Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A tale of two airlines

SME reported yesterday that Air Slovakia has won the tender to bring the last British troops home from Iraq. SME links to an article in the Daily Mirror which you should probably avoid if you have a sensitive disposition or are not used to the ugly spectacle of the British press working themselves up into a frenzy of outrage over nothing in particular.

Air Slovakia might sound like the national airline of Slovakia, the equivalent of British Airways or Air France, but it's not quite as simple as that. Though it began in Slovakia, it was bought out in 2006 by a British-Punjabi businessman and started flying passengers to Amritsar, the centre of the Sikh religion. I remember how that gave an exotic flavour to the departures board at M.R. Štefanik Airport. Bratislava's airport, by the way, may be the only airport in the world to be named after someone who was killed in a plane crash - though the man in question was one of the great heroes of Slovak nationalism and promoter of the Czechoslovak state; Slovaks would consider it scandalous that British schoolchildren learn about his Czech colleagues Edvard Beneš and Tomas Masaryk, but not about Štefanik.

According to its website, Air Slovakia currently flies once a week to Tel Aviv. Other than that, as far as I can tell, it is primarily a charter airline, serving British servicemen, Slovak holidaymakers heading to the Mediterranean, and people who thought they were buying tickets with what might with more justice be called the national airline, Sky Europe. I have been in two of those three categories - I will leave you to guess which...

Slovaks are justly proud of Sky Europe, which not so long ago allowed you to fly all over Europe from Bratislava. Though the founders were Belgian and the money came from banks such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the brand new aircraft were based in Slovakia, registered in Slovakia and carried Slovak crew. Sky Europe (and, to be fair, Ryanair) made it easy and financially accessible for Slovaks living abroad to get home regularly to see their families (and for English stag parties to get to Bratislava). Unfortunately the dream has been coming apart recently. Sky Europe has been flying for some months by the seat of its pants, using aircraft leased from other operators including Air Slovakia. Yesterday it obtained a little more breathing space by getting a court to give it protection from its creditors, allowing it to keep flying for the time being - so with luck, the tale needn't end here.

No comments:

Post a Comment