NEW YORK, Dec. 1 – An AeroSvit plane was grounded Friday for safety reasons at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York, leaving 115 passengers, including international travelers, stranded for more than 24 hours.
This is the second such incident involving an AeroSvit plane in New York over the past three weeks, raising concerns about the aircraft safety at Ukraine’s biggest airline.
But AeroSvit’s failure for hours to adequately respond to the issue angered the passengers who confronted the staff demanding re-booking of their flights via other airlines. JFK police was called in to stop further aggravation.
“This is ridiculous,” William Dennis, one of the passengers, said. “I will never fly AeroSvit again.”
Yielding to pressure, AeroSvit re-booked most of the travelers’ flights to Kiev by Delta Air Lines, a U.S. airline, on Saturday, while sending passengers to destinations like India, Russia and Israel, through other airlines.
The developments question AeroSvit’s plans of strengthening its position as the national airline champion and undermine its on-going efforts to attract international transit passengers traveling to other destinations via Kiev.
David Hennessy, AeroSvit cargo operations manager, who was put by the airline in charge of dealing with the angry passengers, said Friday that fire sensors in the right wing needed to be replaced for the aircraft to fly again. But on Saturday morning, Hennessy identified the problem as “electrical failure in the right wing.”
Both problems represent a serious safety issue for an aircraft, according to Rehan Siddiqui, one of the stranded passengers, who is also a pilot flying small planes, including Cessna-ISO and Piper Sub-J3C.
“This is very dangerous,” Siddiqui said. “Fire sensors tell pilot if the plane catches fire. But if you have electrical failure, nothing will work. You cannot fly. Period.”
Siddiqui, who runs a small business in New Jersey, was supposed to fly from New York to Kiev to catch a connecting flight to New Delhi for his own wedding in India. He is also the type of customers that AeroSvit has been increasingly trying to tap over the past 12 months in order to get the share of the international transit traffic.
AeroSvit, whose revenue rose 33% on the year to $165 million in the first six months, operates flights from Kiev to India and to Thailand, to Canada and the U.S., and has been using aggressive low-fare tactic to lure the transit customers.
For instance, Siddiqui, who traveled with three of his relatives, paid AeroSvit about $700 per one-way ticket for one person, compared with $850 charged by most of other airlines. For him, the trip by AeroSvit represented savings of $600 one-way, or $1,200 round trip.
But the question is whether it was worth it: although the 24-hour delay will probably not disrupt his wedding, due on Dec. 27, it had already affected some of his planning arrangements.
“The price is good,” Siddiqui said. “But I still expect them to respect the customer.”
The AeroSvit deal, however, was definitely not worth it for Ari Krendel, a New York businessman exporting construction machinery to Russia. He paid about $2,200 to fly business class from New York to Moscow, compared with $5,000 charged by Aeroflot, the Russian airline.
But the delay forced him to cancel four business meetings in Moscow, disrupting about $6 million in export contracts.
“This is the first time I’ve bought AeroSvit tickets,” Krendel said. “And this is the last one.” (ob/ez)