Hello and welcome to the The Atlantic Update for Wednesday 15 August 2018. As it’s a relatively quiet news week in August, this edition has been dedicated to the imminent closure of BA’s subsidiary airline OpenSkies.
BA bids adieu to OpenSkies
In a little over two weeks, and just a couple of months after its tenth birthday, OpenSkies will operate its final flight between Paris Orly and Newark.
OpenSkies took its name from the Open Skies treaty of 2007 which liberalised the EU-US transatlantic air travel market. Hitherto, the operation of transatlantic routes was heavily restricted. Open Skies gave EU and US airlines the freedom to operate routes anywhere between the EU and the US.
Many European airlines took advantage. Air France launched a short-lived flight between London Heathrow and Los Angeles, dubbed “Loss Angeles” by then BA CEO Willie Walsh.
Under the codename “Project Lauren”, BA decided to launch a new subsidiary OpenSkies. The company had its own CEO, Dale Moss, a former BA Executive who returned to the group. It started with grand ambitions. The plan was to provide with the airline with at least ten reconfigured Boeing 757s from BA to operate flights from cities all over Europe to the US. Its launch was controversial and provoked industrial relations tensions with BA pilots who objected to the establishment of a new airline outside of their collective bargaining agreements.
On launch, OpenSkies was clearly aimed at the US market with its cabins branded “Biz”, which was effectively a reupholstered version of BA’s first Club World flat bed, and “Prem” (also briefly called “Biz Seat”) for premium economy and “Eco” for economy.
The branding and service style at the time of launch was quite distinct from BA. It borrowed very much from “boutique” premium airlines of the era such as Silverjet and eos. The intention was give the feel of a small airline, with just 82 passengers on board each flight, but with the backup and support of its parent, such as the Executive Club frequent flyer programme.
The airline launched with its inaugural route from Paris Orly to New York JFK on 16 June 2008. It soon acquired another French all business class airline, L’Avion. Whilst it was well received by passengers, later route launches between Amsterdam and New York and Paris and Washington were not successful. In early 2009, BA decided to sell what remained of its Boeing 757 fleet rather than transfer them to OpenSkies.
At launch, OpenSkies was the only significant means of expansion for BA. It had withdrawn all non-London flights from UK regional airports and significantly downsized at London Gatwick. With no imminent prospect of a third runway, there was no scope for growth at Heathrow.
However, BA soon turned its attentions elsewhere. In early 2011, BA merged with Iberia under the umbrella of International Airlines Group. It also finally, on its third attempt, secured a long sought after joint-venture with American Airlines. Most significantly of all, the acquisition of bmi in 2012 enabled substantial growth at Heathrow, much of which has been on transatlantic routes.
OpenSkies had been in limbo for some time with no evident plan to upgrade its fleet and in-flight product which, baring the addition of a BA Boeing 767, has remained the same since launch.
The service will effectively be replaced by IAG’s low cost airline LEVEL which will fly from Paris Orly to Newark four times weekly with an Airbus A330 aircraft from Tuesday 4 September 2018. La Compagnie will continue to offer an all business class from Paris to New York. However, the fact that IAG is replacing OpenSkies with low cost long-haul LEVEL points to the future direction of travel.
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