Reshaped Air Seychelles is considering the Airbus A321XLR and a Perth route.
Air Seychelles is one of the smaller intercontinental airlines around, based in Mahé, the main island of the Indian Ocean archipelago comprising 115 islands and islets.
It has had some recent turbulence with its 40 per cent shareholder Etihad pulling out.
“We increasingly do our own thing, with taking over revenue management from Etihad mid-year being the last big switch,” CEO Remco Althuis, a Dutchman seconded to Mahé by Etihad in 2017, told Airlineratings during a recent interview.
The restructuring started in late 2017 and the airline has scaled down the size of its fleet and seat capacity.
Air Seychelles had tried several times to make long-haul flights economically sustainable by leasing two Airbus A330s from Etihad, but these proved to be unviable.
“It’s very difficult to create enough demand for the A330s, they pose too big a risk especially being dependent on the very seasonal tourist market and given we operate them mostly on ten-hour sectors to Europe.
For an A330 you need utilization of 16 hours every day,” said Althuis. Premature termination of the A330 leasing contracts was “very expensive”, they now serve with Fiji Airways.
But Air Seychelles has quickly adapted to its new situation. In August last year Africa’s first Airbus A320neo (new engine option) was delivered from Hamburg to Mahé, with the second one, also leased, due in March.
“We need at least two narrowbodies,” stated Althuis, and that’s what he got now. The second A320neo will immediately replace an elderly A320ceo and that gives Air Seychelles a head start.
“We love the A320neo, it’s amazingly efficient for us as it burns 20 per cent less fuel and carries 52 per cent more customers,” enthused Althuis. The doubling of passenger capacity is due to the fact that Air Seychelles faced severe weight penalties on most of its A320ceo routes like Johannesburg or Mumbai due to the demanding environment it operates in.
“The neo is so much lighter (and more powerful) than its predecessors in the fleet, we probably have the lightest neo in the world,” assumed the CEO.
A point in case is the IFE. On their old A320, just the screen at every seat weighed one kilogram, not even counting cables and other hardware. On the neo, all that remains is a server for onboard-streaming weighing just four kilos.
While the old A320ceo carried 136 passengers if all seats were sold, the A320neo transports 168 customers and has no weight penalties on most routes with more powerful engines.
The exception is a new niche market Air Seychelles opened in November, enabled by the A320neo.
It flies once weekly, soon going up to twice weekly, to Tel Aviv from Mahé. As the stage length is 6 hours, 20 minutes northbound, a total of 48 seats have to be blocked from being sold, meaning all middle seats remain free. This is due to the required routing, which has to avoid Saudi Arabian and Sudanese airspace, while encountering altitude restrictions to 29,000 feet (8840 meters) elsewhere when 38,000 feet would be desirable.
Nevertheless, the route proves to be a success since first flight – as affluent Israelis have a penchant for luxury travel and can’t transfer in the Persian Gulf. And they provide valuable feed to all three other transfer destinations offered, besides the Seychelles themselves.
Israelis love to go to Mauritius, but many connect to either South Africa or India. With an El Al code-sharing in place, even connections from Europe via Tel Aviv are possible.
Remco Althuis becomes fired up when talk is turning to the A321XLR: “The XLR would be a fabulous tool to scale up. We could do destinations in a ten-hour circle around the Seychelles.”
He is quick to dream of cities from Moscow to Bangkok to Rome or Cairo joining the network. “But realistically we would go southbound only with it, that would be Perth and Cape Town,” he reckoned.
“We could possibly swap an XLR for a neo or maybe add one more aircraft to the fleet – but first we have to deliver on our turnaround plan,” Althuis said.
He admitted the airline hasn’t been profitable for some time. “The business is not generating cash yet, but that should be achieved within a year. Once the second A320neo is in service, we should start to generate positive cash flow.” Seems that the “neo” literally means a “new” age has begun at Air Seychelles.