London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing – 15 March 2021

Welcome to London Air Travel’s weekly briefing on air travel around the world, as published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

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Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways
Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways (Image Credit: British Airways)

Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 15 March 2021.

COVID-19 – One Year On

This week marks one year since global aviation went into shutdown and the world’s airlines started to suspend almost all international flights.

Closer to home in the case of BA many now suspended routes operated their last scheduled passenger flights a year ago this week.

Twelve months on, the CEOs of BA and Virgin are keen to talk up their respective prospects for the future.

In yesterday’s Independent and Sunday Times BA CEO Sean Doyle spoke of plans to add new routes to Europe and Asia.

In the case of Europe, the airline has no doubt mapped out various scenarios and is ready to push the button on new summer seasonal routes as soon as restrictions on international travel are lifted.

As far as Asia is concerned, BA has just suspended scheduled passenger routes to Kuala Lumpur, Osaka and Seoul. Although cargo only flights have continued to operate.

If truth be told, BA has been more talk than action in Asia in the past. After the global financial crisis, then CEO Willie Walsh expressed an interest in launching new leisure routes from Gatwick to Asia. Apart from a short lived extension from Male to Columbo which was suspended in 2015, nothing came of it. Almost all route expansion was westbound.

There have been reports that BA is looking to return to Dhaka, a route that was suspended in March 2009. Other Visting Friends & Relatives (VFR) routes that could be considered include Amritsar and Kolkata. Leisure routes, which will need premium traffic to support them, could include Bali, Columbo, Goa and Phuket.

To Virgin Atlantic, CEO Shai Weiss spoke to yesterday’s Sunday Times about his ambitions to bring back the spirit of a start-up to the airline, but not exactly how.

As has been widely reported, Virgin is expected this week to confirm new financing in addition to its solvent recapitalisation last year. This includes a £100m loan from Virgin group and £60m of additional deferrals of payments. When Virgin Atlantic belatedly filed its accounts for 2019, it confirmed that should travel restrictions continue to this summer it would need further financing.

Whilst airlines are pinning their hopes on international travel restarting shortly, some are expressing doubts. What are described in yesterday’s Sunday Times as “the glums” in Whitehall are pressing for mandatory quarantine to stay in place so new variants do not circulate in the UK.

Also of note this week:

Tyler Brule interviews Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker for Monocle 24’s series “The Chiefs”. Although Qatar Airways has been seen as something of an outlier in continuing to maintain many routes throughout COVID-19, Akbar Al Baker is more realistic than many airline CEOs have been in public about how long the industry will have to live with the pandemic. Akbar Al Baker also spoke in favour of state support for airlines given the capital intensive nature of the industry and its role in economic development. (Monocle 24)

A long form interview with Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka. (Sydney Morning Herald)

The World Aviation Festival has unveiled the line up for its online conference from 19 – 23 April 2021. Speakers include the CEOs of Air France KLM, easyJet and Emirates. The agenda also includes an interview with JetBlue on its transatlantic route plans. Registration is free. (Aviation Festival)

The Washington Post interviews Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines today, at 12:00 EST / 16:00 GMT. (Washington Post Live)

Late post publication updates:

[Reserved for updates throughout the day]

British Airways is to trial adding the functionality to the “Manage My Booking” tool on to enable passengers to add travel eligibility documentation, such as negative COVID-19 test results and declaration, to their booking. This will then be verified by the airline before travel. The trial will initially apply to flights from London to India.

Virgin Atlantic is hosting a virtual lockdown quiz for aviation enthusiasts at 19:00 GMT on Thursday 25 March 2020 with the chance to win a pair of Upper Class tickets to a destination anywhere on Virgin’s network. Donations to The Trussell Trust are encouraged. (Eventbrite)

A new name in aviation with some familiar backers: Norse Atlantic Airways. The airline, founded by Bjørn Tore Larsen, plans to launch low cost long haul flights from Europe to the USA using Boeing 787 aircraft. (Norse Atlantic Airways).

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