Editorial This is the time of year when we look back at some of the…
Re-Build the Re-Build
The new operators of Sofia Airport SOF Connect, the Joint-Venture between French Infrastructure Investor Meridiam and Munich Airport, has announced plans to move all commercial flight operations into the ‘’new” (sic) Terminal 2. Terminal 2 is the newer of the two Sofia Airport terminals and opened together with Bulgaria’s accession into the EU at the start of 2007 (although the Terminal officially started operations in the last days of 2006). The word “’new”” is somewhat inappropriate as despite being only 15 years old it has the appearance and feel of something treble that. Whether this is down to poor materials, poor design or rank poor build quality, the fact of the matter is, it’s a mess. The old Terminal 1 which nowadays tends to service Low-Cost Airlines is to be re- structured to handle VIP and Business Aviation. The cost of this re-build or re-structure will be some 140 million Leva.
The short-term problem for the airport operators and indeed passengers using the airport will be the fact that operations at the Terminal 2 will continue whilst work is ongoing; a nightmare in the making for all concerned, though there would appear to be little else that would be possible whilst ensuring flights remain active. The plan envisages that the number of check-in counters will be doubled and indeed moved which then begs the question where will they be moved to? Also, other airports around the world are switching to self-check in machines so whether this concept has been lost in translation, we can only wait and see. On the face of it it’s hard to understand the necessity of doubling the check in desks in the format they operate now. Also changing will be the baggage handling systems and a doubling of the baggage carousels where arriving passengers collect their bags. The Domestic flight area will be relocated somewhere as yet not identified.
Of course, with every modern airport these days comes the arrival of huge duty-free shopping areas; one of the mechanisms airport operators re-coup revenue and apparently the 2000sqM one being built will be operated by the Worlds Largest Operators of Duty Free Shop’s, Dufry. This promises to be a whole new experience for local travellers though one must question whether their pockets will be deep enough to make the Duty-Free Operators happy.
What is also going to be a sea change is the fact that due to the requirements of the Schengen Zone, arriving and departing passengers have to be separated and hence the whole air-side structure and process will have to be changed. You may recall that when arriving in Schengen Zone countries you do not mix with departing passengers until after passport control, here in Sofia currently arriving passengers mix freely with departing ones; hence some sort of separation will have to be made. Whilst on that score, the number of security screening points will increase from 6 to 11. Just for the record, when the Terminal was originally designed the security screening area was not intended to be where it is found now but somewhere along the way it was moved!
Finally, work is also about to start on the reconstruction of the Terminal 2 car park which beggars belief as to how it is still standing. The crumbling infrastructure gives the appearance of a Communist style Panel block circa 1970’s whereas it was only built in 2006. One assumes the Saudi construction company used concrete designed for hot weather and forgot about the cold weather: that is of course if they used concrete at all. One challenge the new operator will have is to encourage cars to be parked in the spaces provided and not wherever the driver wants to park; a suitable tow truck might cure that one.
All in all it would seem that the new Operator knows what is required and what it will take to reach that point, this is a far cry from the “’State” running the airport when it was clear to all and sundry, including the people connected with the re-build of the old airport infrastructure a decade and a half ago, they had no experience of running an international airport and were not capable of actually doing so.
The bottom-line comment is a comment we hear so much, why not do it properly in the first place?
Jamadvice Travel | BCD Bulgaria
Excuse Follows Excuse
The media abounds with stories of supply chain issues now that the world has re-started after a bad dose of flu. Such stories at least give the jobbing journalists some literary content until the next big story comes along to replace it. Such issues appear to affect every walk of life from getting micro chips into car production facilities, to getting food onto our supermarket shelves. It is also applicable to the chain that forms the travel industry. As regards the travel industry, much of what is being stated, claimed and justified by those affected seems to be somewhat smoke and mirrors.
Hotels are struggling to recruit staff to replace those lost over the past two years, with the result that either they can’t offer as many rooms to guests or they can’t offer the services that guests are accustomed to. One solution for hotels might be to pay their staff a liveable wage and not the pittances then have historically paid. Staff previously employed in this sector have quickly realised they can get better pay in other sectors. However, the dilemma for the hotel accountant and indeed owners is that paying more to staff means charging more to guests: always a risky move.
Airlines are struggling to get crews to operate their flights to the point where they have either to a) sub-contract their operations to third party airlines whilst making every excuse along the way why this is not the airlines fault or b) to cull a certain percent of their own flight schedules in order to have enough staff to operate the flights still left on the roster. Doing the latter then incurs the wrath of those whose flights have been cancelled, particularly when it’s done at the last minute. To counter this, airlines are now being forced to advice of such cancellations a month in advance to enable re-bookings to be made.
Last but by no means least comes airports: now this is a story and a half. Several airports including the likes of, but certainly not exclusive to, London Gatwick, Amsterdam and Stockholm have quite simply put “not enough staff to operate properly”. As the pent-up demand to travel started, airports were way behind the curve and did not have enough baggage handlers, security staff, check in staff and indeed lacked staff in every facet to enable an airport to function properly. Chaos was the order of the day as queues to even get inside airport terminals were taking hours to navigate. The result has seen the tail wagging to dog, or is that the dog wagging the tail, it depends how you read it; it means that airports have told airlines to reduce their flights and thus restrict the numbers of passengers arriving at airports. London Gatwick for example, has reduced its daily flights from a typical 900 to 825 in July and 850 in August. A 50 flight per day reduction equates to some 7500 people who may have booked their flights months ago being told their flight has just been cancelled; that’s per day at just one airport. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport actually shut down its departure operations at the click of a finger for a Saturday night in June as it couldn’t cope with the backlog and wanted to focus on getting passengers out of the airport that were already subjected to huge delays without adding to the chaos that would ensue by flying more passengers in. It too has reduced and capped the numbers of flights it will allow during summer which is significantly below what the airlines themselves had planned for.
Varying excuses come from the hotels, airlines and airports as to why they are in such a mess. Those who are based in the UK blame Brexit but whilst the ignorant might accept this for London Gatwick Airport, please explain it for Schiphol and Stockholm and many other airports as well as all the hotels across Europe! The real factors that are the source of the current situation are the largely two-fold. Firstly, many of those employed previously in these areas have found work elsewhere and have no desire to return to them. Historically these industry sectors are amongst the lowest paid in the world and many former employees have “escaped” from them. Secondly, anyone with any degree of commons sense knew that when the world stopped being infatuated with Covid, people who had been shackled for two years would be chomping at the bit to get on their travels again. It’s plain logic. This plain logic appears to have been sadly missing from those tasked with the Management and Planning of operations in hotels, airlines and airports. Its as if they only read articles from the Green Post or listened to future predications from those selling video conferencing which now came in the form of apps and software. It is strangely reminiscent to the UK’s Brexit vote where everyone outside of the capital knew what would happen with the opposite being those who lived in London which just happened to include Politicians, Journalists and Market Research Companies who based their analysis on, London.
The fact that travel has re-started in earnest is not a surprise, what might be a small surprise is not how fast it re-started but the numbers involved which were probably slightly, though not hugely, higher than some predicated. So, “we were caught out” comes the cry from the affected, is not the answer therefore to simply “accelerate the plans for ramping up the business?” There lays the problem: there were no plans, not for the short, medium or longer terms. The accountants and CFO’s were solely focused on killing costs i.e. Labour, that the concept of spending money to survive became alien.
June has become “Pride” month in many parts of the democratic world and to celebrate the fact, Lufthansa has unveiled a special livery and aircraft interior design. One of the carriers A320 Neo’s will feature the “Lovehansa” livery for the next six months.
In addition to the special wording on the outside of the plane, the welcome panel at the entrance to the aircraft has a rainbow design and rainbow-coloured hearts have been painted on the aircraft’s winglets.
Inside the cabin, seat headrest covers depict the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the LGBT community.
It’s in the Name
Turkish Airlines intends to rebrand itself, or perhaps the correct grammatical term is that the Turkish President Erdogan wants to rebrand the airline. The plan is to re-brand it as “Turkiye Hava Yollari”. The re-brand is part of a global push which sees the country also applying to the UN for recognition of its new name.
As a part of the re-brand, all the airlines 318 fleet will be re-branded though that’s anyone’s guess as to how long this will take.
Just for the record, the official stance on the re-brand of the country is to help preserve its heritage, though the popular view is that it is being done disassociate itself from the bird of the same name.
The sudden and unexpected (to amateurs) surge in demand from travellers who have not been allowed to travel for two years is having an impact across many facets of the travel and hospitality industry and not least amongst European’s major airlines. A lack of everything from crew to handling staff sees airlines unable to satisfy demand at a time when healthy profits are there for the taking after two years of continuous losses. Lufthansa is chewing over two possible courses of action to help bring aircraft seats back into the equation, which then pitches plane manufacturers and types against each other.
Lufthansa moth balled its 14 Airbus A380’s in March and April 202 and even in April of this year, the word from the airline was that the 380’s would not be returning to the fleet, primarily because a) they couldn’t see a market for their flights and b) the cost of their operation was too high. Now however a re-think sees 6 of the A380’s possibly being brought back into service quickly to help satisfy the pent-up demand mainly on routes to North America. However, another quick fix is as much down to politics as it is to operational sense.
That alternative sees Boeing offering Lufthansa between 4 and 6 brand new 777 -300 series aircraft immediately (these are planes other airlines cancelled their orders on but were still built). This is being done by Boeing due to their huge delay in providing the new Boeing 777- 9 series planes to Lufthansa, planes that were expected to start arriving in 2021 but are now expected in 2025. These 777-300 are smaller in seat capacity than the A380 but are thus easier to fill with passengers plus they also have lower operating costs.
So which choice will Lufthansa make?
On the Home Front
Bulgaria is expecting between 5.5 – 6 million visitors this summer the Minister of Tourism announced at the seasons launch on the Black Sea, these will come from primarily Poland, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Serbia, Israel, the Czech Republic and the UK. So, in other words, from just about everywhere. What will be missing are the almost 0.5 million Russians that have been a key main stay of summer tourism on the Black Sea for many years.
What the minister also said was that (quote) “they expect no outflow of domestic tourists because many Bulgarians like the Black Sea”. So, either we are back to the 1980’s when Bulgarians were not allowed to travel outside of their home country or he means there will be more people domestically holidaying on the Black Sea than travel out of the country. As regards the latter, then yes this is probable but judging by the huge numbers of charter flights operating out of Bulgaria these days one cannot help but think that domestic tourism is on the wane when it comes to the proverbial “two weeks annual”.
The Marriott Hotel Group is suspending all of its operations in Russia following the countries invasion of Ukraine. The US Hotel giant has had a presence in Russia for 25 years and had already closed its Moscow Corporate office and suspended future developments.
Any Spare Coins?
Hopefully the owners of a Russian Antanov – AN 124 Cargo plane stranded at Toronto’s Pearson Airport have lots of coins for the parking meter as the daily parking fees are 1065 USD per day or 0.74 cents per minute.
The plane has been stuck there since February 27th when the Canadian authorities closed their airspace to all Russian traffic and there is no visible indication that this stance will change any time soon. The plane had just arrived from China and was delivering rapid Covid test kits (supposedly).
It is perhaps slightly unfortunate for this particular plane as it only returned to service on the 21st February after a five month layoff.
More Euro News
We recently wrote about the proposed adoption of the Euro as the national currency for Bulgaria and just what that might and might not do for the economics of the country. Following on from this piece, a local media article has just published results from a survey measuring the local sentiment towards the Euro. To put it mildly, the population of Bulgaria is pretty luke warm to its adoption.
Of all the EU countries yet to take on the Euro, Bulgaria has the lowest percentage in favour of adopting it with just 35% in favour of its adoption. Across the other countries in the same boat, the average was 60%.
What is equally telling is that when asked if they were concerned about the potential to abuse pricing during any change over, 76% feared that this would be the case; a sentiment we outlined in last month’s editorial. Equally only 23% of Bulgarians felt the country was ready for the Euro and further, there was no consensus as to when the country should target its implementation with 27% saying “never!”
The chaos currently associated with airports and airlines will not have gone unnoticed by local travellers as they venture across Europe. Airlines not having enough crew to operate flights is just one of the reasons that aviation is struggling to match supply with demand (the lack of a plan to ramp up services being another). In the UK, Brexit is another allowable excuse though it is perhaps being overplayed slightly. The solution or part solution for UK based airlines is to ‘” Wet Lease” planes from other EU countries. For example, people travelling on EasyJet may find themselves on a Latvian Airline (SmartLynx) complete with Latvia crew, this has also been applicable with flights to Sofia. British Airways and TUI are also using the same concept of Wet leasing to try maintain flight operations. Travellers will have been made aware of this prior to their departure with a notification from EasyJet, assumably to mitigate any on the spot complaints from perplexed passengers.
As an explanation of why this is occurring and aside of the shortages theme, EU staff working on aircraft registered in the UK must hold a UK visa; UK airlines who lease aircraft from the EU however can staff the planes with EU crew and thus by passing the requirement of a visa.
A Wet lease is where the plane and crew are hired which historically has not been popular with airlines as they run the risk of reputational damage as clients can complain that the service booked is not the one being provided i.e. you book with an airline and expect the service from that airline. If it fails to match up to expectations then there are potential issues, however, as with the case of SmartLynx operating flights to London on behalf of EasyJet, the more savvy traveller may well be keen for them to remain such is their apparent superior service: trouble again then for the initiating airline!
Who Cares About the Truth
As the Football World Cup in November edges closer, more controversy has been forthcoming – if any more is needed – from an environmental organisation called ‘’Carbon Market Watch”. They state that it is totally wrong for the event to consider itself to be carbon neutral. Its own report questions the organisers under estimation of emissions associated with the building of new stadiums with seven of the eight being used being built from scratch. It also questions the credibility and independence of the carbon credits scheme tailor made (!) for the event.
Last June FIFA (the governing body of World Football) stated that some 3.6 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide would be produced by the event, a figure which is more than the annual emissions of some countries.
The body tasked with planning and operating the tournament which defacto is the government of Qatar will argue differently however and its PR machine still proclaims that this will be the first ever carbon – neutral World Cup.
We’ll Meet Again
Some time ago it was noted that the Meetings and Events sector was driving the return to normality as far as business travel goes. Whilst every aspect of travel has a clear pent-up demand associated with it, the face-to-face element of travel i.e. Meetings, Conferences and Events etc were the fastest out of the blocks and drove the initial surge in travel budget spend. To that end its no surprise that meeting customers both current and prospect is making up some 31% of the travel budgets of companies. Actual conferences and trade shows are making up 21% with internal face to face meetings requiring 17% of budgets. Indeed, the travel spend for the actual Conferences is expected to be some 4% over the 2019 levels by the end of the year.
What this also proves indirectly is that those involved in the supply chain for travel such as hotels, airlines and airports got their forward business planning totally and utterly wrong. Perhaps the solution is quite simple: listen to the people and pay less attention to what you read in the narrative driven media.