Romania’s Blue Air denies market exit plans

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In an interview PRO TV news Cristian Rada spoke about the fine given by the Authority for Consumer Protection, namely two million euros, following the control of the inspectors, but also about the steps he is going to take next.

During the period covered by the ANPC control, ie April 1, 2021 – April 30, 2022, there were 178,000 passengers who suffered from the cancellation of flights. Of these, only 58,200 requests are currently being analyzed for resolution. Of the total number of passengers transported during this period, only 2.79% still have unresolved refund requests.

What are the problems you face, which attracted, here, the biggest fine from ANPC?

First, the problems facing Blue Air are industry problems. There are no problems only at Blue Air and we are definitely coming after two or almost three years from the most difficult period of the world market. We all need to understand that normally, all the laws and regulations that any air operator has to deal with come to a normal situation. No law is made for a pandemic situation, no law or a European directive is made for a war situation. All are made for a normal situation. And here I would like to refer in detail to what this cancellation or the refusal to board a passenger means.

As you know, also under European law, Aryan companies have the right to do what is called an overselling of places. And then, in a limited number of seats for each flight, 2, 3, 5, 7 seats, those passengers who fail to travel are protected by this legislation which says that I have to reimburse the passenger within 10 days.

Let’s talk a little bit about this repayment process that seems to be and is actually the most important process. Most importantly, we received hundreds of thousands of requests during the pandemic. There are companies that have received millions of refund requests. No company, no company is prepared to operate with enough staff to be able to process these reimbursements. An average refund takes between 2 and a half hours and 3 hours for validation. There is not a single Ionescu or Popescu in Romania. There are hundreds of thousands of Ionescu and Popescu. Not every passenger who makes a claim is also eligible for a refund. I have to check that ticket again. He was or was not traveled. We were faced with situations in which the passengers asked for money or not by mistake on the tickets traveled. Likewise, there are situations in which we sell to passengers through other tour operators or online agencies and other types of integrators. We don’t even know the final passenger, we only interact with the platform. At that moment the passenger comes and makes a request to the platform and to us directly and we have to check if it has not already been reimbursed by the respective online travel agencies. All this stuff takes a very, very long time.

At the same time, it is important to mention, at least in the case of Blue Air, that today we are under state aid received under the derogation from the provisions of Article 107 (2) (B) of the European Commission, which entitled us to receive aid in the form of a letters of guarantee fully guaranteed and with this state aid came some very precise clauses about how this company is to be governed during state aid. There are some very clear provisions in Ordinance 139 that approved this aid and later turned it into law, which says that we must reduce the activity, we must make staff reductions, we are forbidden other employment. Or, given that I come from a fleet of 25-30 planes to 13, how can I justify hiring 1,000 people, for example, to deal with all these requests in a second. It is practically impossible. And then the idea is that we understand the desire and the need and to accept one hundred percent the fact that all Blue Air passengers will be reimbursed without exception. But the repayment process is a laborious process and must be very well verified.

What is the status of the cancellation of Blue Air flights? Because lately we are talking about the cancellation of many flights, not only at Blue Air, but in the case of all airlines.

At least for the holidays that are now the most important for us, I can confirm that Blue Air has not canceled any flights. And except when the authorities of certain states actually ban flights to those states and we faced the strike in Italy a few days ago or we can talk about the example of London two days ago when the airport was actually closed for three hours because the track overheated, something like this has never happened in the history of England. For the first time it was 36 degrees at Luton and the runway was over 60 degrees. The runway was closed. Other companies have chosen to cancel. Blue Air did all those late flights. So it is important to say that we make every effort to ensure that our passengers do not feel these things that are practically out of our control and certainly from now on, all the passengers who have tickets with us, the almost 700,000 people who are going to travel in these holidays with us, we assure them in this way that they will be served.

How then is explained the record fine that Blue Air received from ANPC?

The record fine received by Blue Air from ANPC surprised me a little. Given that the most important thing now is to take care of our passengers and serve them as best we can, to comfort them that at a time when the situation is extremely turbulent in world aviation, Blue Air it serves its passengers. We wake up with… not only the fine, but also the way the ANPC did the communication we found at least strange, considering the fact that we did not cancel any flight during this period – and I mention once again – we heard and I also saw in the press mentions regarding the desire or the Blue Air plan to withdraw from the Romanian market for some time. Coincidentally, I am also the owner of the company and at least since I have been here, since 2013, Bue Air has never intended to withdraw. And further, Blue Air will not withdraw from Romania, will continue to expand in Romania, will continue to serve passengers and testify are the millions of passengers we have carried so far and the confidence of the next 700,000 passengers who continue to travel with us.

But how will you be able to expand as long as you are under state aid provisions?

When we talk about expansion, we are talking about the fact that through internal things we do in the same flight capacity we have, we can improve, we can increase our filling factor. We come from a filling factor of 70-75% and we currently reach 85-90%. So for us this is an increase in market share, maintaining the same number of aircraft.

How did you respond to the ANPC allegations or how will you respond? What do you intend at the moment?

We will certainly answer legally. We have already had a communication in the written press and online and, in general, in the media we have communicated that we will appeal to the courts and we will certainly defend ourselves against what we consider to be at least debatable.

There has also been talk of bribery and the like.

I cannot comment on these allegations. We leave it to the courts to decide this. I was not involved, I was not present.

Has a clear deadline been set or have you set a lawsuit?

Certainly within the legal deadline to be challenged. I can confirm to you that all the steps in the legal department are made even earlier than 10 days from the date of communication, they will already be sent to the court.

Is that about the fine or about the accusations launched by ANPC?

As for the fine. Regarding the accusations launched by ANPC, again, do not comment on this at the right time, because there will be an open case and there the company will probably have a communication.

From your point of view, did the procedure performed by ANPC follow all the rules? I mean, have you been notified that you’re being checked, what the results are, what the measures are, and so on?

It is difficult for me to give you an answer now, while we are still analyzing and I have not formally filed a request or a lawsuit against this. I am training pilot and I want to stay in the exact things. I really like the exact things. It would be speculation on my part now to discuss whether or not certain mistakes were made in the minutes. Of course, we have enough legal force, both internal and external, to work on this in order to practically restore the truth.

In a previous communiqué that you mentioned, you specified that there were requests for payments from ANPC. Has anyone at ANPC ever asked for a bribe from someone at Blue Air all this time?

Again, I will not comment on this application, because, I repeat, I was not present. So I can’t comment.

What about the evidence? That’s what the statement says.

I can neither confirm nor deny.

Well, you’re a CEO, though.

I’m a CEO and that’s exactly what I do. I am the executive of this company, I deal with the management of the company’s problems and my daily focus is to make sure that over 700,000 Blue Air passengers who are still our customers will have a quality service, safe and, again , a very important thing we do not retire from Romania, we are here and we will stay in Romania, we are a Romanian company and one hundred percent everyone who bought a ticket or will buy it from now on will be a served ticket. And it would be really interesting and I make this invitation to you and other colleagues in the press if they want to come to us one day and see how it works. Because a lot of people interface with companies only through the prism of the flight attendant or the check-in agent. I often confuse. I have seen on TV influential people who make a lot of confusion about what a check-in agent means and who hires him and what he actually does. There are services that are not ours, we also pay for them, in our turn we depend on them one hundred percent.

Do you think anyone has an interest in removing Blue Air from the market?

I’d like to think not. But I really invite you and it would be very interesting for the audience to see what a flight means, as a flight starts at 3 in the morning even if it is at 10 and ends long after everyone is happy at home. Especially for all this work that everyone has done here, in the pandemic there are some extremely difficult conditions, because no one has ever faced such a thing. It seems to me, how to say. It seems to me, at least, not necessarily an acknowledgment of the efforts, but it is very difficult to accept at some point, given that you know that you do everything that depends on you and the top, the main target to be the one who did not cancel and it did not ruin any Romanian vacation, given that the moment when it seemed very interesting to me that when I was serving a delayed flight due to objectives, 1,000 or so Romanians had been left on the ground.

Source: PROTV News

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