Airline Network Development in Europe and its Implications on Airport Planning: Interview with Dr. Guillaume Burghouwt

By Willem-Jan Zondag

Early 2005, Guillaume Burghouwt successfully defended his PhD-thesis at Utrecht University, the , on the implications of airline network developments in Europe on airport planning. Guillaume provided us with a human interest side on the completion of this thesis in a recent interview.
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Jet Link – First Dutch airline in over 15 years

An interview with the President of Jet Link

by René Graafland and Alex Klein

After being a sales agent for many years, serving other airlines, Jet Link now started their own airlines. Jet Link has engaged its operations in begin Sep-tem-ber with their newly trans-formed Airbus A-300, another plane has been ordered. This beautiful example of entrepreneur ship was a good reason for our reporters to interview the President/owner of Jetlink, Mr Sobhy Abdel-Messeh. On the follow-ing pages you can read the report of their interesting talk.

Education Business Administration at the University of Cairo, Egypt
Television mainly news; I hear the news on the BBC, CNN and Egyptian radio and television
Music classical and Arab music are favourites
Book last quarterly news on the airbus… I read a book on President Sadat, because he is a leader. I like to know what he is doing. You keep learning what goes on in Egypt. If you have no roots you are a lost person.
Sport some golf.
Food I eat everything, Dutch cuisine is healthy; I have no preferences.
Wake up for love, not for work.
City Venice although I have not been there often; no time.
Country Holland, I relax here.
Season when snowing it is beautiful.
Holiday summer vacation with the children to the Red Sea region in Egypt.

When did you first decide to start the company Jet Link?

That was in 1991. Then came the Gulf War, so it was very difficult to move our main trade, vegetables, from the Middle East to Europe. It was a very high-risk area then.

Jet Link International started in 1991; but when did you decide to start your own airline?

Most of the aircraft we chartered were old Boeing 707s and DC-8s. Martinair for example used to fly cargo with an Airbus before, but now their cargo-fleet consists of Boeing 747s and MD-11s, but you just cannot use these on the short routes we fly, that would be too expensive. You need an aircraft that is reliable and you need a company that adheres to the applicable rules of law. We, as a charter company depend on the owner of the aircraft. If we use a Dutch aircraft under Dutch law it has to be a reliable airline. There is a new company in the market now with a new aircraft which, according to the law, is chapter 3 qualified so it can also land at Schiphol Airport.

We understood during the lecture Mr Thijsse gave at the University that you fly green beans from Egypt to Holland. Is that the only thing you fly?

It is the only produce they have in Egypt. They also have textile but it is not that much. But now they have started with flowers, so it will be easier to import the flowers from Egypt than importing them from Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi is ten hours flying and Egypt only 4,5 to 5 hours, so the cost of the plane will be much less. Egypt is a big country with a lot of land and now there is the so-called Toshka project with which they are trying to cultivate parts of the desert for the growth of new plant-life. This should create more opportunities for us too.

Why did you choose to fly an Airbus for your cargo?

It is the best aircraft to follow up the Boeing 707 and DC-8, otherwise you would have to take the step to the Boeing 757, which is too expensive and even carries less payload. Flowers for example, or cellphones which we ship from France and Scandinavia to the Middle East and Gulf-region, or even PC’s and photocopiers from Holland, are articles that take volume, not weight. The Airbus has twice the volume of the Boeing 757 and it can carry about 2 tonnes

more of weight. Most of the cargo we carry has a large volume. Shipping the green beans from the Middle East to Europe means we don’t have to fly empty. We have to fly this leg anyway, so having a payload makes the overall costs lower.

Otherwise you would have to charge the costs of the return flight too…

Yes, flying the empty leg will be settled in the total price otherwise. And being an Egyptian with an office and another airline in Egypt…

You also have an Egyptian airline?

We also own Tristar Airways, an Egyptian airline, which gives us more flexibility at the airport to do our own handling.

How many planes fly at Tristar?

We just have our permit, but also an option for one Airbus.

So, one Airbus for Tristar Airways and two for Jet Link?

Exactly.

When do you hope to start flying the Airbus for Jet Link in the Netherlands?

Well, the Airbus is ready but of course you need the papers, certification and so on, from the Dutch Civil Aviation Authorities and this takes time. We hoped to start flying around April 1st of this year, but this is now delayed until begin September.

Were you always fascinated by aviation? Or did you just want to make money?

Aviation doesn’t make money! It is a high risk, high investment and very low profit business.

You wanted to have your own airline then?

Well, if we don’t have this airline how do we continue our business? We have to have the airline to function.

Is that why you have Jet Link International?

Jet Link International is an airline representative; we represent several airlines like China Eastern, Syrian Arab Airlines and this was started in 1991.

What did you do before that?

In 1982 I started a cargo-only airline, which was quite a well-known company around here. I was the owner. The airline started with one aircraft, and when I left in 1988 it already had six. I left because they started a passenger service and this is not financially interesting for a private person. Passenger operations cost a lot of money and already the profit margin is very thin. When flying cargo one exactly knows the costs/ expenses making it easier to calculate the profits or the break-even point or even the losses. You can know all of this in advance.
And if you have scheduled passenger flights you always have to fly, if you have either 2 passengers or 200, and someone has to pay these costs. That is when I decided to start my own airline, because it just can’t work.

So in 1988 you left and in 1991 you founded Jet Link International…?

Yes, and before that I had another company called United Air Carriers, I was a partner, but we couldn’t continue together so I left and started Jet Link.

And before you started working, what education did you follow?

I studied Business Administration in Egypt until my 23rd. Then I left Egypt and stayed in Italy for 3 years working there. It was a difficult time for an Egyptian to move but I decided to come to Holland, and found the Dutch people to be very helpful. The Dutch speak English for example. This was in 1972. I liked it a lot here; there is life in this country and many things are easier to accomplish. In Holland I worked for the Hilton hotel for two and a half years followed by another two and a half years at the Sonesta. Since 1977 I have the Dutch nationality and in that year I started my own import/ export company being the sole agent for Curver plastic household articles. This is also when I started the green beans import from Egypt.

When talking about representation, what kind of activities does that include?

We act as an airline office, as the airline, so we have a ticketing office, sell seats, handle the aircraft, we have a counter for checking-in, we help at the airport and we have a station manager who goes to meet the aircraft. We collect money on behalf of the airlines and also do their advertising.

How many people are involved in these activities?

Thirteen people work here at HQ in Hoofddorp and at Schiphol another 2 at the counter and 4 at Reservations.

What are the relations between Jet Link International, Jet Link Holland and Job Air?

Jet Link Holland has a Qual-ity manager, an Assistant, an operation director and a director maintenance, nine people in total. Job Air is a sister company with 3 people, my wife and 2 others. Profitability at Jet Link Holland will take a year or … but according to plan we hope to break even next year; this is a high goal but manageable. There is a growth potential for Jet Link. We don’t want to become too big though. You would need more planes then, but you must have work for the aircraft before it comes. Be-sides, too many people may give responsibility problems.

When you graduated, did you want to do something specific with aviation?

No, it was just because I was chartering German cargo. This was around 1978/ 1979 and never a prepared idea, I just came into the business. A Lufthansa Boeing 707 flew from Cairo to Frankfurt and Martinair flew a DC-9 from Cairo to Amsterdam, empty. So we bought that space and sold it by the kilo. I used it to fly the beans, I don’t trade them.

So, one of the fist activities of Jet Link was transport-ing cargo from Egypt to Holland?

Yes, especially those green beans because it is the same quality as the Dutch ones so much appreciated here.

We started off talking about keeping a low profile. How do you combine your work as representative with start-ing your own airline? How will your representees know you will not compete with them?

All of them know, and they are all happy that I am having my own aircraft because it also adds value to their activities. They don’t have any cargo planes. We won’t compete with others; we create our own possibilities. We don’t copy; we will enter a niche. And if they need the aircraft they can use it. Even if KLM has an overload they can hand it to us if we fly to that destination. So it helps them. Some people would think it is a conflict of interest.

Well, you can imagine there could be, but it depends on your strategy, your philosophy?

Before I do anything, or accept a new airline, I have to inform the airlines I represent that a company has approached me and offered me to represent them. If there were any conflict I would have to make a choice.

Are you a very hands-on person? Are you the oil in the machine that keeps things spinning smoothly?

No, I did this kind of work before and I still do it because I like to do it. I delegate the work to people who are qualified to do the job.

And to conclude this, what is your opinion on a second airport? When you start flying the Airbus, will you always fly to Schiphol or also to, for example, Maastricht Airport?

I would prefer Oostende in Belgium or Schiphol. Oostende is a big cargo hub. Since 1991 we also have an office there. Besides it is halfway between France and the Netherlands and across the Channel from the United Kingdom.

Interview with Drs. K. Den Braven

By Bastiaan Geurts and Johan Ariens

Interview: Prof. drs. J.G. de Wit


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