The Business Year

Paul Byrne

SAUDI ARABIA - Transport

Set to Jet

CEO, Flynas


Paul Byrne is the CEO of Flynas, a position he took up in November 2014 following a three-month term as Commercial Advisor to the airline. With a career spanning more than 35 years in the aviation industry, starting with Aer Lingus in 1979, he brings a wealth of experience to Flynas. Prior to his current position he undertook short training assignments in Jeju Air in Seoul, South Korea, and Precision Air in Tanzania. He also worked with the RM Team at Pegasus Airlines in Istanbul, Turkey. He also completed two terms working with Airphil Express (now PAL express) in Manila, Philippines, and as coach to the newly installed RM team at VIVA Aerobus in Monterrey, Mexico. Other assignments have included Aero Contractors of Nigeria, where from March 2009 to April 2010 he led a team that developed revenue management, online sales, ancillary sales, and onboard sales. From June to December 2007, he also served at Mandala Airlines in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Air Deccan in India. Educated at Chanel College, Coolock, Dublin, he went on to gain an MBA from the Open University. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Independent Business International (IIBI) and was its first Chairman in Ireland.

“We codeshare flights into Abu Dhabi from both Riyadh and Jeddah with Etihad Airways.“

What are some of the recent achievements at Flynas in terms of your fleet, routes, and operations?

Flynas was proud to announce a record order for the region of 120 Airbus 320NEO family aircraft. This deal was concluded at the end of 2016 and will see the new aircraft being delivered to Flynas as of 3Q2018. This is a very exciting time for aviation in KSA with the arrival of the latest technology in both airframes and engines. The expectation is that these aircraft will immediately save 15% on fuel due to the updated designs. This will give Flynas the opportunity over the coming 10 years to have one of the youngest fleets in the region. We have a wonderful partnership with Etihad Airways, where we codeshare flights into Abu Dhabi from both Riyadh and Jeddah. There is only a certain volume of passengers who would typically want to fly between Riyadh or Jeddah and Abu Dhabi as a point-to-point trip, so the balance of passengers on board those flights will be flying onward on the Etihad network. We can reach further and offer long-haul services, but we do not actually have to do the long-haul flights ourselves. Flynas opened up a new base in Dammam in November 2015 and we have three aircraft there now. It is a very strong addition to our[PB1] network. In addition we also codeshare with Pegasus in Turkey giving us a reach into five major Turkish destinations, and we intend to expand this over time. Recently we started flying A319 aircraft from our newest base in Abha where we are working with the government to service five smaller airports in the South.

Is your plan to continue to give passengers more options with your flights?

We see our expertise in the three-and-a-half to four-hour flight duration. We still see ourselves as a regional carrier, though up to 70% of our flights are within Saudi Arabia. With a number of airports being upgraded and improved in the Kingdom, we see the domestic market becoming very vibrant in the years to come. Internationally we fly to Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Sudan, Turkey, and the UAE. We see our domestic responsibility as a Saudi national carrier as important, as this is the biggest single market in the Middle East. There are two major things that Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has done to improve connectivity around the Kingdom. These are both public service obligation (PSO) rights that have been awarded to the Abha base. This will open up the smaller cities in that region through one hub from where passengers can connect to other parts of the country or to international destinations.

How do you expect Vision 2030 to affect the aviation industry in Saudi Arabia? How is Flynas positioning itself for the expected increase in Hajj and Umrah visitors?

The main way of getting people into Saudi Arabia is by air. The Muslim world is expanding, and people coming here for Umrah or the Hajj have little choice but to fly. The aviation industry should benefit greatly from this. We have a separate division that was set up to serve the Hajj market and by extension Umrah as well. For the Hajj we have served around 17 different countries, many of them in West Africa and some in the former Soviet Union. These are charter flights that we arrange with the governments of these countries, and we are the serving carrier. In order to do this, we need wide-bodied airplanes which we procure on a short-term basis as we do not operate them on a daily basis internally. We do have plans to expand our regular Umrah traffic on a long-haul basis, probably starting with Indonesia and Malaysia. Under the Vision 2030, the idea is that Umrah and the Hajj are effectively operating 11 months of the year now. This makes it more sensible for us to have a longer-term partnership with other airlines and lease their aircraft for longer periods. The extension of the capacity at the two Holy sites and the government’s decision to expand the number of visas has greatly improved prospects for this traffic.

What are Flynas’ expectations for 2017?

Everyone was optimistic at the end of 2015, because there were a lot of aircraft being added to the fleets and the price of oil was dropping. However, most airlines will make losses in 2016. Thankfully, Flynas has remained profitable, but it has been a tough year for us. Typically with a drop in oil prices, planes that were sitting idle are more viable, so we have a lot more capacity coming into the market. As a result, we have seen a lot more competition. With too much capacity usually the price drops. We are hoping that sense will prevail, especially from the state carriers that have a lot of large aircraft to keep busy. We would expect 2017 to be a year of consolidation. We are not immune to the economic conditions, as 70% of our guests are Saudis and there is less disposable income in the country at the moment. We are well positioned as a low-cost carrier and therefore we will be the choice for customers who want to save some money while getting excellent service. We will keep pushing both our on-time performance and our price. We have fantastic operations teams, efficiency, and friendly staff, which help us to maintain the profitability we have so far.



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