in Business Aviation / Features

Zakaria's Smart moves are on course for profit

Posted 16 May 2018 · Add Comment

Alan Peaford meets the man trying to turn around Smart Aviation.

With more than 30 years in aviation, Captain Mohamed Roshdy Zakaria knows the airline business from top to bottom.
Having been made CEO of EgyptAir in 2012 he had done it all. He had been chief pilot examiner and instructor on Airbus 300-B4, Boeing B767 and B777 aircraft. He had also been an influential member of various strategic committees and led a number of projects in the transition period of EgyptAir. He had been instrumental in setting and building the airline’s integrated operation control centre (IOCC) in 1999.
But when it came to stepping down from the airline’s hot seat, Zakaria knew early retirement was not an option. Instead, he took up the reins at Egypt’s first private aviation company, Smart Aviation.
Stepping into his office in the Ministry of Civil Aviation building, it was clear that Zakaria is hands on. Very hands on.
“We need fuel in the Gulfstream now,” he barked down the telephone. “And where are the crew?”
He had picked up on a charter opportunity for a Gulfstream G450 managed by Smart. “We have just one hour-and-a-half to get crew, catering, fuel and permits,” he said.
Zakaria had been tasked with turning around the loss-making charter business, which had been formed in 2007 and operating in the VIP sector since 2009.
“So far it is working,” he said. “We have seen losses reducing each quarter and I am confident that we will now be turning into profit when the 2017 results are out.”
Zakaria has been focusing of reducing costs – something he did successfully at the national carrier – but recognising that quality service has to remain at the core of Smart’s market offering.
“We have seven aircraft in the fleet, six Cessna Citation Sovereigns – one is managed by us and the others owned – and the Gulfstream, which we manage,” he said. The operator is part of the Avinode network and is seeing the international charters increasing.
“We lost a lot of our market after the revolution and it hasn’t recovered. It has picked up over the past year, but probably only to 80% of what it was before.”
He estimates a current operating level of 300-400 hours per year for each aircraft, but knows there is more potential.
“We have a limited number of high-end tourist flights right now,” he said. “But hopefully that may change. We have been very busy with charters to and from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.”
Embargoes from Russia and the UK have affected business, too, and the recent issues with Qatar has not helped. But Zakaria is optimistic. “The industry has been affected by the security situation but it is picking up again.”
Smart has been living up to its name with its eye for opportunities. The Sovereigns are ideal for medical evacuation activities and two of the fleet have been made ready for medevac operations.
“These are the only real air ambulances in Egypt,” Zakaria said.
While we were talking, one of the air ambulances was on standby to collect a patient in South Africa to fly to Barcelona for medical treatment.
“It takes us just 40 minutes to convert the Sovereign from its VIP configuration to the air ambulance role,” Zakaria said. “We are also very competitive.”
Smart has Q400s on dry lease to Bangladesh and a King Air 350, which is operating calibrating navigational aids.
“This is an area of great demand,” Zakaria said. “We use Smart Aviation pilots who are accompanied by inspectors and engineers. We have worked on the systems at most Egyptian civil and military airports and also won contracts in Oman and Saudi Arabia. We have also begun working in South Sudan.”
The company also has an Airbus H125 (previously named the AS350 B3e), which it used for inspection of electrical towers and pylon washing. “Power towers tend to accumulate great amounts of contamination throughout the year such as dirt, salt and bird excrement. This contamination can build up inside electric insulating equipment and cause power outages. Using our helicopter for cleaning the high tension electrical towers insulators saves 15 to 20% of the lost transferred electrical energy,” Zakaria explained.
The business stream has been so successful that Smart will be talking to Airbus about increasing its fleet.
With ground-handling and FBO services at Cairo Airport’s private terminal, the business looks set to stay.
 

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