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Egypt in the sky with diamonds
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 10 - 05 - 2007

EgyptAir is celebrating its 75th anniversary with plans to expand and improve the carrier, reports Amirah Ibrahim
EgyptAir, the first airline in the Middle East and the seventh oldest in the world has continued to grow in the face of robust regional and international competition. It was established on 7 May 1932 and started operations in July 1933 in association with the Airwork Company under the name Misr Airwork. The carrier's name changed to Misr Air in 1949, then United Arab Airlines during the union between Egypt and Syria. In 1971, the carrier became EgyptAir. EgyptAir Holding Company was created in 2002. Its nine affiliates are Airline, Maintenance, Ground Services, In-Flight Services, Cargo, Tourism and Duty Free Shops, Medical Services, Supplementary Industry and Domestic Airline Express. It is one of the 10 biggest airlines in the world, employing 25,000 people.
Although the carrier is a state-owned company, the management is private. It receives no government financing. According to Atef Abdel-Hamid, EgyptAir Holding Company chairman, the group in 2001/2002 recorded losses of LE260 million and LE247 million in 2002/2003. "In 2003/2004 we began to record profits of LE302 million, which increased to LE429 million in 2004/2005 and in 2005/2006 we posted profits of LE475 million. We expect our profits to increase in the near future to LE700 million. Our revenues have increased from LE3 billions in 2002 to LE9 billion in 2006.
The dean of Middle East carriers launched its current anniversary festivities with an exceptional offer to customers, offering a 50 per cent discount on all domestic and international routes for five days from 4-8 May. "Members of the Frequent Flyer Programme will be offered an extra 1,000 points," Abdel-Hameed told the media in a press conference to mark the occasion, adding that there will be cultural, musical, sports and social events throughout the month. Last week, Egyptian sports and movie stars took part in a number of festivities at the Cairo Stadium. The guests and airline employees took part in football, marathon and cultural competitions.
On 7 May EgyptAir signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Postal Authority allowing passengers to book their flight tickets at post offices around the country. Both Communications Minister Tareq Kamel and Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq were present at the signing as they opened a new post office at Cairo International Airport. "This is a good example of successful cooperation among different governmental sectors," commented Shafiq. "The deal is the first of its kind in the Arab region and Africa. It will help expand available services provided to our customers, in addition to e-ticketing and I- booking," Shafiq added. He also noted that two new postal stamps were issued to mark EgyptAir's diamond anniversary. One stamp shows the carrier's first airplane in 1933 while the other shows both the first and most recent planes in the fleet. Long-term employees were rewarded a bonus of LE500. "For more than 25,000 employees, this bonus might seem little, but it is quite a lot for the company," commented Abdel-Hamid. A documentary movie was broadcast on Sunday and Monday on Egyptian TV and many satellite channels highlighting the history of the carrier.
Egypt has the most international airports in the region. Out of 21 airports across the country, 10 airports, including two BOT airports, offer international flights to various destinations. It operates more than 450 weekly flights that depart from Cairo and seven other Egyptian cities to 73 cities in 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.
According to Abdel-Hamid, EgyptAir is set to launch three new destinations this summer. "We will launch a service to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, to the Portuguese capital Lisbon and to the Chinese city of Gonzo by June," Abdel-Hamid said. He added that the airline would focus on the Middle East, Africa and Asia with a few key destinations in the United States and Canada. "Ten new destinations are scheduled," he added, "including Warsaw, Prague, Belgrade, Dar Al-Salam, Dakar, Lusaka, Washington, Chicago, Toronto and Shanghai." Four years ago, the airline dropped 14 international routes due to losses.
Abdel-Hamid appeared optimistic about the near future when Cairo International Airport (CIA), the primary hub for EgyptAir, turns into a regional hub. CIA is currently undergoing major redevelopment, including constructing a new Terminal Building 3 (TB3) which would raise the airport's capacity from nine million to 20 million passengers per annum. "EgyptAir, as a potential Star Alliance member, will move with alliance members to operate from the new terminal. This will provide passengers and airlines with state-of- the art services and facilities," he explained. TB3 is due to be fully operational in the first quarter of 2008. Two of the gates at TB3 will be equipped to handle the Airbus A380.
"To join one of the world's big alliances is a major achievement. It is also essential to survive," he explained. According to Abdel-Hamid, EgyptAir has achieved considerable progress negotiating with the German carrier to become a member of Star Alliance. EgyptAir is a member of the Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO), which plans to establish a new Arab alliance named Arabesk. "Our company operates the most extensive network of destinations outside Africa of any African airline. Our aviation infrastructure is upgraded continuously," he commented.
Abdel-Hamid indicated that EgyptAir will launch a regional jet division next June. The new subsidiary called EgyptAir Express will operate a fleet of six small jets mainly for domestic destinations. The carrier has already purchased six EMB 170 planes with a further six held on option." Express will get two of the six planes this week. The company also sent a number of its pilots for training in Switzerland. It will start with two domestic destinations, Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, then later on Aswan, Luxor, Abu Simbel and Alexandria," he explained. Abdel-Hamid disclosed that the new Express airline would also fly to Taba in Southern Sinai and the Red Sea city of Marsa Alam.
On Tuesday, EgyptAir Express Chairman Mohamed Hassan and the management of Marsa Alam Airport signed a MOU allowing the new airline to Marsa Alam by next October. Four years ago EgyptAir stopped operations to Marsa Alam BOT airport due to the high fees at the airport which is owned by Kuwaiti and Egyptian investors.


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