04 June 2019

Commitment, professionalism but also passion

Interview with Michael Harrington Ceo of Albastar
Michael Harrington Ceo Albastar
Flying is travelling kilometres through the sky, but above all it means respecting standards to ensure that customers
have the best travel experience.


Ever since Albastar took off in 2010, Michael Harrington has been at the helm of the Spanish airline, the Managing Director of the carrier, a very experienced manager in the air transport sector.
He made the entrepreneurial dream of our founder Pino D’Urso come true and no one better can tell us more about Albastar.
Kindness and professionalism are the trademark of Albastar, a company that has carved out a well-defined space in the world of air transport. How did this entrepreneurial project come about?
Following the financial banking crisis of 2009 which caused the majority of Spanish airlines to go bankrupt there was a huge availability of top airline management redundant, especially in Mallorca which is one of the main centres of aviation in Spain, and many Tour Operators were short of available aircraft capacity. With this background my long-time friend and business partner Pino D’Urso put together a plan to form a small charter airline which we gave the name ‘AlbaStar’ - the new ‘dawn’ from Latin, with ‘star’ Management.
On board, passengers are always warmly welcomed by the cabin crew. What clearly differentiates you from other airlines are the people who work at Albastar and how competently and humanely they work. Can you tell us something about their training?
There have been two categories of airlines that have excelled in today’s competitive environment; ‘Low Cost’ where price is the key driver even at the sacrifice of customer care, and ‘Niche’ airlines like ours which through our specialization and dedication can compete even with the larger airlines around Europe.
Albastar is particularly well known as the airline that has special skills to fly the sick and disabled to Lourdes. Our cabin crew are uniquely trained in the Paraplegic Hospital of Toledo, Spain and have developed a particularly good reputation “because we care”.
If you are the reference airline in Europe for religious tourism, it is not just for the number of connections offered or for the number of pilgrims transported. Over the years you have gained a great deal of experience in managing passengers with special needs, establishing yourselves as the leading European air carrier for connections to pilgrimage destinations, particularly to Lourdes, with flights departing from several European airports. What can you tell us about the religious segment?
Both Pino D’Urso and I started Albastar with the aim of developing a business segment which had suffered heavily given the problems of train travel to Lourdes, France. We recognized that this was a market that needed to evolve to air travel. It’s taken some nine years to establish Albastar as a reference point in Europe and we are proud of the results with the market growing some 20% in the last tw o years. So reducing the cost of pilgrimages through more  efficient planning has been key to getting the market growing again.
Albastar has allowed many disabled passengers to reach pilgrimage destinations. Have you personally been on a pilgrimage?
When a passenger holds your hands and thanks you that without Albastar they could never have got to Lourdes then you can really understand what Albastar’s dedication is about.
Once you have visited Lourdes you can’t but help return again, that’s the great force behind this market – repeat travellers. It’s a great joy to know that apart from running such a professional organization which has been so successful, Albastar is also fulfilling a great mission to help so many people. As you can tell I am hooked on Lourdes!
Your airline has been selected by some of Europe’s top tour operators, travel agencies and brokers. The on-demand flight segment is your core business. How did you manage to retain such important customers?
The majority of business in Albastar is flying for top European Tour Operators. We do this positioning our airline at the top end of the quality market to avoid competion with the ‘bucket shop’ offering of eastern European airlines.
Albastar has achieved in 2019 the top quality endorsement from IATA called IOSA Standard. This together with our special training positions Albastar at the top of the charter airlines, no wonder teams like Juventus also fly on Albastar!
Albastar is planning to add more and more scheduled flights. Lourdes from Rome and Milan Bergamo, Catania from Milan Bergamo.
Is this  just the beginning? Will we see a new opening towards the B2C market?
More and more of our customers want to have a holiday ‘do it yourself’ so charter airlines are increasingly having to offer a small amount of seats to be sold on the internet. Scheduled routes are a logical development for regular charter routes so Albastar is investing heavily in the tools to serve also this market.
That does not mean we will become a predominantly scheduled airline, but it does put us in a ‘hybrid’ strategy business model.
Last March you “christened” a new aircraft which has joined the fleet. What are Albastar’s expansion plans in this respect?
We are now concentrating on replacing our Boeing 737 ‘classic’ fleet with six New Generation 737-800NG aircraft. In 2019 we have four 800NG aircraft and two ‘400classic’ flying and we aim to have all six ‘800NG’ aircraft in service by the end of 2020.
You have extensive expertise in the field, looking at your curriculum we noticed that you are also Vice President of AIRE, the Airlines International Representation in Europe. Why is a relatively small airline like Albastar ranked among major European carriers and why does it play a fundamental role in the whole aviation sector?
Yes it’s a great privilege for me to be Vice President of AIRE in Brussels where it is really necessary to help the European Commission develop better aviation policies. Our industry which contributes so much value to the European Community is still plagued by no ‘Single European Sky’, high air traffic control and landing charges which are fruit of protectionism, and ridiculous airport passenger taxes which form such a large cost of your passenger ticket.
Edited by Silvia Ruscitto
Interview published on:
Avion Tourism Special Edition for Albastar N1/2019
Photos: Albastar
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