France looks for more Mediterranean Open Skies deals

FRENCH CONNECT 2010: An increase in the number of Open Skies deals between the European Union and countries on the south side of the Mediterranean is the wish of French airports and a number of airlines, delegates at the 7th French Connect conference in Lourdes were told during a panel discussion.

Low-fare airlines in particular would be expected to benefit from such traffic rights developments, predicted Julien Boullay, director of marketing and communications, Marseille Airport. In recent years, he noted, Morocco and Tunisia had shown the biggest growth into France from the south. “Between 2004 and 2009, the traffic on routes from Marseille to Morocco grew by 143%, so there is clearly an opportunity for the low-fare airlines,” he declared.

Boullay highlighted the difference though in having an Open Skies agreement (such that which Morocco has had since 2006) and not having one, as the traffic between Marseille and Tunisia (with no Open Skies agreement), showed only 22% growth.

Casablanca, with no charter flights historically and being a Royal Air Maroc hub, has been growing well but not yet been generating a large number of leisure flights, though this may change with more hotels now being built there. “It’s quite a mature market,” Boullay commented. Agadir and Marrakech, however, have seen huge increases in traffic, much to the detriment of the pure charter carriers.

Mott MacDonald’s project director aviation, Peter Kenworthy, confirmed that the EU–Morocco agreement has opened 3rd and 4th freedom markets and will soon lead to 5th freedom markets and noted that Jordan is set to follow with an agreement. And reinforcing Boullay’s points about Morocco route development, he reported that there had been 56 EU–Morocco city pairs in 2004, but now there are 112. From France, 16 city pairs with Moroccan destinations in 2004 have now grown to 32.

“Interestingly,” Kenworthy remarked, “while Morocco has grown services more than others from France, Egypt has mushroomed in the UK as a destination. Something helping that growth, although Egypt doesn’t have an Open Skies agreement with the EU, is that the Red Sea markets are to a certain extent operated is if under ‘Open Skies’, whereas Alexandria and Cairo and other Mediterranean markets in Egypt are very much ruled by the bilaterals.”

“The backbone of much of our Air Arabia Maroc business is based on the EU–Morocco Open Skies agreement,” explained Rohit Ramachandran, chief operating officer, Air Arabia (pictured). “We have often looked at the single European air transport market and wished for the same in the Middle East.”

In its first year of operations just completed, Air Arabia Maroc’s focus has been on building its Casablanca hub, but Ramachandran announced that services into Europe will be opening from four more Moroccan cities at the end of this year.

Asked how Air Arabia goes about making its route decisions, Ramachandran responded, “Pretty much like any intelligent low-fare carrier. We look at the potential for year-round traffic, the costs of flying into the airport – including costs such as Eurocontrol. Generally we prefer smaller airports that are closer to our customers.”

Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/

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