CARLOS MUNOZ

Aviation adjusts for travel in the Covid era

CEO of Spanish air carrier Volotea stresses importance of Greece, deal with Aegean in what has been a very tough year for the industry

aviation-adjusts-for-travel-in-the-covid-era

Adapting to the new needs of its clients and shifting the focus toward domestic networks meant low-cost carrier Volotea had an active summer season in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis has dramatically changed the way people travel although the desire to travel remains the same, says Carlos Munoz, CEO and co-founder of Volotea.

Headquartered in Castrillon, Spain, the airline renewed a part of its fleet this summer instead of 2023, as originally planned, and the driving force behind that decision was the need to increase competitiveness at this difficult juncture.

Greece is one of the most in-demand destinations at the moment among Volotea’s clients and that is why it maintains an operational base in Athens with two Airbus A319 aircraft.

How has the pandemic affected you and how did you manage to have such an active summer in 2020 despite the situation in the aviation industry?

The aviation industry has been deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. It was, without any doubt, the toughest year for our industry. However, we have faced this hard situation with a pretty good strategy, allowing us to have an active 2020 summer thanks to our domestic approach, our flexibility and the best operational standards. We redefined our network quickly (within a few weeks) with the objective of shifting predominantly to domestic offerings (turning 86% of Volotea’s network into domestic connections) in all the countries where we operate. Last year, we carried 3.8 million passengers over the year with a 90.7% seat load. This summer, we applied the same anticipatory thinking and focused on changing our offer according to the new needs of our clients (needs that are affected by the health context). We have created 106 new routes (versus pre-Covid) and increased our seat offer by 120% compared to 2019. We have also increased the connectivity of the airports in our network toward the islands (in Greece, but also in Italy, Spain, and France). That said, the Delta variant is having a strong impact, and this growth might be a bit reduced in September and the coming months.

Why did you decide to bring forward the completion of Volotea’s transformation into an all-Airbus fleet so much earlier than planned? How did you manage that under such difficult circumstances?

The change of our fleet was undoubtedly accelerated by the crisis we went through. We finalized the change last year, instead of 2023 as initially planned. The need to increase our competitiveness in this difficult context was the decisive driver. By becoming a single fleet Airbus operator, Volotea will benefit from multiple strategic and operational advantages, such as a single pilot license, lower maintenance costs, simplified scheduling, easier monitoring, and auditing of all areas – especially safety – and volume advantage in supplier relations. Other than being more economically efficient, the upgraded Volotea fleet is also more environmentally friendly. Due to its larger capacity and more efficient engines, the new aircraft significantly reduce the company’s carbon footprint per passenger. Additionally, thanks to the custom-fitted “vortex generators,” Volotea’s Airbus fleet produces less whistle effect on approach than the Boeing 717s, further reducing the noise impact in the cities and bases where it operates.

You have added many destinations from Greece this year. How has this summer been for the industry? Are things going as expected?

The Greek market is very important to us. As you know, we have a base in Athens, from where we operate 14 routes – both international and domestic – but we also fly to 14 islands from many French and Italian cities. Greece is usually one of the most wanted destinations for the summer among our clients. Unfortunately, this year, with the regulations changing very often and the arrival of the Delta variant, people have changed their booking behavior: At the beginning of the summer we were really very positive about our sales, but since mid-July we have seen changes in the booking pattern: People once again tend to stay more in their own countries and not to travel abroad (Italians more so than French), therefore this summer is not going as we had been expecting.

Has the presence of the new Delta variant affected how people travel or even how they plan to travel? The European Union directives have constantly been changing depending on the Covid situation in each country. How feasible is it for an airline to adapt to such a dynamically changing environment?

The current context remains difficult, and predictability uncertain. Beyond the variant, it is the whole Covid crisis that has led to changes in the way we travel on two levels: firstly, the passengers’ needs, and, secondly, purchasing behavior. Starting with the passenger’s needs, I feel our clients need more support, information and flexibility: What test will I have to take? Can I change my flight if I have been in contact with an infected person before my trip? What document do I need to show during the check-in procedure if I am vaccinated? There are many questions, and the answers may vary from country to country, and from week to week. As an airline, I think we need to make it as easy as possible for our passengers to find the information they need (Volotea has for example created a dedicated page with country information to guide customers), but also to adapt our offer, both in terms of destinations and above all in terms of flexibility by offering easier change options. On the other side, we are also seeing a major impact of the crisis in purchasing behavior. The desire to travel remains, but the way in which it’s done has changed. We are seeing more appetite for domestic destinations, more last-minute bookings, and generally consumers are looking for more competitive deals. At Volotea, we have – as explained above – redefined our network since the beginning of the crisis to develop our domestic offerings. On the other hand, we are already responding to new behaviors such as last-minute bookings or the search for competitive offers as a low-cost carrier.

What do you expect from the new code-sharing agreement with Aegean Airlines, and have you seen passengers taking advantage of it?

We have signed a bilateral agreement with Aegean to commercialize 100 codeshare routes on existing international routes in Italy, France, Spain and Greece. The major benefit of this agreement will be for our clients, allowing the customers of each company to benefit from an expanded destinations network. We were extremely happy to launch this partnership with Aegean, a very respected European independent airline that we share a lot of values with, in terms of high operational integrity, customer experience and price competitiveness. This agreement also offers both Volotea and Aegean a considerable growth opportunity since all the routes selected have no overlap.

What do you expect from your two new Airbus A319s based in Athens?

Since 2015, when we first started operating in Athens, we had been constantly increasing our capacity – pre-Covid, that is – and we aim to recover that during the next years, starting with the change of our fleet. With the Airbus A319, we can provide a better product, with greater capacity compared to the B717 (156 seats vs 125) and better operations. This is because the Airbus fleet – as mentioned before – has more advantages. Furthermore, we can fly to more destinations as the A319 has a longer flying range (3,500 kilometers vs the B717’s 2,500 km), therefore we can expand our destination portfolio and start thinking of new routes.