Man of Two Hats

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Air France-KLM has a new man in South Africa. Christian Halm is no stranger to living abroad and flying the Air France-KLM flag from afar, having spent time in Colombia, as well as three years in Nairobi, which preceded his arrival in Johannesburg. Editor Dylan Rogers sat down with him over a coffee in his office, to get a better sense of how the two airlines work together, as well as get Halm’s thoughts on the African airline industry.

For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by this coming together of French and Dutch culture in the form of the Air France-KLM partnership. 2014 will see the airline holding company celebrate 10 years as one entity, and I put it to Halm that the airline industry could see similar partnerships in the future (see BA and Iberia – 2010), what with the difficulty of making a single entity airline profitable in the current economic climate.

“Well, it’s more efficient,” he says. “We increase productivity and lower costs. It’s an effective business model, particularly if you take into account the economic crisis in Europe.”

With all that is going on in Europe, it’s no surprise then that Air France-KLM has a close eye on Africa.

“Africa is a booming market and we clearly see a lot of opportunity,“ says Halm. “There will be more new routes from us. There’s a clear strategy from the company to cover Africa, and to be present in most of the countries on the continent. There are a lot of countries with tremendous potential. For example, the two new routes we opened this year – Luanda (Angola) to Amsterdam and the other one in Harare. We strongly believe that Africa will be the next continent to invest in.”

But Air France-KLM isn’t alone in wanting a sizeable piece of the African pie, and the competition is significant, particularly from one section of the industry – the Middle Eastern carriers, with Qatar, Emirates and Etihad all making serious waves in the industry over the past couple of years.

“They have the most profitable business models and of course they offer a strong product and network. But, the big difference is the fares,” says Halm.

It’s here that we start to delve into the issue of the support these Middle Eastern carriers receive from their governments, and Halm is quite clear in his mind about what it means for Air France-KLM.

“It makes the world uncompetitive. The only way we can compete is to really pay attention to our customers. But, those carriers are playing a big role and when you see how fast they are growing and expanding their network, it really is something.”

Interestingly, Air France-KLM has adopted a ‘well, if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach, by entering into a commercial agreement with Etihad, along with a codeshare agreement with Air Berlin, in which Etihad holds a significant stake.

“We are trying to strengthen and join forces, as well as become bigger and more attractive to customers,” says Halm. “The next step may be to get Etihad as a SkyTeam partner.”

“I think it’s a really good step, because most of the European carriers have been fighting against these Middle East carriers, and we are probably the first to take a different approach. It’s a progressive move and similar to the Air France-KLM move. There was a lot of criticism from European carriers, but now you see BA and Iberia doing the same thing a few years later.”

Customer service is Halm’s passion, and it’s clear what he believes Air France-KLM should be focusing on, to make any impact on this competitive market.

“To service the business traveller, you have to be customer oriented,” he says. “The product must be good, but customer recognition in my view, is key. It’s about relationships and facilitating all the steps through from the day you buy a ticket. It needs to be at every touch point.”

Something to bear in mind and perhaps assess, when next you fly Air France-KLM.

 

 

 

 

 

                

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