Paraguayan legislation has facilitated new routes for Air Europa in the region. Country Manager of Air Europa Bolivia & Paraguay, Olavi Linkola Santa Cruz, explains just how
LE: What is Air Europa’s expansion policy for the small markets in Latin America, such as Bolivia and Paraguay?
Olavi Linkola (OL) : In 2007 and 2008, with the aviation crisis in Spain, Spanair went bust, and the low-cost airlines took over. Air Europa realised that it wasn’t going to be possible to compete with such companies in Europe, so it had to abandon its European point-to-point flights and build a strong hub in Madrid as an entry port to Latin America. At that stage we had six large aeroplanes, and now we have 16. We carried out market research and waited until competitors such as Comet in Peru went bust before entering these markets.
We soon realised that it was also necessary for the company to operate in smaller units that were more efficient. This allowed us to reduce costs and take the risk of opening routes where other airlines would not go due to the high cost. Today, we go to Peru, Buenos Aires, Caracas and many other places; only Santiago de Chile is missing from our destinations. Thanks to the Paraguayan government, who granted us fifth-freedom rights, we can operate from Asunción to Córdoba in Argentina. With this development we are, in effect, operating as a Paraguayan company. One of Air Europa’s aims is to take passengers from Córdoba to Madrid, not via Buenos Aires, but via Asunción, thus maximising the benefits for all. We are able to open this route from Paraguay as the Paraguayan regulations use common sense and do not create barriers for us. In Bolivia we have not been welcomed, but Paraguay has opened doors for us, and granted our permits in just two weeks.
Our most important route in Paraguay is the direct flight to Madrid for which we waited eight years, and the company is in the process of replacing the aeroplanes, which will be of great benefit for Paraguay
LE: Could you explain the history of direct flights between Madrid and Asunción?
OL: The last time there was a direct connection was more than 20 years ago, with Líneas Aéreas Paraguayas. In June 2015 a letter of intention was signed between President Cartes and the President of Air Europe, Juan José Hidalgo, and collaboration agreements were signed with SENATUR, at an event to which the press was invited. They were very welcoming, particularly to me, as Country Manager, and there was a real sense of celebration. A month before the inauguration I travelled by taxi to the Del Sol shopping centre. The driver asked where I came from, and if I was in Paraguay for work. When he heard I worked for an airline, he asked me if I had heard of a Spanish company that was going to bring lots of tourists to Paraguay. And when he heard that that was my company, he said, “Thank you for trusting my country, you are going to bring lots of good things here.”
LE: What makes Air Europa different to its competitors?
OL: The merger between TAM and LAN has caused more competition in Paraguay, and that competition is very aggressive. In addition, Paraguayans are very faithful to TAM, as they have frequent-flyer benefits and people prefer the food, and we will have to work hard for our customers’ loyalty. However, LAM and TAM have reduced their staff and presence in Paraguay to a minimum, and people no longer have face-to-face contact with Paraguayan staff. They have to phone call centres in Argentina. People need to be able to trust you; they like to be able to talk face-to-face, so Air Europa opted for this as soon as we set up in Paraguay. Our managers visit all the agencies, from the largest to the smallest, and people appreciate that. Many of the directors, and even the company chairman, have visited Paraguay.
Our most important route in Paraguay is the direct flight to Madrid for which we waited eight years, and the company is in the process of replacing the aeroplanes, which will be of great benefit for Paraguay. Creating a new national company is very complicated, and we want to ensure that it goes well, and that we create a better Air Europa, although not a new Air Europa. The changes we have made have not been sudden, but gradual. We are also introducing healthy food into our menus, with quinoa, goji berries and other new ideas, so passengers feel good and enjoy an improved experience. We are introducing aeroplanes with more oxygen so people don’t feel so light-headed and there is more humidity, as well as LED lights that only light up when needed. We have to consider comfort for all the senses, such as the new earphones in the aviation industry that transmit light.