Ellinair CEO, Thanos Pascalis: "In every crisis, there will be opportunities"
Updated: May 17
With the world practically at a standstill, times couldn’t be more uncertain for the aviation and tourism industry. In Greece, a country where tourism accounts for 18% of its GDP and is the main provider for many of its smaller Islands, restrictions are being eased. This can be attributed to its early lockdown which has left the country with a relatively low number of coronavirus cases compared to its hard-hit European neighbours.
However, an early lockdown in the country also meant an early ban on international travel and the grounding of fleets, leaving airlines and travel groups at the behest of the local and European governing bodies. There is some hope however, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying on Thursday that the tourist sector should be back in business by July 1.
AeroNewsX spoke to Thanos Pascalis, CEO at Greek airline Ellinair, who has extensive experience within the industry. Discussed were the impacts of the virus on the region and what the future may hold.
Pascalis outlined the situation in Greece, talking about the early lock-down and how that had grounded Ellinair’s fleet. He stated that one of the last flights before the groundings had a total of 12 passengers and 6 crew members on board, a staggering figure considering the airline operates Airbus A320 family jets.
He talked of his concerns regarding the lack of uniform action between European states and common policy regarding airline support. The CEO then expressed his disappointment regarding the EU's stance on EU261 compensation and the rejection of a voucher system. To add to this, the importance for the industry to salvage part of the remaining summer season was made apparent.
Going into the future, what are the main focuses going to be?
His priority is the safety of his passengers and staff, however, when it comes to getting back up and running internationally, he stated that July 1 is the critical date for them. Even with the protocols in place though, he said:
“it’s very difficult to know what kind of flights we will schedule, to what locations and with what success rates, because it's anticipated that travel will be, at its best, at 30-40% of what it was last year during the same months, and that has to take into account that we have already lost four months”.
With Ellinair offering a full package deal as part of the Mouzenidis travel group, Pascalis said that additional safety measures will have to be in place when they are operational again. This will include the wearing of face masks and the managing of social distancing during the boarding and check in process, among others. This could see turnaround times of one hour double to two hours.
He also voiced his thankfulness for the European Union’s decision not to block the middle seats, which he said would have had no impact on safety but would have meant the loss of 1/3 in capacity.
When asked about the potential for staff and crew cuts, Pascalis stated: “Unfortunately, in this environment, it is inevitable that there would probably be some cuts. We have already not hired a number of seasonal staff…we hire approximately 150-200 additional staff in airports, cabin crew and pilots for the summer. That has already been cancelled. We are trying to keep our winter staff and crews intact and are evaluating this daily”
With Greece’s high dependency on tourism, will the country see long lasting effects from this pandemic?
Pascalis explained that they are envisaging a 2-3 year wait until they can get back to the levels of 2019. All that depends on what confidence levels are inspired into the travelling public and whether any medical solution for the virus is implemented.
He also stated: “Generally speaking, I and the airline world were against the additional social distancing rules and laws because they will not encourage people to take a holiday… a holiday must be a period where people de-stress, relax and enjoy their time.”
An Ellinair Airbus A319. Photo by Ernest Leung | AeroNewsX
In the future, is there anything the airline and tourism industry can do to withstand the impacts of this virus?
"I think the first mistake that was made was that there was too much fear inflicted in everyone’s daily lives."
Pascalis then went on to say that he does believe it to be a deadly virus but fear is extremely difficult to revoke and it will take time for confidence to come back.
"People enjoy flying, people want to travel, and we need to get this confidence back."
Confidence will take time to come back and so travel will also recover slowly. With tourism being so vital for many Mediterranean countries, the CEO and many others are hoping for confidence levels to recover soon.
Will there be a major shake-up in the Eastern European tourism industry?
"Unfortunately we do [believe so]… there will be casualties, that’s for sure. We will probably see a higher number of tourists coming by their own car, maybe from the Balkans into Greece, versus flying."
This raises an interesting topic on the future of air travel. Will tourists choose a quick flight over a slow car, granted it would be their own, in cases like this?
In the future, could you see an expansion of the Greek long-haul network?
When confronted with this question, it was said that the long-haul network was a difficult subject and that only the big network carriers had managed to do it successfully. Unfortunately, these carriers had been hit quite hard by the virus and the long-haul network will likely take longer to recover.
“We’re talking 4-5 years for a full recovery of the long-haul.”
Will Ellinair or the greater industry be granted any opportunities or good from this pandemic?
Pascalis was quite optimistic on this front saying that “in every crisis, there will be opportunities, that’s for sure. The issue is timing and taking up the right opportunities…a lot will depend on what happens in the other fields and how governments and the EU react to this.”
Pascalius concluded by emphasising that for them this is a very difficult period and that he and Ellinair are trying their best to salvage what they can from the all-important summer season. He hopes to see Europe come together on its policies and for the vital tourist industry to get back on its feet. Of course, the ultimate solution for them will be a cure for the virus but until that day comes, we can expect to see some big changes in the way we travel.