Hospitality Ireland presents a round-up of the latest airline and aviation news from around the world.
Etihad Boss Says July Was The Airline's Best Month In Over A Year
The chief executive of Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways said on Wednesday September 8 that there was cause for some optimism after July marked the airline's strongest month in about a year and a half.
The state-owned carrier filled just over 40% of its seats in July, CEO Tony Douglas said in an online interview with aviation consultancy CAPA, versus just 24.9% over the first six months of the year.
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Douglas attributed the July passenger traffic increase to countries easing travel restrictions as more people in those nations were vaccinated against COVID-19.
That had given cause for optimism, he said, though he cautioned that the operating environment remained difficult.
"We need to be realistic in managing costs with an obsession to detail," Douglas said, adding that he expected the corporate travel segment to remain suppressed for some time.
Etihad halved its operating loss to $400 million in the first half of the year as the airline slashed costs. Operating revenue, however, shrank nearly 30% as it recorded a 71% drop in passenger traffic with just 1 million carried.
Etihad has operated flights over the peak summer season to holiday destinations like Mykonos in Greece and Malaga in Spain, places the airline did not typically fly to before the pandemic.
Douglas said he believed there continued to be pent up demand for travel, citing a 300%-600% increase in sales whenever Abu Dhabi adds destinations to its quarantine-free travel list.
AirAsia Reports Smaller Q2 Loss
Malaysia's flagship budget carrier AirAsia Group Bhd posted a smaller loss in the second quarter amid a jump in revenue, even as an enhanced lockdown dampened sales during an ongoing slump in travel, a bourse filing showed on Wednesday September 8.
Revenue was 160% higher at 370 million ringgit, boosted by cargo revenues. Under its digital arm, revenue from its logistics business tripled while the fintech unit revenue was 56% higher.
Net loss for April-June was 41.6% lower at 580 million ringgit ($139.66 million), compared with a loss of 992 million ringgit a year ago when the airline hibernated its fleet at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Passengers carried for the quarter surged 272% to 758,746 while load factor - which measures how full a plane is - rose nine percentage points to 68%.
AirAsia said it continued with cost containment measures, including cutting headcount and salaries while managing its capacity to match demand.
The group is in negotiations with lessors to restructure lease terms, it said.
"By the end of the third quarter of 2021, we will have completed two batches of lease restructuring and expect to complete the full exercise by the end of 2021," Group CEO Tony Fernandes said in a separate statement.
Fernandes said AirAsia has sufficient liquidity for the rest of the year and throughout 2022. The group plans to raise up to 1 billion ringgit through a rights issue by the end of this year.
The group expects all its airline entities - Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia - to see a gradual pickup in domestic operations in the fourth quarter, following the easing of travel restrictions in line with the increase in vaccination rates.
WestJet Airlines Says Unvaccinated Employees To Face Unpaid Leave Or Termination
Canada's WestJet Airlines said on Wednesday September 8 that all employees who fail to attest their vaccination status by September 24, or get fully vaccinated by October 30, will face unpaid leave or termination of employment.
In the face of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, spurred by the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant, many companies have come out with mask mandates and changed their vaccination policies.
Onex Corp-owned WestJet said a full vaccination status would be mandatory for all future employees hired by the airline.
"As part of its vaccine mandate, the airline will not provide testing as an alternative to vaccination," the company said in a statement.
United Airlines Employees Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemption Face Unpaid Leave
United Airlines employees who receive religious exemptions from the company for COVID-19 vaccinations will be placed on temporary, unpaid personal leave from October 2, the US airline said in a Wednesday September 8 memo to staff.
The company said the employees will be allowed to return to their work location once new testing and safety procedures are in place.
The US carrier is taking a tough line on employees who decline to get vaccinated and became the first US carrier in early August to announce it would mandate vaccines for employees.
United said in the memo "more than half of our employees who were unvaccinated on the day (Aug. 6) we announced the requirement are now vaccinated."
"Given the dire statistics listed above, we can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated coworkers," the airline said the memo.
For pilots and flight attendants and other customer-facing employees winning religious exemptions they will remain off work indefinitely.
"Once the pandemic meaningfully recedes, you will be welcomed back to the team on active status," United said.
For some employees in non-customer facing roles, United will more quickly allow return to work but require unvaccinated employees to "undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, wear a mask at all times."
United said for some employees an "official return to work date might be significantly later" than mid-October.
Employees whose requests for religious exemptions are denied must be vaccinated within five weeks or they will be fired, United said. United said the restriction and requirements are similar for employees seeking medical exemptions but employees winning exemptions will be placed on temporary medical leave.
American Airlines has said that it will not provide special leave starting next month to unvaccinated employees who have to quarantine due to COVID-19.
Last month, Delta Air Lines said employees will have to pay $200 more every month for their company-sponsored healthcare plan if they choose to not be vaccinated against COVID-19.
US Airlines To Support Higher Target For Sustainable Aviation Fuel By 2030
Major US airlines plan to announce on Thursday September 9 that they will back a voluntary industry target of 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel in 2030 as the White House looks to reduce aviation sector emissions, sources told Reuters.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, in March had set a 2030 goal of producing and deploying 2 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). SAF, made from feedstocks such as used cooking oil and animal fat, at present accounts for only a miniscule amount of overall jet fuel use.
The group declined to comment Wednesday September 8. A White House virtual event on sustainable aviation is set for Thursday, industry and government officials said.
The target for sustainable aviation fuel will be detailed at that event, sources briefed on the matter said.
The airline group, which represents United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and others, will pledge to work with the U.S. government and others to help rapidly expand production and deployment of "commercially viable" SAF, sources said.
Asked for comment on the meeting, White House aide Ali Zaidi said in a statement "we need to move quickly to support the technology innovation and infrastructure needed to shift to more sustainable fuels now – and make real progress by the end of this decade."
The White House meeting will discuss the administration’s "whole-of-government strategy to achieve a net zero carbon aviation sector by 2050" and will include airlines, fuel providers, airports, unions, and aircraft manufacturers.
The industry participants "will share commitments to reduce emissions in the aviation sector through improvements in aircraft technology, fuels, and operational improvements," according to an invitation seen by Reuters.
Airlines and the Biden administration back new tax credits for SAF that are expected to be included in a massive spending bill in Congress that are crucial to making the fuel economically viable.
A White House official told Reuters the administration had pushed airlines "on sustainability and the potential of reducing their emissions by 2030."
The push to increase production of sustainable aviation fuel is also seen by the Biden administration as a way to help provide new businesses for the nation's refining industry and the thousands of union jobs who rely on their success.
On Tuesday September 7, Chevron Corp said it plans to produce a test batch of SAF and sell it to Delta at the Los Angeles International Airport. Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with SAF by 2030.
Cathay Pacific To Close London Pilot Base And Review US Bases
Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd will close its London pilot base and review the last remaining overseas pilot bases in the United States, the airline said on Thursday September 9, as it grapples with the impact of coronavirus.
The closure comes after Cathay put the London base under review in July and shut bases in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Germany this year in a bid to focus operations in Hong Kong, where pilots have taken permanent pay cuts to retain jobs.
The London-based pilots, many of whom had not been flying since April 2020, will be offered a redundancy or the opportunity to move to Hong Kong, Cathay said in a statement.
"The decision is not one we have taken lightly and does not reflect on the professionalism of the pilots based in London," the airline said.
Cathay added that it would review its US bases later in the year.
It declined to say how many jobs were affected.
In June, Cathay resumed recruiting pilots with Hong Kong residency rights as part of its medium- to long-term planning, even though much of its fleet has been parked because of the pandemic.
In July, it reported a fall of 98.4% in passenger numbers from the corresponding 2019 month, before the pandemic hit, attributing the drop to tight border controls. But its air cargo business has performed better than before the pandemic.
No Decision Yet On Alitalia State Aid
The European Commission said on Thursday September 9 that it has not yet ruled on €900 million in Italian state aid granted to Italian airline Alitalia.
"No decision has been taken," a Commission spokesperson said in an email.
The Financial Times newspaper reported that Italy was set to be told that the state aid is illegal.