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Tue 1 May 2007 12:00 AM

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Hogan’s airline shift

Why the Gulf Air CEO’s decision to leave his post at the struggling airline for Etihad Airways was the right one.

Few could question James Hogan's decision to leave Gulf Air for Etihad Airways last October. Since making the move, the national airline's president and CEO has steered the company through a period of growth, while his former employer struggles to survive.

During this year's first quarter, Etihad passenger numbers have more than tripled to some one million compared with the 373,333 that travelled by April last year.

Meanwhile, revenues climbed 208% to US$193 million from $62 million in 2003. Most airline chiefs would be content with such growth, but Hogan appeared subdued while announcing the company's figures. "The performance is in line with expectations as our network and markets mature," he said.

While Hogan can perhaps afford to be nonchalant, his former Gulf Air colleagues have to focus on the mammoth task in hand. Indeed, the airline has endured a torrid time in recent months, with management reshuffles and the company's recently announced overhaul dominating aviation headlines.

The man charged with turning the company around is Andre Dosé, who joined last month. It will be interesting to see whether the former chief of European regional airline Crossair is up to the challenge. If nothing else, the 50-year old brings experience to the role. During his 30-year career in the industry, Dosé has held several posts since attending aviation school in Geneva. After completing the course, Dosé moved to the US for airline pilot training before returning to Switzerland to join Crossair. During his time with Crossair, Dosé held several management positions, including CEO, and later left when the company went bust. Dosé then joined Switzerland's national carrier SWISS and won several awards in 2002 for building it into an established carrier.

It's an impressive career, but experience alone will not save Gulf Air. As one official company spokesman put it, the restructuring is a last ditch attempt to save the ailing airline.

Gulf Air may have secured headlines for the wrong reasons, but others appear keen to receive similar levels of publicity, albeit on a more positive footing. For example, Emirates Group regularly bucks the market trend by releasing its financial figures. Its latest show strong growth up to last year's opening quarter, with net profits climbing 5% to $762 million from $726 million and revenues increasing 27% to $6.6 billion.

Elsewhere, Jazeera Airways also reported strong growth in 2006. Profits for the year to December 31 were up to $8.7 million while revenues for the same period reached $74.5 million.

Sceptics would claim that the few airlines willing to issue their finances always have strong profits to report. Consequently, the chances of poring over statements with declining figures appear remote, unless the airline in question is close to ruin.

It would be refreshing to see more airlines divulging their financial affairs - but like most aviation experts, this editor will not be holding his breath.

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