28 June 2006

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Business Today

Bianchi leads negotiations for Easyjet

Matthew Vella

Michael Bianchi, the coordinator of negotiations for low-cost carrier Easyjet with the Maltese government, yesterday said the airline will only issue a declaration “when the moment is right,” when asked at what stage discussions were over the advent of the airline in Malta.
The news that Bianchi is leading negotiations on behalf of Easyjet comes at a time when hoteliers are grossly disappointed with the contents of a government-prepared report on low cost airlines which was presented to an MHRA task force last week.
It is believed that the MHRA executive council was yesterday mulling the idea of calling an extraordinary general conference to discuss government’s proposals which seem to have “fallen short” of what hoteliers were expecting.
Bianchi, the director of the Bianchi and Sons group, is among the main shareholders in the Malta-Mediterranean Link Consortium, who along with Vienna International Airport and SNC-Lavalin took over the ownership of Malta International Airport.
Bianchi said he was coordinating talks “in Easyjet’s interest” after technical talks with a ministerial delegation started last week in London. The talks will be followed by another meeting in Malta between a delegation from the airline and government in July.
He said the fact that discussions were underway, was a positive step.
Talks with another low-cost carrier, Ryanair, have yet to achieve any form of agreement, Tourism Minister Francis Zammit Dimech said in parliament on 14 June 2006.
Disagreement exists over whether LCCs should be granted discounted landing fees. Zammit Dimech has stated that balancing the needs of the flag carriers including Air Malta, low cost airlines, tour operators and other players was not easy, saying there was still an opportunity for low cost airlines to operate to Malta without harming other sectors of the tourism industry.

Zammit Dimech believes a major low cost carrier could start operating by next year, but no guarantees could be given.
It is understood that cabinet is still divided over the issue with Minister Austin Gatt, whose portfolio includes Air Malta, leading the charges against the introduction of the two major low cost carriers.
Easyjet and Ryanair are by far the largest low cost airlines in Europe. The two companies have slightly different strategies. Easyjet flies mainly to leading airports while Ryanair uses far more secondary airports to reduce costs. Easyjet places more focus on attracting business travellers as well as leisure travellers, although all its aircraft have single-class cabins.
Ryanair makes much of the fact that Easyjet’s average fares are higher and its average punctuality is consistently lower, mainly due to the different range of airports used and Ryanair routinely scheduling flights to take thirty minutes longer than required.
As of September 2005, Ryanair flies more passengers, but Easyjet has a higher turnover, leading both of them to claim to be “Europe’s number one low cost airline”.
Easyjet was established in 1995 by Stelios Haji-Ioannou with two leased Boeing 737-200 aircraft and operating two routes from Luton Airport to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Its early marketing strategy was based on “making flying as affordable as a pair of jeans”.


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