Air Nostrum wins top ERA honors

 - May 8, 2008, 4:48 AM

Spanish regional carrier Air Nostrum has won the ERA’s Airline of the Year Gold Award for the second time, having previously claimed top honors in 1999. This year’s silver and bronze awards were won, respectively, by Norwegian operator Wideroe and Italy’s Air Dolomiti–a result that was itself a precise repeat of last year’s award.

Air Nostrum, the Valencia-based regional partner of Spanish flag carrier Iberia, was recognized for its commercial strategy, operational efficiency and commitment to good environmental practices. The ERA airline awards are judged by a panel of European aviation journalists.

The Spanish carrier is expecting to carry more than three million passengers this year, which would be an increase of 200,000 over last year. It achieved profits of e7.5 million ($7.4 million) last year, and trading surpluses for each month this year have so far been better than the same period last year. The company has recorded profits for the past six of its eight years in business.

Air Nostrum president Carlos Bertomeu said that although market conditions are much more difficult today than in 1999, he now enjoys better control over his costs, largely thanks to the introduction of the new Euro currency in January last year. The fact that the Euro is now so close in value to the U.S. dollar is a particular benefit. The airline is also now doing more to protect itself from rising fuel prices by including projected costs in its ticket prices for the next three years.

Bertomeu echoed ERA’s complaints about airlines having to shoulder the cost of rising insurance rates and security measures. He said that despite the fact Air Nostrum could probably use another 10 to 15 new aircraft, he is nervous to increase the fleet due to uncertain market conditions and proposed new European regulations and restrictions. “I am not completely sure if we are in the beginning of a crisis, the middle of a crisis or the end of a crisis,” he concluded. “I have no idea and it is hard to do business this way. What is stopping growth is not the market itself but uncertainty.”

By year-end Air Nostrum’s fleet will consist of 31 Bombardier CRJ200s, 19 Dash 8Q-300s and five ATR 72-500s. It is about to phase out the last of its Fokker 50s.

Wideroe won praise for its strong financial performance and for “its comprehensive and innovative marketing strategy and remarkable operational efficiency in a tough geographical environment.” Judges recognized bronze winner Air Dolomiti for its strong revenues and profits, fleet and crew utilization, young fleet, marketing and business strategies and high investment in training.

At this year’s ERA assembly, Germany’s Munich Airport was chosen as the first-ever recipient of the association’s Airport of the Year Award. The new contest was judged by six ERA airline presidents chosen from different parts of Europe.