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Sandy Benoiton: Air Seychelles hopes to expand its fleet in 2026/27 with a plane to fly to Europe

Victoria, Seychelles | May 1, 2024, Wednesday @ 09:27 in Editorial » THE INTERVIEW | By: Sedrick Nicette Edited By: Betymie Bonnelame | Views: 7771
Sandy Benoiton: Air Seychelles hopes to expand its fleet in 2026/27 with a plane to fly to Europe

Sandy Benoiton, a certified pilot, was appointed permanently into the position on August 1, 2023.

Photo license  Purchase photo

(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles' national airline, Air Seychelles, was removed from administration in November 2022, after a tough period when the company had to undergo restructuring.

Air Seychelles went into administration in October 2021 following financial difficulties after a petition was filed by the Apex Trustees Bondholders on August 19, 2021, for the winding up of Air Seychelles to recuperate investment made in the national carrier.  

Since being out of administration, Sandy Benoiton, a certified pilot, took up the role of acting chief executive of the airline on July 1, succeeding Remco Althuis, who had led Air Seychelles since 2018. He was appointed permanently into the position on August 1, 2023 and the company has been working hard to get back on its feet and become the pride of Seychelles once more.

SNA spoke to the CEO of Air Seychelles to learn more about what lies ahead for the company.

 

SNA: Tell us about where Air Seychelles is at the moment.

SB: We have to go back to 2021 when we entered administration and after some restructuring in the company, we saw that in 2022, Air Seychelles was able to bounce back and get out of administration in November 2022. We saw then that we made a slight profit, where we then paid our debt to the bond holders, and now the only debt we have left is with the loan we took from Nouvobanq to be able to pay the bondholders.

In 2023, we maintained the same strict financial policy, where we also looked at training our staff, and we are also continuously looking at other opportunities, as things can change very quickly, such as the conflict in Israel, which was a very good market for us, and we had to look at other areas.

 

SNA: Israel was a key market for Air Seychelles. How is the latest development in the Israel-Palestine conflict affecting Air Seychelles?

SB: Obviously, when the conflict between Israel and Palestine started, the demand for flights fell, so of course we stopped. But we have re-started our flights to Tel Aviv this month, April, and all our flights are actually doing well. It remains an important route for us, and of course, all safety and security measures are being taken and we continue to monitor the situation.

 

SNA: What are the other routes Air Seychelles have at the moment?

SB: We are continuing our flights to countries such as Mauritius, Johannesburg, Mumbai, and Sri Lanka. We have just signed a codeshare agreement with Sri Lankan Airlines, which will give us more flexibility. Our code will be seen beyond Sri Lanka to other places such as Australia.

This new codeshare agreement will allow Air Seychelles and SriLankan Airlines to place their codes on each other's flights. (Air Seychelles) Photo License: All Rights Reserved 

 

SNA: Which route is the most profitable for Air Seychelles at the moment?

SB: At the moment, the routes we concentrate more on are Mauritius and Johannesburg, but seasonally we do have routes, such as Israel that are doing very well. But in general, the flights to Mauritius are doing the best.

 

SNA: During the pandemic era and a while after, Air Seychelles was operating cargo flights as well. Is that still going on?

SB: We have completely stopped the cargo flights. Once passengers started filling the planes again, we stopped with it. But, what we are still doing, is we have a plane that is doing an aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance lease agreement. The plane is based in Dubai.

 

SNA: When you took over as the head of the airline, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were still being felt. Is the company still feeling the effects of the pandemic?

SB: Honestly, since 2023, we have forgotten about COVID-19, and now we are focused on the various international conflicts and our biggest concern is in regards to fuel. COVID-19 is behind us and passengers are back on the plane, so things have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels.

 

SNA: Does that mean Air Seychelles is profitable now?

SB: Yes, it is. Over the past two years, it has been profitable. We still have some debt with Nouvobanq that we are still paying, but the company is financially stable now.

Air Seychelles has been profitable over the last two years. (Air Seychelles) Photo License: All Rights Reserved  

 

SNA: The restructuring brought in some difficult measures, such as pay cuts for staff. Has that affected staffing and morale in the company?

SB: Air Seychelles was not just affected by the pandemic, but we also went through administration and that was not easy on the staff, especially those who had their salaries reduced. However, as we progress, we have seen that many people have returned to the company and the rate of people leaving Air Seychelles has also gone down.

Last year, we had a salary review, where although not all, some salaries were returned to what they were previously.

 

SNA: There was a point where some changes were being made to Air Seychelles' ground handling at the airport. How has that been?

SB: The idea was to ensure that there would be no instances where ground handling services would be put at risk, in case the company faces any difficulties in the future.

In our restructuring plan, it was always seen that all our three units - ground handling, domestic and international -  would remain with Air Seychelles, which works well, and with all three we are moving towards full sustainability.

To answer your question though, work has been done behind the scenes, where ground handling is now protected, where if anything happens to Air Seychelles, it will not affect the continuity of these services.

 

SNA: What's the future of Air Seychelles?

SB: For now, we are still in the six-year rescue plan, where we are proceeding with caution, so we do not go back to where we were before. It can be very easy to get excited and end up back to difficult times, so we are taking precautions and also thinking outside of the box, when it comes to our route.

We are very happy at the moment, and we want to finish paying off all our debts, but we are already looking at something, such as expanding into the Asian market. In terms of expanding our fleet, we will look at around 2026/27, if there is availability, we will be looking to get a new plane that has a longer range, which will enable us to get into Europe.

 

SNA: On a personal note, you have headed Air Seychelles for almost three years now, although you were officially appointed last year. Tell us a little about your time at the company and the responsibility of leading the airline.

SB: As I always say, I grew with Air Seychelles, where I was the chief operations officer before becoming CEO. For me, it was not a shock, it was simply a natural progression for me.

For me, it's all about the resilience of everyone in the company that has made things work, which is my biggest pride. Because of these strong and professional staff, sometimes you don't realise how difficult things are because of the work being done by all the staff. I think we are all very blessed.  

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