FlyBosnia CEO Chris Gabriel interview with allplane
The Balkans have proven to be a challenging region for airlines. Most, if not all, the airlines that emerged in the territory of the former Yugoslavia have historically been quite financially fragile.
In the case of Bosnia and Hercegovina, the rather small (1 aircraft) B&H Airlines closed shop in 2015, leaving the country with no national flag carrier.
This precedent has not deterred Saudi investment group Al Shiddi from investing in the setup of a brand new airline in Bosnia and Herzegovina, FlyBosnia. We spoke with FlyBosnia’s CEO’s, Australian Chris Gabriel, that gave us some insights about this new airline project that is just taking off at heart of the Balkans.In Mr. Gabriel’s words, FlyBosnia aims to cover a latent demand for direct flights to and from Bosnia that is not satisfactorily served.
“It is a niche airline designed to provide affordable, direct flights to key destinations where we know there is demand” he explained.
FlyBosnia has already received its first aircraft, an Airbus A319, with three more on the way (the second A319 is expected this April). They have a two-class configuration, but, he is quick to insist “it is a Euro business class, the seats are the same, we can just adapt very quickly, in response to demand” elaborates Mr. Gabriel, before explaining that ancillaries play also a key role in the commercial strategy.
In any case, FlyBosnia has already been testing the waters, with the launch of some charter flights between Sarajevo and the Middle East.
“These have obtained very satisfactory load factors, consistently above 85%, so this decided us to launch scheduled operations” highlighted Mr. Gabriel.
These regular routes will be, for a start, London (FlyBosnia is considering both Gatwick and Luton airports, in part to exploit potential links to other carriers) and Frankfurt in Europe and Riyadh, Jeddah, Bahrain and Kuwait in the Middle East. In addition to these, FlyBosnia is looking at other points in Italy, Spain and Russia as the next steps in the route development front.
FlyBosnia is not only betting on the growing popularity of Bosnia as an emerging tourist destination in Europe, but expects to have a major contribution to the consolidation of this upward trend. Although on a different league than its neighbour, tourism-superpower Croatia, the last few years Bosnia and Hercegovina has been reporting double digit growth in the number of tourist arrivals.
Mr. Gabriel hopes that once it is operating at full capacity, FlyBosnia will play a major role in doubling the number of passengers at Sarajevo International Airport, from the current million to two million.
In this regard, FlyBosnia expects to leverage synergies with its Saudi investors, that, in addition to managing hotels and travel management businesses in their home country, are already active players in the Bosnian economy, where it owns a number of hotels and commercial real estate projects.
If religious diversity is one of the defining features of Bosnia as a country, pilgrimages are a segment of the travel market that FlyBosnia is paying special attention to. This includes both traffic to Bosnia, that has Christian pilgrimage places such as Medjugorje, and Bosnian muslims flying to the Arabian Peninsula.
And there is also, of course, the Bosnian diaspora.
And not just when it comes to passengers, Mr. Gabriel likes to highlight how many aviation professionals of Bosnian origin have expressed their interest in joining the FlyBosnia project.
High expectations, indeed, for an airline that aims to put back Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina on Europe’s tourist map. Last year Bosnia and Herzegovina recorded 1,2 million foreign tourist visitors.