – but also because the country’s tourists tend to be high spenders.
The two main seasons for Chinese tourists are January to March and July to September. In those periods, Air Leisure typically operates 10 to 14 flights weekly to China.
And the focus on overseas markets means that Air Leisure is pulling in hard currencies, so the company has been less affected by the drop in the value of the Egyptian Pound than have many of the country’s other airlines.
Air Leisure’s initial equipment consisted of three Airbus A340-200s, acquired from EgyptAir from late 2014. This made it, at one time, the world’s last commercial operator of the initial variant of the European four-motor wide-body.
In 2017, it moved on to the more economical twin-engined A330-200, with three former Emirates Airline examples acquired via lessor Dubai Aerospace Enterprise on 10-year finance leases.
Latterly, the A340s were modified internally into a single-class 283-seat layout, to suit them for religious tourists heading for Mecca on the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages from long-haul points such as Malaysia and Indonesia. However, the type was finally withdrawn in July 2017.
Air Leisure is now in negotiations to acquire more A330s and has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Corporation (SCAC) for four SSJ100 Superjets. The latter would be used for domestic charter flights and to cater for the Chinese and Japanese tourists, who like to make multi-sector visits, basing themselves in Egypt but making short side-trips to destinations such as Athens.
If the Sukhoi deal goes ahead – and SCAC president Alexander Rubtsov was hopeful at the Dubai Air Show that it would – the aircraft would initially be operated by Russian pilots, said Moneir, while Egyptian pilots were trained on the type.
Airbus had been surprised that an A330/340 operator would not take on examples of its A320, he added. It was possible that the European narrow-body could yet be procured and operate alongside the SSJ100 – it all depended on the right markets becoming available to the carrier.
Air Leisure is seeking to become more recognised internationally through joining the International Air Transport Association and by undertaking the IATA operational safety audit (IOSA), which assesses an airline’s operational management and control system, as well as ensuring that it is adhering to evolving quality standards.
With these plans in place, Moneir and his colleagues hope that the taste of success will be as sweet as the mandarins that he used to grow on his farm.
 

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