Fledgling carrier flying high

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2007, 12:00am

Viva Macau is expanding and looking for staff around the world

Asia's growing demand for budget air travel combined with Macau's rapid economic growth has provided Viva Macau with the ideal launch pad.

The new low-fare airline, which has been operating for eight months, has grand plans for expansion, but faces a host of challenges.

Viva Macau's chief executive Con Korfiatis detailed the airline's plans to keep apace with the region's economic boom and provide several new direct routes from Macau.

'It is a great opportunity. Macau is a little known destination that is coming into its own and it is underserved,' Mr Korfiatis said.

'We have big expansion plans. It is a very exciting time to be here as most of the routes we operate are virgin routes, linking Macau directly to a range of destinations.'

Last year the skies opened to budget carriers when the enclave's sole airline Air Macau agreed to let other players into the market.

Viva Macau was the first to move, with Macau Asia Express and Golden Dragon expected to follow soon.

Mr Korfiatis said Viva Macau was banking on the region's international appeal that saw more than 20 million visitors arrive last year to continue to grow.

He said there was no way Macau's booming gaming and hospitality sectors could rely on land and sea travel to bring in the maximum number of visitors.

'Land, sea and aviation all need to grow,' he said.

'Macau will eventually have more hotel rooms than Hong Kong and Singapore and people will need to get here.'

Viva Macau has recruited 160 people from 21 countries and is seeking more staff. The biggest job growth is expected to be in pilots and cabin crew as the aircraft fleet grows along with the number of destinations.

Staff will be recruited from around the world. Like any major employer in Macau the airline has been hit hard by the region's labour shortfall.

'We have now moved beyond the start-up phase that involved office staff and many different positions,' Mr Korfiatis said.

'Most of the growth will now be in staff for the aircraft. These are technical positions and it is very hard to source those skills in Macau,' Mr Korfiatis said.

'Even with our non-technical staff we have fallen victim to Macau's labour shortage, so we have had to look outside. We are not unlike any other company in Macau. We would have more local staff if they were available.'

While Hong Kong is the logical breeding ground for potential employees due to its close proximity, Mr Korfiatis said there was a need to cast the net even wider.

'Due to regulations here we have to have a lot of experience in our pilot ranks and that is not an easy thing to find,' he said.

One advantage of senior staff is that training has not proven a problem, as much of it is conducted in-house.

Despite its difficulty in finding staff, Viva Macau appears to be on a roll and hopes its new flights direct to Sydney, Australia, will help it to crack into the burgeoning leisure market.

First departures to Sydney are due this month with more destinations, such as the Maldives and Jakarta, expected to follow.

Mr Korfiatis said the travelling lifestyle - 'every day is different' - and the constant contact with people was what most people enjoyed about working for an airline.

'Travelling the world and getting paid is an obvious attraction to the industry. People find it a sexy industry to work in.

'There is a lot of romance about travel, and we do not have to pay a premium for staff because working in an airline is very attractive. We do need to be competitive, however.'

Mr Korfiatis expected Viva Macau's fleet to grow to about 15 aircraft in four years.

The budget carrier has two Boeing 767 wide-body aircraft. Each aircraft has 210 seats, configured in two classes which can fly up to 12 hours from Macau.

This year Viva Macau expects to buy two more aircraft and almost double its staffing level to 300 people.

Mr Korfiatis said four new aircraft would come online next year, taking staff numbers to 450.

The long-term outlook includes flights to the Middle East, Moscow, daily flights to Jakarta and destinations throughout Europe.

Despite Macau's large Portuguese population, flying to Portugal is not part of the plan at the moment as the airline is unable to make a direct flight with the type of aircraft it uses.

While hopes are high that Macau's casinos and conference facilities will help to deliver a flood of new passengers from around the globe, Mr Korfiatis said there was also real potential for travellers to use Macau as a stop-over destination on the way to other places such as the Maldives.

He said people applying for a job with Viva Macau needed to be driven and team-focused.

'It is exciting being in a growing company. We are looking for people who are driven, result-oriented and have energy,' he said.

Growing demand

Low-budget airline Viva Macau expects to triple staff numbers in two years

Aircraft fleet to grow from two to 15 in four years

Most employment growth expected in pilots and cabin crew

Direct flights to Sydney, Australia, to start this month

Part of Macau's international appeal lies in its new tourism destination

Future routes include the Middle East, Moscow and daily flights to Jakarta