London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing – 20 September 2021

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Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Aircaft B-KPM (Image Credit: Cathay Pacific)

Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 20 September 2021.

In this week’s update we look at Cathay Pacific’s 75th anniversary celebrations and the return of South African Airways. We also have the latest BA route network updates for this week.

Plus tensions are rising between Heathrow and its airlines over passenger charges and between the EU and Asia over “use it or lose it” slot rules.

Cathay Pacific Marks Its 75th Anniversary

Cathay Pacific marks the 75th anniversary of its formation in 1946 this coming Friday 24 September.

It wasn’t until 1980 Cathay Pacific began flying from London. This was enabled in part by the Boeing 747 and an Open Skies treaty between the UK and Hong Kong. This ended BA’s monopoly on the route (and its small shareholding in Cathay Pacific) and opened the route to four airlines. The others being British Caledonian and Freddie Laker’s Sky Train.

Cathay Pacific initially flew from Gatwick via Bahrain three times a week from 17 July 1980.

Cathay Pacific, London Gatwick Hong Kong, via Bahrain, June 1981
Cathay Pacific, London Gatwick Hong Kong, via Bahrain, June 1981

Services soon increased to daily. On 2 July 1983 Cathay operated the first non-stop flight from London to Hong Kong.

Boeing 747 aircraft have long been replaced by Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A350 aircraft.

Before COVID-19, Cathay had built up a high frequency service from London Heathrow and had added many new routes to Hong Kong from Europe with the Airbus A350, notably Gatwick and Manchester.

Cathay has enjoyed an excellent reputation for its lounges in Hong Kong and around the world, notably at London Heathrow Terminal 3, and its attentive in flight service.

That said, the last couple of years have been extremely challenging for the airline. The lack of a domestic network and strict restrictions on international arrivals in Hong Kong have almost wiped out passenger revenue. The airline has also been caught in political controversy with senior executives forced to leave after some Cathay employees participated in protests in Hong Kong against new security laws.

Like many airlines Cathay will emerge from COVID-19 with a radically different route network. You can follow Cathay Pacific’s celebrations on a dedicated microsite.

BA Route Network Updates

A few BA route network updates for this week:

BA restarts flights from London Heathrow to Basel today, with Istanbul to follow tomorrow.

BA had planned to move some short haul routes back to Heathrow Terminal 3 by the end of this month, but this has been delayed until October at the earliest.

At London City, flights to Rotterdam restart today. A number of summer seasonal routes end over the next seven days. Bergerac ends this Sunday, 26 September. Jersey, Guernsey and Skiathos end next Monday, 27 September.

BA is not expected to restart a full short haul schedule at Gatwick until Sunday 28 March 2022. The airline will restart daily short haul flights from Gatwick to Glasgow from this Friday 24 September.

You can also see our dedicated BA short haul and long haul route network pages which are continuously updated.

South African Airways Returns To The Skies

South African Airways restarts scheduled passenger flights in South Africa this week after the airline exited its business rescue process.

Its route network will initially be limited. From this Thursday 23 September, the airline will fly between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Flights to Harare, Luanda and Maputo will follow in the coming days.

Before entering the business rescue the airline announced a significant restructuring of its International network. It’s not known when, if it all, it will resume flights to London Heathrow.

In case you missed it:

BA launches new summer seasonal routes from London Heathrow to The Azores. (London Air Travel)

The Sunday Times interviews IAG CEO Luis Gallego on IAG’s plans for BA at Gatwick, industry consolidation and the group’s debt mountain. (London Air Travel)

Also of note this week:

Alitalia, which is currently flying from London Heathrow to Milan Linate and Rome Fiumicino, is due to go through yet another relaunch next month.

A new airline that goes by the name ITA will take over many of its aircraft and routes. In theory, the two organisations are independent of each other. This means that ITA is not liable to repay €900 million in illegal state aid received by Alitalia. But there is still the question of what happens to the Alitalia name and the fact that its successor airline has virtually no brand recognition. The sale of the Alitalia brand is now the subject of a formal tender process, and there is a minimum price of €290 million (Politico)

The Australian government is to extend federal support for airlines, their employees and airports due to the suspension of international operations. Whilst Qantas hopes to restart international flights to London in late December, the federal government is extending a support package by a further AU$183.65 million to March 2022. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Heathrow and its airlines have maintained a largely united front during the COVID-19 pandemic. They all have a shared interest in the lifting of travel restrictions and simplification of testing requirements. Interests are likely to diverge strongly as Heathrow tries to increase passenger charges to recover its losses. Airlines, with considerable justification, protest that Heathrow shareholders should bear this burden. (Telegraph)

The FT profiles Bill Franke, co founder of the private equity firm Indigo Partners which owns 40% of Wizz Air: “He is a very tough negotiator, but he isn’t one of these guys who pounds the tables and gesticulates in the press.” (Financial Times)

Legislation to implement a slot waiver at UK airports over the winter season is currently making its way through Parliament. The EU is implementing a more stringent 50% “use it or lose it” rule, and no ability to hand back slots for the season. This has prompted suggestions of retaliatory action by some countries in Asia against EU airlines. (Reuters)

When the Elizabeth Line (formerly known as Crossrail) opens next year, passengers will not be able to take a direct train from Heathrow through Central London as originally planned. For its first 12 months, the line will operate in three sections from Reading / Heathrow to Paddington; Paddington to Liverpool Street; and then to Sheffield. This does negate one of the key benefits of considerably reduced journey times from Heathrow to the West End and beyond. (MyLondon News)

Late post publication updates:

[Reserved for updates throughout the day]

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