Jacques Bankir: leading Flybaboo through big expansion phase

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Aviation veteran Jacques Bankir must be getting used to the Swiss fresh air in his new role as acting chief executive officer of regional carrier Flybaboo because he asks to be interviewed in the snow.

Bankir is in the French Alps, attending the French Connect Low Cost Forum in Courchevel. He steps outside the snow-covered conference hotel and, perching on a wall, details his future strategy for Geneva-based Flybaboo.

He plans to tackle four key challenges, namely continuity of Flybaboo's spirit, controlling the airline's rapid growth, reaching profitability and exploring new partnerships. These represent fierce targets as Flybaboo plans to treble its capacity over the next three months. "If we do those things, it will be extraordinary. It will be very difficult and will take at least a year," says Bankir.

Flybaboo only operates two Bombardier Q400 turboprops but is poised to take delivery of three Embraer 190s over the next three months. The additional capacity will be used to launch new routes from Geneva to St Petersburg, Kiev, Sofia and Vienna, as well as a Nice-Venice link - Flybaboo's first non-Geneva originating route.

But Bankir has axed a planned Geneva-Malaga link. "It is too late to profitably launch a leisure business," he says. "What we want today is to be successful in launching these new routes and get the aircraft filled up. Having a powerful shareholder [in Lebanese-controlled conglomerate M1 Group] makes our project feasible.

"The objective is to be successful in this phase of growth with the backing from M1 and become as profitable as soon as possible - if possible by 2009. We will do what we need to in order to get there."

Bankir is taking over the Flybaboo reins from founder Julian Cook, who is continuing as chairman, but the new chief is quick to note that Tofu - Cook's black labrador dog and Flybaboo's mascot (see picture) - will remain in his role. Bankir says: "Flybaboo is a wonderful airline. It is unique. I've found extraordinary spirit here. It is young, dynamic and has an extraordinarily efficient quality-to-cost product that passengers love.

"It gives Geneva a very special airline that is much more than a low-cost carrier, and it responds to the Geneva market which is a quality market. We have to be successful in tripling the capacity and making the airline a good airline, keeping the spirit that Julian put into it."

On 15 May Flybaboo will unveil a new image and livery, although Bankir says the airline's product will remain the same. He adds: "As a Geneva-based airline with a particular product and cost efficiency, we are well-placed to find partners - which partner is completely open. It is something we will be looking for from now on. It would be a commercial partnership. It could be several it doesn't have to be one. We think that we have a good niche and are open to quite a few things."

Despite Bankir's recent appointment, he is listed on the conference agenda as managing director of his Avico Aero Consulting firm. When asked about his low-profile Flybaboo presence, he gives an impish smile and says he only got the job after registering for the event.

As he approaches his 70th birthday, Bankir exudes the energy and enthusiasm of an industry newcomer, belying his age and pedigree which includes a string of high-profile aviation roles. He has held several vice-president positions with Air France and AOM chaired French slot co-ordinator COHOR and launched Air Tahiti Nui, where he was president. He was also chief executive of Irish regional carrier CityJet and led Air France's merger of Regional Airlines, Proteus and Flandre Air. Alongside his consultancy duties, he is also a board member for Spanish budget carrier Vueling.

Bankir says "life" is his hobby, adding that he loves all aspects of it.