30-Second Interview: Stefan Pichler, CEO, Royal Jordanian Airlines
anna.aero: On LinkedIn it shows that you have an extensive aviation background, with CEO positions with carriers including airberlin and Jazeera Airways. What prompted you to join Royal Jordanian?
Stefan Pichler: I always try to get into interesting business cases which are challenging and I have always done that. I also like turnaround situations, and have turned around a lot of companies in the past. The company Royal Jordanian was a very special case, however it was pretty obvious that you could do something with this company. It was an interesting case and I decided let’s do it!
aa: How important is the European market for Royal Jordanian and are there any potential new routes which you are considering?
SP: I think for us at Royal Jordanian we define the Levant as our home market and from the Levant to Europe there is huge potential, and this potential will increase because we will hopefully be able to open up more destinations. In addition to this, our network from Europe is quite extensive and we have 18 destinations, all of which we are serving very well. Our partnership with oneworld and codeshare agreements with airlines such as British Airways and Iberia has enabled us to cover the European market. The challenge for us in Jordan is that we have intense competition with the LCCs such as Ryanair and easyJet. Ryanair flies to 14 destinations in Europe from Jordan and will increase this to 18 destinations in W19, while easyJet is continuing to add more and more destinations from Jordan. However, for now, our results to Europe have been very positive. We opened Copenhagen as a destination last year; this year we decided not to add any new destinations because we wanted to see how the competition with Ryanair and easyJet is panning out.
aa: You recently announced a codeshare agreement with Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines; both from different alliances. How will RJ benefit from this new venture from a network perspective?
SP: Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines both have a vast network and we believe that having a codeshare agreement with both carriers, regardless of alliance membership, will benefit Royal Jordanian. Istanbul and Doha are two key feeder networks and having traffic come from those destinations to Amman will only benefit us.
aa: You recently announced 266 extra flights for S19. What are the key indicators for increasing frequencies to Doha, Chicago and Detroit?
SP: Demand! There are a lot of strong forward-bookings for those routes in general, so we decided to increase frequencies. In the USA there is also a large Jordanian population and strong underlying O&D traffic streams, which there have been over the last few years. In addition to this our partnership with oneworld member American Airlines has enabled us to feed flights into the USA, making this work out very well for Royal Jordanian. After our core market which is Europe we see the USA as our second-biggest market, in which we are performing quite strongly.
aa: Royal Jordanian was one of the last carriers to withdraw from Syria back in 2012 when the war broke out. Sources suggest that you will be making a return this year to Damascus and Aleppo. Is this true and how difficult is it to make a decision to return to a war-torn country without the possibility of having passenger safety compromised?
SP: The Syrian market is an interesting market for us; however, when the issues of security and boycott surrounding the country have passed we will return to Syria. This will only happen once we have done sufficient safety and security assessments, after which we will resume services to Syria.
aa: Looking over your annual reports, there is a notable trend that over the last decade the company has faced a fluctuation in demand for traffic out of Queen Alia Airport. What do you think are the key underlining issues of this?
SP: Commenting on the years 2017 and 2018 our passenger numbers are slowly growing, in both those years and also into 2019 we are restructuring our network in a way in which we have more connecting flights. The connectivity in Amman as a hub has increased in the last year by 42.6%, to which we will also see double-digit growth follow this year. Our home market is the Levant and we want to connect the Levant to the world, so connectivity is key for us. The other reason for this connectivity is that the more you compete with the LCCs, the more you need to find the strategy to survive.
aa: Royal Jordanian Airlines has a mixture of Boeing, Airbus and Embraer aircraft. With plans for a complete fleet overhaul, which manufacturer would be best suited for the routes you currently have and are looking to develop?
SP: We have been working on a complete fleet overhaul over the last 15 months and have spoken to all the suppliers, including engine manufacturers whom we have short-listed. However, myself and the advisory board will be discussing our options in August to go for one manufacturer.
aa: I have heard that you enjoy running. What is your best marathon time?
SP: 42 kilometres in 2 hours 12 minutes!