Gulf Air could be back in profit in under two years, predicted Bahrain’s Deputy King. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa was speaking after meeting top officials at the airline's Muharraq headquarters.
Gulf Air will succeed under Bahrain’s sole ownership, with the mistakes of the past behind it, said Shaikh Salman. It will not be an easy ride, but job losses will be minimised, he said.
The meeting was attended by Deputy Premier Shaikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Finance Minister and Mumtalakat (government holding company) chairman Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Gulf Air deputy chairman Mahmood Al Kooheji, new president and chief executive Andre Dosé, airline directors and Civil Aviation Affairs executive directors.
Shaikh Salman said he was confident the company could turn itself around. “What we must do is define our own niche,” he said. “We are providing a service that no one else can because we are the national carrier for Bahrain. But competition in itself is healthy and to be supported,” he said, adding that he was stimulated by the challenge. “There will be changes, but I don't want any Bahraini to pay the price of wrong policies,” Shaikh Salman, who is also chairman of the country’s Economic Development Board, told reporters after being briefed on the airline's recovery plan.
“I am sure that the officials will look into this matter and try to set up measures so everyone is clear on the requirements of working and being promoted in this company. I have requested this from the company's board of directors. Regardless of the employees’ nationality and I was told that there were over 60 nationalities working for the company, we should not discriminate between one nationality and another.”
Shaikh Salman said Bahrain's economy would not grow without an airline. “The question we should be asking is what type of company [it is going to be]. Currently we are supporting Gulf Air based on its requirements so it does not affect the economy, not many jobs are lost by Bahrainis and a smooth restructuring process is carried out.”
Shaikh Salman said he was confident the company could turn itself around, citing several factors for its past problems. “Firstly, the decision-making process. Secondly, as an airline we were not able to compete in the manner others did,” he said.
Now Bahrain has complete ownership of the company (following Oman’s withdrawal last month), previous shortcomings in terms of decision-making, policies, or balancing four centres in a small environment, should no longer apply, he said.
Shaikh Salman also dismissed suggestions that the Gulf Air logo may change, saying it had a history and heritage.
The airline is likely to return to profitability within 18 months to two years, added Al Kooheji. He said that the restructuring plan would see air routes and flights reduced or revised.
Al Kooheji said the Gulf Air fleet would be downsized from 34 planes to 25, by keeping only the Airbuses, to reduce maintenance expenditure. He said there had already been an improvement in the services offered by Gulf Air, with flight punctuality rates increasing from 65 per cent to 80 per cent. The airline is still sustaining losses of $1 million (BD378m) a day and is working on resolving the matter gradually, he said.
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