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An Aegean Airlines A320neo on final approach for Athens. (Photo: Konstantinos Chatzigeorgiadis)

Aegean Airlines Turns 21 as it Restores International Flying

For many, the 21st birthday is an exciting milestone, a celebration of the past, present and future. In Athens, Greece, Aegean Airlines recently celebrated its 21st birthday on May 28 as the carrier works to weather the worst crisis in the history of aviation. Since the sale of Olympic Airlines in 2009, Aegean has become the oldest of the relatively young number of scheduled airlines in Greece.

Like other airlines in Europe, Aegean Airlines halted its international flights on March 26 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, with the exception of flights to Brussels to maintain connectivity with the European Union’s administrative capital.

As travel restrictions begin to ease across Europe, the airline has gradually restarted flights to several German, Swiss, Romanian and French cities from its Athens hub. Flights to Sofia, Bulgaria and Tel Aviv will resume from Athens on June 11. While Aegean Airlines is currently operating limited frequencies to these cities, it expects to evaluate demand on a rolling basis and increase frequencies and destinations from Athens as demand returns. Flights to the U.K., the Netherlands, Spain and Italy are planned to begin on June 15 but are subject to existing notices to airmen (NOTAMs) if restrictions remain beyond June 15.

Currently, Athens is the only Greek city accepting international flights and international citizens into the country, but this will soon change as Greece moves forward with its “Restart Tourism” plan. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced recently that the government will allow Thessaloniki, Greece’s Airport to begin accepting international flights on June 15, moving the date up from the original July 1 date.

This move will allow Aegean Airlines to expand its international offerings to include flights from Greece’s second-largest city as well. The airline has plans to begin sub-daily flights to four German cities and Larnaca, Cyprus from its Thessaloniki focus city in mid-June, with plans to ramp up frequencies on these routes in July and August, Greece’s usual peak season. Aegean also intends to fly between Thessaloniki and Tel Aviv, pending the removal of travel restrictions between Israel and Greece.

By July 15, Aegean Airlines is slated to be flying to 42 international destinations from Athens and 7 from Thessaloniki. The airline also expects to commence international flights from its Heraklion, Rhodes and Chania, Greece focus cities in July, with a schedule expected to be announced on June 15.

The airline plans to operate 1,000 flights per week by July 15, and at the peak of its summer schedule in August, Aegean Airlines will operate 1,600 flights per week. This figure is approximately 50% of the original schedule published prior to the international health crisis.

Greece successfully flattened the COVID-19 curve within its borders by enacting strict lockdowns in late February and banning foreigners from entering, so it is striding with great caution as it works to re-open its borders. Greece will be opening up initially to countries with similar epidemiological data in an effort to save its summer tourism industry. The tourist sector currently accounts for 18% of Greece’s GDP.

As Greece opens up its borders to more countries, Aegean Airlines will be able to gradually resume flying the various routes it once did. On the domestic front, Aegean has maintained flights to all of its destinations to maintain critical connectivity between the islands and the mainland.

As domestic travel continues to pick up, the airline is working on restoring a substantial number of lost frequencies on flights from Athens and Thessaloniki to cities and islands across the country from June 1. On the Athens to Thessaloniki route, the airline’s pre-coronavirus most frequently flown route, Aegean had restored just over 35% of its usual capacity by June 1. The airline is now focusing to align its domestic frequencies with increased international frequencies to allow for easy connections like before.

Aegean Airlines began taking delivery of new Airbus A320neo jets late last year in an effort to expand its fleet and replace older A320s in the fleet. To date, the airline has taken delivery of four of its 42 A320neos on order, with an additional jet awaiting delivery in storage at Francazal Airport in Toulouse, France. The airline did not respond to AirlineGeeks’s inquiry regarding the status of the outstanding orders.

While Aegean stopped the majority of its flights in March, the airline quickly converted multiple aircraft into cargo jets and operated a handful of flights to China, bringing critical personal protective equipment back to Greece to fight the public health crisis. The airline has also pledged to block the last three rows of seats onboard all of its aircraft as it resumes flying to isolate a passenger in the event that they develop COVID-19 symptoms while in-flight.

Executives at the airline announced early into the global carrier that the carrier can weather the storm in the short term and sustain operations at just 10% of regular flying levels for up to six months. But the airline has made it clear that a state bailout must strongly be considered to ensure long term viability of the company.

Eftichios Vassilakis, Chairman of Aegean Airlines, announced earlier this month that 2020 would be Aegean’s worst year in its 21-year history, acknowledging that the third quarter would result in a loss. The Greek government is currently working on a package to offer state aid, but it is unclear if it intends to take a stake in the private airline.

Greek tourist entities including Aegean Airlines have been working hard over the past few years to expand Greece’s highly seasonal market into November and beyond. While the COVID-19 has thrown a lot of curveballs at the tourism industry, the less crowded fall and winter months could potentially create a unique opportunity for companies like Aegean to market Greek beaches, islands and attractions to people who want to skip the crowds but not the vacation.

Mateen Kontoravdis
Mateen Kontoravdis
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