British Airways turns up the pressure on CityJet with expansion at London City airport

British Airways has often been criticised in the past for failing to prove it can compete with rival airlines outside its base at London Heathrow, where it now commands nearly 50% of take off and landing slots. Witness how the airline withdrew entirely from regional point to point operations five years ago and, as reported yesterday, has ceded a significant share of traffic at London Gatwick to easyJet.

The one exception to this is at London City. Some five years ago CityJet, an airline with a complex history and structure, but now under the ownership of Air France KLM, dominated short-haul operations at the airport, with more than twice the share of take off and landing slots as British Airways.

Aided by the replacement of Avro jets with more efficient and comfortable Embraer E170 and E190 jets, British Airways has steadily gained significant ground to become the largest operator at the airport with a portfolio of largely business routes (Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Zurich being some of the biggest) and a small portfolio of off peak leisure routes (Ibiza being particularly popular). There have been some failures, such as Copenhagen, but over the past five years it has been a story of steady progress.

This has hit CityJet hard which is reported not to have made a profit in five years and its owners Air France KLM have been seeking to sell the airline for a year, with no buyer yet to be found. Though it is reported to be in talks with German group Intro Aviation GmbH.

BA today turned up the pressure on CityJet today confirming that three new Embraer jets are to join the fleet at London City, two of which will arrive by May next year.

BA is to also launch a near five daily service to Rotterdam and four weekly service to Florence next year. The significance of this is that both of these are CityJet routes, with Rotterdam served nine times a day by CityJet. This is clearly an aggressive move by BA.

One other point of note regarding BA at London City is that there has been no word for some point on a possible expansion of its all business class transatlantic service to New York to other US cities. In the absence of any comment, I think it’s a safe assumption this is unlikely to expand in the short to medium term.

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