Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 9 March 2020.
It’s easy when reporting on aviation to descend into hyperbole.
However, it is no exaggeration to say that the industry is now facing what is arguably its biggest ever crisis.
In a very short space of time demand for air travel has simply collapsed. There is very little airlines can do about it. And it is not know whether the current situation will continue for weeks or months.
It was reported last week that Virgin Atlantic’s forward bookings have fallen by 50%. Lufthansa plans to cut capacity by 50% and may also temporarily ground its fleet of 14 Airbus A380 aircraft.
Norwegian’s share price has fallen to 12.24 NOK, compared to a high of 221.24 NOK at little under five years ago. City analysts widely expect the airline to have to raise new funds (again) to avoid breaching banking covenants.
IATA has made a request that regulators grant an alleviation on airport slot rules so airlines have much more flexibility to cancel flights.
Airport Co-ordination Ltd (“ACL”) which oversees slot allocation at Gatwick and Heathrow advised last week that it has granted an alleviation over slots used for mainland China and Hong Kong flights up until the end of May 2020.
However, ACL has advised that it cannot grant a broader alleviation for UK and EU airports unless the European Commission proposes a specific regulation. It has previously done so after industry crises such as 11 September 2001 and the 2008 financial crisis.
Should such an alleviation be granted then it is likely we will see BA and Virgin Atlantic implement substantial capacity cuts for the coming weeks.
Update: The European Airport Coordinators Association has today published a paper urging the European Commission to immediately relax EU Slot Regulations which would allow slot coordinators to waive “use it or lose it” airport slot rules until the end of June at the earliest. The full paper can be read here.
So farewell then Flybe.
Once again the closure of a UK airline was the undignified sight of its last flights being cancelled at short notice and aircraft being impounded by airports over unpaid fees before entering into administration in the middle of the night.
Flybe’s ultimately unsuccessful case for state support was that 88 of its 120 routes were not flown by any other airline and would not be replaced after its failure.
That is true, up to a point. However, in the immediate aftermath of its collapse its franchise partners Blue Islands and Eastern Airways, as well as Aurigny and Loganair have wasted little time in announcing around 20 new routes to replace Flybe.
Note that Blue Islands and Eastern Airways have different advice for passengers who have made bookings through Flybe. Blue Islands is unable to honour bookings for travel from Tuesday 10 March due to the funds being withheld by Flybe’s card acquirers.
Update: Flybe’s Heathrow slots, equivalent to 12 daily return flights, have been returned to British Airways for the summer 2020 season.
Whilst BA will welcome the return of the slots this could not be more ill-timed. BA will have to seek a dispensation to avoid forfeiting them.
In case you missed it:
BA transfers Maldives flights from Gatwick to Heathrow. (London Air Travel)
BA extends flexible rebooking policy for Italy. (London Air Travel)
Virgin Atlantic delays launch of London Heathrow – Sao Paulo until October 2020. (London Air Travel)
Late post publication updates:
[Reserved for updates throughout the day]
London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing is published every Monday morning at 06:00 BST and updated throughout the day. If you have any tips or stories please contact us. You can also follow us on Twitter for breaking news throughout the week.