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The flight took off from Cairo International without the usual fanfare when an airline launches a new service, neither at the airport nor onboard. A delegation headed by Marketing Manager Magda Metwali and Planning Manager Hussein El-Sherif joined the flight which left at 10 am. It took almost four and half hours to reach Copenhagen. Egyptian Ambassador to Denmark Nabil Habashi and his wife welcomed the passengers at the tube gate. However, due to bad luck, we were only able to leave the airport at 5pm due to tough security procedures. The delegation had to drop off all printed publications they brought to use at a cocktail reception.
A short briefing took place at the airport while watching the Egyptian plane being showered with water by fire fighting vehicles as it was getting ready for the return flight to Cairo.
Speaking to Al-AhramWeekly, Ambassador Habashi indicated that there are an estimated 2500 Egyptians who live in Denmark, and that the route represented a boon to the work of the Egyptian mission. "It would certainly facilitate the transfer of Arabs and Africans who live in Copenhagen in large numbers," explained Habashi. "As for Muslims, the new route will serve Muslim Europeans who want to perform Hajj and Omra, not only from Denmark but from all Scandinavian countries," he added. According to Habashi, about 70-80,000 Arabs and 30-40,000 Africans live in Denmark.
Six years ago, the Copenhagen route had to be suspended along with 14 other international destinations to stop loss bleeding. A comprehensive study found out that those routes only captured 5% of market traffic. "We are definite not going to repeat the mistakes of the past," replied EgyptAir Airline Chairman and CEO Captain Alaa Ashour. "The route had been previously served with two flights weekly, one was operated via Stockholm. This is not what European passengers want, as they prefer to fly direct flights," Ashour told the Weekly in Cairo.
Ashour also indicated that the route relied mainly on tourists which could not help it to survive. "Tourists prefer to use charter flights to Red Sea resorts and we do not have intentions to compete with charter business. Now with Cairo International a hub and with EgyptAir expanding the fleet, we target different categories of passengers," he explained. EgyptAir, is planning to increase hub traffic passing through its new T3 terminal at Cairo airport from 4-6 per cent last year to 30 per cent by the end of 2011.
"We are negotiating a code share agreement with SAS which will boost the business of the airline in European and African markets,' Ashour added.
The new route is currently served with three weekly flights, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday departing from Copenhagen at 3:45pm and from Cairo at 10:00am. The airline uses the B737 with the 24 business seats and 120 economy seats.
"With Egypt Air's extensive route network, this route opens up not only all of Egypt, but destinations such as South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and the Middle East," explained Magda Metwali, the airline marketing manager. "The route has high potential considering the fact that Copenhagen acts as a hub for Scandinavian countries. We plan to add a fourth flight in April but by the end of 2011 the route will be served with five flights weekly," Metwali added.
Traffic flow between Copenhagen and Cairo is estimated to be 80,000 in total and EgyptAir will undoubtedly be looking to capture traffic from Scandinavia to Africa.
On the other hand, SAS stopped flying to Cairo in 2006, as did Cimber Sterling airline, so the sky seems clear of competitors.
A closer look at the airline schedules shows a clear lack of competition in the Africa-Scandinavia sector. Three airlines operate one weekly flight each on a charter base to Hurghada, Marrakesh and Tunis. All three are leisure-based operators serving leisure markets, which will not be a threat for EgyptAir.
Ashour indicated that all new routes were to operate through a General Sales Agent (GSA) to avoid extra costs. "It is really good news. International accessibility through direct routes to and from overseas destinations is vital for Danish industry," commented Ibrahim Ramadan, EgyptAir GSA Denmark. "Accessibility to these destinations and Cairo in particular is thus strengthened significantly, which is of great benefit to securing Danish business interests in Egypt, and also for the Danish business community in general," Ramadan explained.
Copenhagen airport calls itself 'Scandinavia's Hub'and serves as a Star Alliance hub for the main operating carrier SAS. That status is currently being strengthened as two other Star members, Air Canada and EgyptAir, are operating.
According to Carsten Norland, Vice President Sales Copenhagen airport, the new direct route closes an important gap in the route network from Copenhagen Airport. "This is the only direct flight that connects our airport to Africa, we are so pleased to have Egyptian flights back," he commented.
"We see big potential for this route as Africa is an ill-served market for us," added Norland. "A direct route to Cairo will not only boost the Copenhagen to Cairo market but also African-bound traffic due to Cairo's connectivity to the African continent."
The airline currently flies to 16 destinations in Africa, and has plans to add two new African destinations by early November 2010.