Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 19 April 2021.
Flybe Pilots Its Return
Shortly before it collapsed into administration, Willie Walsh delivered a withering verdict on Flybe: “That’s a business model that doesn’t work with shareholders that have suddenly cottoned on that they’ve bought a dog.”
That has not deterred its new owners, behind the company known as Thyme Opco Ltd, from buying the Flybe brand, intellectual property and its airport slots. Many assets such as aircraft parts and engines still rest with the administrators.
An appeal to the Secretary of State for Transport against a decision by the Civil Aviation Authority to revoke Flybe’s operating licence is underway.
It’s not clear whether the new Flybe intends to fly from Heathrow. When the former bmi remedy slots were re-advertised last year, there was a warning that the ownership of these slots is subject to a legal challenge. A subsequent report from the administrators of Flybe advised that they were challenging IAG’s appropriation of these slots after Flybe went into administration. There has been no update on this for some months.
At present, the only indicator of Flybe’s plans is fairly nondescript “Coming Soon” on the Flybe website. Whether it is operating marginal regional routes or providing feeder traffic to long haul airlines, neither have proven to be financial rewarding, let alone in the aftermath of a pandemic and aviation’s biggest crisis since the Second World War.
Archive Footage From KinoLibrary
The Kinolibrary archive hosts a vantage range of 20th century film footage.
It has in the past week uploaded to its YouTube channel, in three parts, very early 1920s films of a Handley Page G-EASN aircraft flying between London and Paris. You can see the passengers were certainly dressed for the occasion!
Also, the library has uploaded rare colour footage of Pan American World Airways from 1948 at what was formerly known as New York International Airport.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 12 April 2021.
“Summer Route Roulette”
When the UK government announced its proposed traffic light system to reopen international travel this summer, airlines made their views known very quickly.
BA extended the cancellation of short haul flights at Gatwick until 31 October. The only clue as to its summer schedule at London City, traditionally packed with flights to Ibiza and Mykonos, are two new routes to Jersey and Gibraltar.
In yesterday’s Sunday Times the challenge facing airlines was cited as analogous to a game of Russian roulette. Spend huge sums of money preparing to return aircraft and crews to service to no avail, or miss out on significant pent up demand. “We’re gambling — will we meet demand? Is there a chance we’ll lose capital?” said Shai Weiss CEO of Virgin Atlantic. Another airline CEO, speaking off the record, put it more bluntly “You might as well use the dartboard to do your strategic planning”.
Border restrictions are not the only concern of airlines. In his first media briefing as IATA Director General Willie Walsh made it clear that airlines should not have to manually process passenger documentation at airports, nor should pre flight testing become a permanent feature of international travel.
Following recent events, this week is expected to be a light week for official news in the UK. Government announcements will be limited to essential news only and most UK businesses will hold back PR activity. That said, on Wednesday the Transport Select Committee will take evidence on the Global Travel Taskforce from representatives of ABTA, BALPA, Heathrow and IATA.
easyJet will also give a half year trading update on Wednesday.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 5 April 2021.
30 Years After Pan Am and TWA At London Heathrow
This week marks 30 years since United Airlines first flew from London Heathrow, replacing Pan American World Airways.
1991 was a significant year for transatlantic travel from Heathrow. Under a treaty between the UK and US governments only BA, Pan American World Airways and Trans World Airlines could fly to the US from the airport.
All other airlines, notably Virgin Atlantic and a growing number of US airlines following the deregulation of US aviation in 1978, had to fly from Gatwick.
Both Pan Am and TWA were heavily indebted and reeling from the collapse of international travel following the Gulf War, rising oil prices and, in the case of Pan Am, the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster.
Pan Am entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 1991. It sought to raise around $290 million by selling its London route authorities to United. American Airlines purchased TWA’s London routes for $440 million.
London was for Pan Am in particular a major hub with it flying onwards not only to mainland Europe, but also as far afield as Bangkok, Beirut, Istanbul and Tokyo.
The sale of the routes required a renegotiation between the US and UK governments to allow American and United to fly from London Heathrow. This would otherwise render the sale of Pan Am and TWA’s route authorities worthless and cause the two airlines to collapse.
The UK government felt it had the upper hand given the pressing need for a deal. In theory, the UK was the winner as the US gave UK airlines the right to fly to the US from a limited number of countries in mainland Europe (subject to agreement from these countries), not that this is ever came to fruition until the EU-US Open Skies treaty in 2008. UK airlines also gained greater rights to to fly onwards from the US to Canada, Latin America and Asia.
An agreement to resume talks in a few months’ time to open up the US domestic market to UK airlines unsurprisingly came to nothing.
On 5 April 1991, United began flying from London Heathrow to Miami, New York JFK, San Francisco and Washington. In July 1991, American Airlines followed launching flights from London Heathrow to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark and New York JFK.
Virgin Atlantic also started flying from London Heathrow to New York JFK and Los Angeles from July. In classic fashion, Sir Richard Branson dressed up as a pirate, covered a model BA Concorde at Heathrow with a Virgin logo and declared the airport “Virgin Territory”.
BA bristled at Pan Am and TWA being replaced by financially stronger US airlines with larger domestic route networks and Virgin Atlantic gaining access to Heathrow. It prompted the airline to launch its own mileage based frequent flyer programme, having previously been a partner of American and United’s own frequent flyer programmes.
There had already been tensions between BA and Virgin Atlantic after it gained some of BA’s weekly flights to Tokyo. The relationship would sour even further with allegations of “Dirty Tricks” by BA against Virgin.
BA Gatwick Long Haul Changes
As you may have noticed we’ve largely paused publishing articles on route and schedule changes until there is certainty as to how international travel will return.
That said on Friday, BA confirmed that flights from Gatwick to Providenciales will move to Heathrow for the summer. BA timetables also indicate that some flights to Antigua and Saint Lucia will operate from Heathrow.
Although not officially confirmed by the airline, Las Vegas and Orlando now appear to operate on a summer seasonal basis at Gatwick. Conversely, Barbados now operates from Gatwick on a winter seasonal basis. Cape Town, New York JFK and Toronto Pearson are currently suspended form Gatwick.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 29 March 2021.
Alaska Airlines Joins Oneworld
Assuming there are no last minute delays, Alaska Airlines will become a full member of the Oneworld alliance this Wednesday, 31 March 2021.
This means that members of Oneworld frequent flyer programmes will benefit from full reciprocal recognition when flying on Alaska Airlines, and vice versa.
BA of course has an existing codeshare and frequent flyer partnership with Alaska. Whilst this is a long standing relationship, the scope of the codeshares does not appear to have been refreshed for some time, particularly since Alaska acquired Virgin America.
For readers outside of the US, this is somewhat academic as travel restrictions are yet to be lifted. Whilst there have been positive soundings about a reopening in July, the UK government continues to dampen expectations about international travel this summer.
New Airlines (Almost) Ready For Take Off
You would think a global pandemic would be the worst time to launch a new airline, but aviation has always attracted dreamers and no amount of industry shocks are going to change that.
No doubt hoping to take advantage of pent up demand and unencumbered by the very high debt levels of legacy carriers, a number of airlines are planning on launching in the coming months.
EGO Airways in Italy is due to start its scheduled passenger flights this summer between regional airports such as Brindisi, Cagliari, Florence and Forli, initially with a fleet of two Embraer E 190 aircraft.
World2Fly plans to launch long haul flights from Madrid to destinations such as Cancun, Havana and Punta Cana.
Over on the other side of the Atlantic, Andrew Levy, former president of Allegiant Airlines plans to launch AveloAirthis summer. The airline was formed with the purchase of the assets of XTRA Airways in 2018. Using a fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft, it plans to operate between unserved city pairs in the US.
A similar approach will be adopted by Breeze Airways, led by aviation veteran and JetBlue founder David Neeleman, which is expected to confirm its plans imminently. It is expected to have a base in Salt Lake City.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 22 March 2021.
The Summer Timetable Begins
This Sunday, 28 March 2021, marks the official start of the summer timetable in the Northern Hemisphere.
Ordinarily at this time of year we should be able to present a long list of seasonal schedule changes.
Apart from BA transferring Bermuda to London Heathrow this Sunday and American Airlines launching Heathrow – Seattle on 1 April, there’s little else to confirm. There may be frequency increases to come for BA to Lahore and Tel Aviv, but these are not yet reflected in online timetables.
Airlines had been hoping that Monday 17 May would mark the reopening of international travel. Both BA and Virgin Atlantic currently plan to increase their schedules from this date.
Defence Minister Ben Wallace, who was tasked to do the Sunday political show broadcast round yesterday, said it was “potentially risky” and “premature” to book for Britons to book a summer holiday this year.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sky News Ben Wallace said “We can’t be deaf and blind to what’s going on outside the United Kingdom. If we were to be reckless in any way, and import new variants that put up risk, what would people say about that?”
Members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have gone further and warned in today’s Guardian that the public should not consider summer holidays until next year because of the risk of vaccine resistant variants entering the UK.
This has prompted an immediate and furious response from airline industry bodies and trade unions who see such speculation as deeply unhelpful.
The Financial Times reports that the UK government’s global travel task force is looking at reinstating a traffic light system for countries, this time based on their respective levels of vaccination. Pilot schemes with countries with high vaccination rates such as Israel and the US are also consideration. The current mandatory hotel quarantine regime may also be replaced with self-isolation at home.
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.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 8 March 2021.
From today anyone travelling from England to a destination outside the UK must complete a declaration form to demonstrate they are travelling for a “legally permitted reason”. Full guidance is available from the UK government.
If you are departing from the one of the very few flights at London Gatwick’s North Terminal you will also need to pay a minimum £5 drop off charge if arriving by car. This will apply to the South Terminal from 12 April, assuming it is open to passenger flights by then.
Doubts About Flybe’s Return
It may seem like a lifetime ago, but it is just over one year ago since Flybe collapsed.
“Thyme Opco” was established in September of last year as a vehicle to acquire the assets of Flybe and is reported to be working on plans to relaunch the airline. One director, Lucien Farrell of Cyrus Capital, a member of the consortium that previously owned the airline, resigned as a Director of the company last week.
Press reports have suggested the value of Flybe’s assets rests in the 12 Heathrow bmi remedy slot pairs it had at the time of entering into administration. These were taken back by IAG last year and have been advertised by Mazars to potential new entrants. The administrators of Flybe have advised in their official reports they are to challenge IAG’s appropriation of the slots in court.
“Heathrow – Britain’s Busiest Airport” Returns
“Heathrow – Britain’s Busiest Airport” – not that is much of an accolade at the moment – returns to ITV at 20:00 Wednesday 10 March.
The latest series does cover the operation of Heathrow during lockdown. Next week’s episode features the final departure of the Boeing 747 from the airport.
Readers in the UK can catch up with the series on the ITV Hub.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 1 March 2021.
The news media is not known for the quality of its reporting on statistics.
This was perfectly illustrated last week when many outlets breathlessly reported “600%” increases of flight and holiday bookings after Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined plans to lift England out of lockdown. 600% of next to nothing is not a lot.
Qantas, which has been able to operate a domestic network of varying forms throughout COVID-19, illustrated last week how much network and schedule planning for airlines has changed.
The traditional winter and summer seasons are out of the window. As is the 353 day selling window for flights. Demand, which airlines have spent decades honing algorithms to forecast, will remain volatile. Announcements on border changes can result in immediate spikes in demand or mass cancellations.
Airlines will have to “war game” possible route and network planing decisions and implement capacity changes within a matter of hours of border restrictions changing.
Whilst BA was keen to talk up the prospects of demand returning when restrictions are lifted with the scope for capacity to reach up to 70% of 2019 this summer, its parent company did not give much away in its annual results last week.
Apart from confirming that 5 short haul and 10 long haul aircraft will be delivered to the group this year, that was pretty much it in terms of firm plans. Lufthansa will follow Air France KLM and IAG in announcing its annual results this Thursday.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 22 February 2021.
IAG’s Annual Results
12 months ago former IAG CEO Willie Walsh confidently asserted “To be honest we’ve gone through all of this before. We’ve all seen it before.” “We know what to do in a time like this. We know how to respond.”
Six months later, the group embarked on a €2.7billion rights issue and the immediate retirement of Airbus A340 and Boeing 747 aircraft. A plan to be cash flow neutral by the end of last year is now a distant memory.
On Friday it will fall to Luis Gallego to announce a walloping annual loss and the group’s plans to recover from COVID-19.
Investors are likely to focus on debt and cash flow and whether IAG’s airlines will need further state support.
Other points to watch out for include changes to new aircraft delivery plans and how IAG plans to rationalise its brands in Spain after the acquisition of Air Europa.
Update: IAG has confirmed this morning that BA has agreed terms of a £2 billion loan partially guaranteed by UK Export Finance. This will be drawn down before the end of this month. BA has also agreed with the trustees of the New Airways Pension Scheme to defer £450 million of pension deficit contributions.
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announces widely trailed plans to progressively move the UK out of lockdown, The Sunday Times speaks to cabin crew, management and pilots of Tui and Virgin Atlantic on the complexities of restarting aviation.
On a similar theme, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss has penned an editorial for The Telegraph calling on Boris Johnson to set out a timetable for the restart of aviation.
Shai Weiss cites the fact that airlines need two to three months notice to stand up pilots and cabin crew, reappoint ground handling agents at airports and prepare aircraft for return to service.
LBC Correspondent Ben Kentish reported yesterday that former Prime Minister Tony Blair is leading lobbying efforts on behalf of airlines for the UK government to introduce vaccine passports.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 15 February 2021.
Mandatory Hotel Quarantine Comes Into Force
12 months and many missteps into the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government likes to think it has learned the art of expectations management.
That didn’t stop it briefing compliant Westminster lobby journalists last week its plans for lifting lockdown measures. Schools in England are expected to reopen in early March when rules on socialising outdoors will also be relaxed. Pubs and restaurants may be able to serve outdoors from the end of March. Some outdoor sports will be allowed in April.
Whilst this is officially described as speculation it has not stopped further enthusiastic claims on many of today’s newspaper front pages.
One relaxation was conspicuous in its absence: international travel restrictions. Yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph featured a letter from BA CEO to Sean Doyle to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for an end to the “mixed messaging” and an end to the uncertainty over travel restrictions:
“Caution right now is correct. But with the success of your vaccination programme, the steady reduction in serious cases and good news around the effectiveness of the vaccines on variants, we should be confident to prepare for summer travel.”
“We know that so many people are longing to travel from the sheer fact that bookings jump every time restrictions have been lifted.”
“We urgently need the Government to create agreements with other countries, as we’ve seen Israel and Greece do this week, so that UK citizens can travel.”
“With our experience of operating around the world and the UK’s national technology capability, we should be leading the way and setting the international standards.”
“As you lead the country out of the crisis, so many different sectors of our economy that rely on aviation will also be looking for an indication that they can fly again.”
“If you cannot include aviation in your roadmap, then the industry urgently needs your commitment to a package of support which extends past April, to ensure it is able to survive this most difficult period.”
A projected date for the lifting of international travel restrictions would at least allow airlines to target marketing activity and generate cash flow from forward bookings. In all likelihood, this has fallen on deaf ears. The chances of restrictions being lifted before the autumn is very remote.
Those scientists who advocate a “zero COVID” approach to handling the pandemic argue that international travel restrictions are a price worth paying for reopening all of the domestic economy with adequate test and trace measures in place.
The mandatory hotel quarantine for passengers arriving from “red list” countries was introduced at 04:00 this morning. One of the hotels is the Novotel Heathrow which, according to its website booking engine, is closed for public bookings until April 2021.
According to reports on Channel 4 News and in today’s Telegraph Heathrow airport still has concerns that the UK is not sufficiently prepared, specifically when it comes to adequate border staffing and securely transporting passengers to designated hotels.