The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

There goes EgyptAir

It takes one of EgyptAir’s European offices more than three months to issue a simple refund (including what I thought were attempts to keep the money).

If it continues to refuse improving its services, the airline will be swept away by competition once Egyptian civil aviation is liberalized (which is why that hasn’t happened yet, but there are hints the government is losing its patience with the airline.)
Egypt has (except for regional airports) not yet signed the BlueSkies agreement with the EU (unlike Morocco, in a way a competitor on the Middle Eastern tourism market), which amongst other things allows foreign airlines to fly to Cairo and then on to other destinations, thus competing with EgyptAir’s domestic flights.

EgyptAir did not renew its information systems between the 1970s (!) and the early 2000s, and there were years its subsidiaries didn’t even bother to issue annual reports to the holding company after the new structure was created in 2002.

The situation is somehow similar to Italy: a big tourism nation, whose national carrier just doesn’t get its act together. Alitalia makes 1 million euro loss a day, and nobody wants to buy the carrier (let’s wait and see whether any of the three current bidder will actually buy it) as no one knows how bad it is.

Except that in Egypt, and that’s the point I’m trying to make, national security issues are once again in the way of economic growth and jobs. Civil aviation is one of the last sectors still very much controlled by the security apparatus.

It is full of former air force generals (and pilots?), of course, but for instance Cairo’s airport is also not part of any governorate, which means it is administered directly by the presidency – which means Zakaria Azmi and the likes from the presidential surroundings control which business man has to pay how much to get export licenses and so on.

At least until very recently, the mukhabarat had stakes in what appeared to be private sector services companies at the airport, and forced the management of these companies to blow up staff numbers with additional pairs of eyes observing passengers instead of doing what these companies were supposed to do to render Cairo with the services-oriented airport it deserves.

I always found it difficult to remain patient while the police guy who checks whether you got a border stamp about two meters after you got a border stamp is unable to find the border stamp in your passport if you know that at the same time there’s plenty of non-police guys available to carry your luggage right into the airplane without any controls whatsoever for just 50 euro (the business man who told me that didn’t have change ready when he tried to navigate around that big group of Italian tourists in front of him that made his flight very much look like taking off without him.)

Getting back to EgyptAir, the issue is its protection prevents Egypt’s tourism industry from realizing its potential. Foreign carriers’ demands for more slots at Cairo’s airport are delayed or not approved, but this lowers the number of tourism arrivals other parts of the government (rightfully) hope for.

Let's hope being a member of the Star Alliance will approve the service-side of things at EgyptAir (while the quality of its pilots and the modernity of its fleet are undisputed).