Monday Briefing – 25 March 2019

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

British Airways Club World Suite
British Airways Club World Suite (Image Credit: British Airways)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 25 March 2019.

Reflections On BA’s New Club Suite

A week has now passed since BA officially announced its much anticipated “Club Suite”. It has generated a huge amount of coverage, both online and in the “mainstream media”.

It will still be some months until anyone is able to fly on it – and you can only really assess an airline seat when spending several hours in it at 38,000 feet.  Reflecting on the announcement, a few thoughts spring to mind.

BA First Class still has a future

The announcement of current generation of long-haul business class seats has often coincided with a significant reduction in First Class, or its elimination altogether.  

United has eliminated international First Class with its Polaris business class.  Qantas does not operate First Class on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.  

Although First Class will not be installed in the first deliveries of the Airbus A350-1000, it will on future deliveries.  It should also feature on the Boeing 787-10 and Boeing 777-9 aircraft.   First Class will still operate on a very large number of routes, albeit with a smaller 8 seat cabin.  This is not necessarily a bad thing if a smaller First Class capacity allows for new ground services not previously feasible at Heathrow.

Why is the roll-out taking so long?

BA has previously said that it will take until 2023 to fit the new Club Suite to all aircraft in the scope of the programme.

The answer why is United Polaris.  A little over two years ago it ran a huge PR campaign for its Polaris business class.   It is now only a third of the way of retrofitting the seat to Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 aircraft due to delays in the delivery of seats from the manufacturer.   BA is obviously managing expectations, and the roll-out may be accelerated if manufacturing capacity becomes available.

This is also not necessarily a bad thing.  With the best will in the world there will always be issues not anticipated before passengers and crew have to work with the seats.  When the current Club World seat was introduced in 2006, the seat had to be modified because passengers complained of a “bounce” effect when their neighbours sat down.

Expectations need to be managed for the first flights

There has understandably been huge interest in the first A350 flights to Dubai and Toronto in October.  

One note of caution:  It is not only a new cabin but an entirely new type of aircraft for the crew.  As is common when new aircraft are introduced it does take time for the crew to get familiar the layout of galleys.   The service may be a little slow to start with.  Whilst this will be more than compensated by for by the new seat, this something to bear in mind, particularly on overnight flights.

All eyes are now on Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic is expected to announce its new Upper Class cabin for the Airbus A350 in a little over two weeks.   

One difference between BA Club World and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is that the latter is Virgin’s top tier product.   It has always featured prominently in advertising and has acted as a “brand halo” for the airline.   With a relatively smaller route network and fewer frequencies, Virgin has always pushed hard distinctive features such as its Upper Class bar to compensate.  Its announcement is awaited with great interest.

WOW air

Today was the day we were to learn of the fate of WOW air.

Last year, Icelandair announced it was to buy WOW air in all share transaction which valued WOW air at around $18m. However, this was abandoned.

WOW air announced last November that it had reached an agreement in principle for an investment from private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC. However, it announced on Thursday 21 March that Indigo Partners had withdrawn its interest. Talks with Icelandair resumed on Thursday with a deadline of today. However, WOW air issued a statement on Sunday afternoon that these had been cancelled. It is now in discussions with bondholders and creditors on a possible restructuring, which could include a debt for equity swap.

Monocle 24 On “The Golden Age Of Aviation”

Talk of a “golden age” of aviation should always be treated with caution.

Passengers have more choices of cabins and routes on more comfortable aircraft than ever before.

Monocle 24 has started a new series on The Golden Age Of Aviation, which it deems from the 1950s to 1970s. It was certainly a period of significant progress with the advent of the jet age. The first episode covers the branding and marketing of Pan American World Airways and the experience of pilots at Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak airport.

In case you missed it:

What’s else is happening with Club World? (London Air Travel)

BA returns to Dammam. (London Air Travel)

BA launches London Gatwick – Milan Bergamo (London Air Travel)

Virgin Atlantic launches London Heathrow – Sao Paulo (London Air Travel)

Also of note this week:

BA staff raise security concerns about its call centre in Germany. (Financial Times)

How does aircraft landing gear work? (Virgin Atlantic)

Monday Briefing – 18 March 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

British Airways Club World logos from the late 1970s
British Airways Club World logos from the late 1970s

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 18 March 2019.

Stand By For BA’s New Club World Seat

As has been widely trailed on social media over the weekend, BA will be officially unveiling its new Club World seat at around 10:00 GMT this morning.

Much is known already. It’s an entirely new seat and cabin layout with direct aisle access for all passengers. Unlike the existing Club World seat it is not an entirely bespoke design for the airline.

There will be gate to gate in-flight entertainment for the first time. Privacy and personal storage will also be significantly improved.

There is also an important element of expectations management. It is going to take some time for new aircraft to arrive with the new seat. The first 4 of 18 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft will arrive this year. Next year, BA will begin to take delivery of 12 Boeing 787-10 aircraft and 18 Boeing 777-9 aircraft from 2022. It will also take time to retrofit to the existing fleet and many aircraft will not be retrofitted.

The importance of Club World to BA cannot be overstated. It is not dubbed the “profit engine” for no reason. History has shown that the financial performance of the airline is inextricably linked to volumes of Club World traffic.

It’s also worth remembering how very reluctant BA has been to give up the existing 2-(3/4)-2 layout. Up until a couple of years ago IAG was adamant that whilst the seat would be updated for the Airbus A350 it would maintain the existing cabin layout because of its space efficiency. Market forces have dictated otherwise.

Here’s our history of Club World from its humble origins as a curtained off section of economy in the 1970s, to Super Club, and Club World.

Virgin Atlantic is also expected to reveal its new Upper Class cabin for its Airbus A350-1000 in the next few weeks.

Boeing 787 Woes Continue For BA

There are signs that the Trent 1000 engine Boeing 787 Dreamliner issues are not going away at BA.

It will continue to wet lease an Air Belgium A340 aircraft throughout the summer on selected London Heathrow – Toronto flights. BA has also instituted blanket cancellations on Mumbai and New Delhi.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 18 March 2019”

Monday Briefing – 11 March 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

Monday Briefing 11 March 2019 Header
Monday Briefing, 11 March 2019

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 11 March 2019.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

It would be remiss not to begin this week’s briefing without mentioning Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.

The incident in which 149 passengers and 8 crew members lost their lives is naturally uppermost in everyone’s minds. It is our editorial policy not to provide a running commentary on incidents such as this as it’s a subject well outside our competence. There’s already significant coverage elsewhere, much of it very speculative, which is deeply unhelpful to the families of the victims.

Official updates are available from Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines.

Willie’s Words For Rolls-Royce

IAG published its annual report last week.

Much of its contents are already known. However, IAG CEO Willie Walsh did have the following words for Rolls-Royce in respect of ongoing engine issues:

We faced many problems with the Trent 1000 engine in 2018, which meant a number of our aircraft were unavailable during the year. This was very
disappointing. It’s not the sort of performance you expect from a company like Rolls-Royce. We’re receiving compensation, but, to be honest, I’d prefer to have the engines functioning properly. It’s fundamental to our future relationship with Rolls-Royce that they respond positively to this issue in 2019, because the situation last year was completely unacceptable.

If that’s what’s being said in public…

Heathrow Third Runway Judicial Review

Last week we reported that judicial review proceedings brought by a number of local London councils, the Mayor of London and Greenpeace against the Government were about to be heard before the High Court.

It appears that the court case will now be heard this week. The hearing is expected to last for two weeks. It will be some afterwards before the court hands down its judgment. (Financial Times)

Air France cuts London Heathrow – Paris Charles de Gaulle

Last month, BA announced it is suspending London City – Paris Orly from 31 May 2019.

Air France also appears to be cutting frequencies on London Heathrow – Paris Charles de Gualle, with its schedule reduced by one flight to six times daily from Sunday 31 March 2019. Though, judging by queues for the Eurostar check-in at London St Pancras this weekend, many would have wished they had flown. The Heathrow slot appears to have been leased to Flybe to increase London Heathrow – Edinburgh to six times daily from Tuesday 23 April 2019.

In case you missed it:

American Airlines Dallas Fort Worth – London Heathrow reviewed. (London Air Travel)

BA adds new First Class menus and amenities from Sunday 31 March. (London Air Travel)

BA unveils its retrospective Landor livery. (London Air Travel)

The late Sir Colin Marshall on “Putting People First”. (London Air Travel)

Also of note this week:

The CEOs of easyJet, IAG, KLM, Lufthansa, and Ryanair are asked, in front of each other, with whom would they trade places. (Reuters)

The Department for Transport has confirmed that UK – EU flights will be protected in a “no deal” departure of the UK from the EU. (Department for Transport)

NATS is to begin a trial of satellite technology whereby position reports of aircraft flying over The Atlantic will be received every 5-8 seconds, instead of every 14 minutes. (NATS)

A day in the life of a trainee pilot. (SWISS)

Late Post Publication Updates

[Reserved for updates during the day.]

London City airport has unveiled its new brand identity. (London City Airport)

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Monday Briefing – 4 March 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

British Airways Boeing 737-236 G-BKYA
British Airways Boeing 737-236 G-BKYA “River Derwent” and BAC One-Eleven Series 528FL G-BJRT “County Of South Glamorgan” in Landor Livery. (Image Credit: British Airways)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 4 March 2019.

Dutch Dirigisme

Before BA and Iberia merged under the umbrella of International Airlines Group in 2011 there was considerable scepticism as to whether it would work.

How could you bring together two radically different airlines with different working cultures?

The answer of course was keeping day to day operations separate and imposing a self-styled “brand agnostic” parent company on top, headed by a hard-nosed Chief Executive.

It’s not always been plain-sailing. There were some fairly unedifying scenes in Madrid when IAG was seeking to restructure Iberia, with charges that BA was “stealing” routes from Iberia. It has also not gone unnoticed by BA trade unions that much of IAG’s operating profit is generated by BA and they would like a greater reward for this.

Whilst individual IAG airlines are still largely known by their national identities, much behind the scenes has been subsumed within IAG. Many back-office functions are now carried out not in London or Madrid, but in Krakow, Poland. Last week’s order for 18 Boeing 777-9 aircraft was made by IAG, not BA. BA’s retro liveried aircraft are being repainted, not at Heathrow, but in Ireland. It’s these back-office cost savings have helped IAG report an operating profit of over €3bn for 2018.

The pioneer of the pan-European group was Air France-KLM which was formed in 2004. Before BA merged with Iberia, Willie Walsh expressed admiration for what Air France-KLM had achieved, as least as far as revenue synergies were concerned.

15 years on, Air France-KLM still sees itself as two airlines competing against each other for investment in a zero-sum game. The fact both the two have, bar Africa, broadly similar levels of worldwide coverage does not help. BA and Iberia have always been able to claim ownership of distinct markets, namely North and South America.

Air France Long-Haul Network
Air France Long-Haul Network (Image Credit: Air France-KLM)

KLM Long-Haul Network
KLM Long-Haul Network (Image Credit: Air France-KLM)

Last week, the Dutch government acquired a 12.68% stake in the group without any warning, which provoked fury in France and a terse statement from Air France-KLM. The irony of this is not lost as the French state owns 14% of the airline.

Le Monde reported on Saturday that Dutch and French finance ministers Wopke Hoekstra and Bruno Le Maire are setting up a working group to review the airline, and will report their findings in June.

As easyJet found with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, agitated minority shareholders can be a big distraction of management time and require assuaging.

At a minimum this means that the French state will not dispose of its stake, which was seen as a necessary step in getting Air France trade unions to accept structural reform, the resistance to which has frustrated successive Air France-KLM Chief Executives.

It’s worth recalling that BA and KLM did explore a full merger back in 2000. Talks were called off, partly due to a disagreement over control as BA wanted full ownership of KLM. Willie Walsh has expressed on more than one occasion what a missed opportunity this was.

The attractions would have been obvious. The UK and the Netherlands are close in more than just geography. Many passengers in UK regions feel a closer association with KLM than with BA because of the former’s coverage of UK regional airports. The two airlines would have been able to leverage this, as well as KLM’s broader world-wide network. This is of course something that Virgin Atlantic will seek to do in the coming years when Air France-KLM acquires a stake in the airline.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 4 March 2019”

Monday Briefing – 25 February 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

British Airways Boeing 747 in BOAC Livery, Dublin Airport
British Airways Boeing 747 in BOAC Livery, Dublin Airport (Image Credit: British Airways)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 25 February 2019.

The World’s Favourite Headline

BA would no doubt have been pleased with the extensive coverage of the arrival of its retro-liveried Boeing 747 at Heathrow last Monday.

A second aircraft, an Airbus A319, flew to Shannon on Saturday to be repainted in a modified British European Airways (BEA) livery. The airline has a habit of eschewing trends such as viral safety videos and retro liveries and then when it finally embraces them, they are well received.

It will not be so not enamoured with two articles in the Financial Times last weekend.

The first on airline wine lists by the highly regarded Master Of Wine Jancis Robinson who was, from 1995 to 2010, part of BA’s wine buying team.

Of BA in the late 1990s, Jancis writes:

This was BA’s golden age. Cabin crews were encouraged to attend special wine courses. Budgets were generous. Wines in first class would typically include a top classed growth claret and a premier cru white burgundy. Concorde, of which we were all so proud, was the jewel in the crown. Our tastings would be punctuated by the noise of Concorde taking off.

And of BA now:

Unfortunately, the wine selections on the two major airlines based in the UK, Virgin and British Airways, belie our nation’s standing as a major global force in wine. Virgin appeals much more effectively to the cocktail sipper than to the wine drinker, while one close trade observer describes the current state of wine-buying at BA as “rock bottom — there’s only one way for them to go”.

A second by Josh Spero, the FT’s transport correspondent, speaks to former CEO Sir Rod Eddington and former Head of Public Affairs David Burnside ahead of the airline’s centenary.

Sir Rod, who now lives in Australia, said he has “always resisted the temptation to pass judgment on what’s happened since I left, since I’m so far away”.

But he does note that BA “has slipped quite substantially down the rankings” of top global airlines as it has been overtaken by carriers such as Middle Eastern groups Emirates, Qatar and Etihad from wealthy Gulf states.

Mr Burnside said: “I don’t see the advertising, the excellence, I don’t see the excitement in BA. The Middle Eastern airlines ooze quality. BA has ended up six, seven out of 10.”

Perception is, as they say, reality. There’s a phrase in politics “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” There are going to be awful lot of “It was once the world’s favourite..” articles in the coming months.

There are kernels of truth in the above. BA has always done its best marketing when it’s in position of confidence. BA willingly ceding its leadership position in long-haul business class has also had a huge impact on perception.

That said, the past isn’t always quite how people remember it. No-one would love to back to the late 1990s more than airlines themselves, not least as far as fares and corporate travel policies are concerned.

There is also a lot in BA’s past that it would rather not dwell on. As anyone who experienced its Heathrow operation in the years before Terminal 5, it was at best no industry leading model of efficiency and at worst an industrial relations pressure cooker. Operational and service failings were not amplified in the way they are today by social media and desk bound digital journalists.

BA can also say, with some justification, that many routes from the era of “The World’s Favourite” (Santiago, The Seychelles, with Oaska and Pittsburgh to come) have been reinstated in recent years. It is also easily forgotten that Gatwick came very close to closure and ten years ago BA had next to no presence at London City.

What is also often overlooked is how the last two major industry crises, 11 September 2001 and the 2008 financial crisis, have shaped the airline’s strategy today. In the case of the former, a high debt burden due to over expansion, a hangover from the 1990s glory days, led to a near decade long freeze on new long-haul aircraft and significant contraction of the route network and passenger numbers, which it has only just reversed.

The real test of the strategy set by BA’s parent company IAG is the next industry crisis, which will happen at some point. If IAG airlines emerge from the next crisis in a position of strength and are able to take advantage of opportunities, rather than fighting a rearguard action, they will be justified.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 25 February 2019”

Monday Briefing – 18 February 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

Flybmi aircraft
Flybmi aircraft (Image Credit: Fly bmi)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 18 February 2019.

Flybmi

The shakedown in European aviation continues with the closure of Flybmi.

It’s hard not to envisage European airlines inexorably set on a path to anything other than consolidation into Air France-KLM, International Airlines Group and Lufthansa, with easyJet and Ryanair as the dominant low cost airlines.

For bmi, this means that nothing remains of the brand when it was sold by Lufthansa to IAG in 2012. The low cost unit bmibaby was shut down. At Heathrow, BA wasted little time in suspending a large number of former bmi routes such as Addis Ababa and Damascus. Just a very small number of former bmi routes such as Amman, Beirut, Belfast and Hanover remain part of the BA route network.

Attention will inevitably be focused on Flybe in the coming months. The sale of Flybe’s operating companies to the Connect Airways consortium has a long stop date of this coming Thursday 22 February.

2 Engines 4 Long-Haul

20 years or so ago when the main preoccupation of Virgin Atlantic was hurling brickbats at its larger rival, it daubed “4 Engines 4 Long-Haul” on the side of its aircraft.

The jibe was made in response to BA’s decision to not order any further Boeing 747 aircraft and to turn to the twin-engined Boeing 777-200 for its long-haul fleet.

History has proved otherwise with the formal closure of the A380 programme last week.

Before the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 came into service, there were two competing visions. Larger aircraft to carry ever increasing numbers of passengers between major hubs and smaller “hub-busting” aircraft to open up new non-stop routes.

It was the later vision that won. For major trunk routes like London – New York for BA, and London – Hong Kong for Cathay Pacific, airlines prioritise offering higher frequencies for competitive advantage. Airlines also covet being the sole operator of new routes to achieve pricing power, which BA has done extensively to North America with the Boeing 787 and Qantas wants to do with non-stop flights between London and Australia.

It’s worth recalling just how ludicrous some of the claims made about the Airbus A380, dubbed a “flying hotel” before launch, were. Virgin Atlantic, which ordered 6 of the aircraft with great fanfare – even taking potshots at BA for not having yet ordered it – promised children’s play areas, games arcades, gyms, meeting rooms, and shops.

IAG is due to announce its annual results next Thursday 28 February. IAG CEO Willie Walsh will inevitably be asked about the impact of the closure of the A380 programme on BA’s fleet renewal plans.

New Istanbul Airport

BA has confirmed it will begin flying from London Heathrow to New Istanbul Airport from Sunday 3 March 2019.

The last flights to Istanbul Ataturak will operate on Thursday 28 February. No BA flights will operate between Heathrow and Istanbul on Friday 1 & Saturday 2 March. Passengers whose flights have been cancelled are entitled to a refund or re-accommodation on alternative dates.

BA’s Retro BOAC Livery Unveiled Today

BA officially unveils the first of its retro liveries for its centenary year today.

One of its Boeing 747s, aircraft registration G-BYGC, has been reprinted in Dublin over the past ten days or so. Here’s what it looked like on arrival in Dublin:

British Airways Boeing 747 G-BYGC arrives at a paint bay at Dublin Airport before being resprayed with a BOAC livery.
British Airways Boeing 747 G-BYGC arrives at a paint bay at Dublin Airport before being resprayed with a BOAC livery. (Image Credit: British Airways)

Official press shots are being taken in Dublin before the aircraft heads to Heathrow this morning and these should be available shortly.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 18 February 2019”

Monday Briefing – 11 February 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

Virgin Atlantic aircraft at London Heathrow

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 11 February 2019.

Virgin Atlantic

2019 is shaping up to be a significant year of change at Virgin Atlantic.

It’s a largely symbolic move, but when Virgin and Delta finally receive regulatory approval (subject to ongoing protests by JetBlue with eyes on slots in London) to combine their transatlantic joint-venture with Air France-KLM, Virgin Group will cede control of the airline – something Sir Richard Branson said he would never do.

Delta will become the single largest shareholder with its existing ownership of 49% of the airline, with Air France-KLM owning a 31% stake.

When Delta acquired its stake in Virgin Atlantic in 2012, this prompted a significant changes to its non-US route network at Heathrow.

And we’re starting to see signs of new changes. Yesterday, Virgin confirmed it will launch London Heathrow – Tel Aviv from September this year.

Like Virgin moving Las Vegas from Gatwick to Heathrow next month, this is likely to be driven by the need for better quality revenue on Delta and Virgin’s transatlantic routes at Heathrow.

When the combined transatlantic joint-venture launches, Virgin will not only benefit from joint-marketing by Air France-KLM, but also access to detailed passenger data on its traffic flows, so expect more changes.

SAS Launches Stansted – Copenhagen

If anyone was to compile a list of the top strategic failures of airlines, or warning signs of airlines in trouble, selling off Heathrow slots would be at the top.

The temptation is understandable. In 2008, keen to secure access to Heathrow in advance of EU – US Open Skies, Continental paid a record $209m for four slot pairs. It’s a relatively easy source of cash.

However, all the evidence points to the fact it never solves underlying problems. There is a long list of failed or still troubled airlines that sold off Heathrow slots (Alitalia, bmi British Midland, Cyprus Airways) but to no avail.

SAS Scandinavian Airlines is to transfer one of its six daily return flights to Copenhagen from Heathrow to Stansted from Monday 8 April 2019. It’s not yet clear what will happen to the slot, or whether this is the start of a broader transfer. SAS still retains a substantial presence at Heathrow. However, the more it cuts its schedule, the less competitive it becomes against a rival with ample slots at Heathrow to respond.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 11 February 2019”

Monday Briefing – 4 February 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

“British Airways – Made By Britain” (Image Credit: Park Pictures / Ogilvy / Wavemaker for BA)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 4 February 2019.

Famous Faces

What did you make of BA’s “Made By Britain” ad?

The centenary requires delicate handling. For it to work, it has to resonate with the travelling public at large, and not merely aviation aficionados and brand loyalists.

A blockbuster ad out of nowhere full of self-congratulation would not work – this is BA’s first major brand campaign in over five years – and it’s wise to start seeding the centenary into the public consciousness not talking about itself.

However, a campaign celebrating its home nation does of course take place against a background of huge political and economic uncertainty over the coming months.

Speaking to The Drum BA’s Head Of Brands and Marketing Hamish McVey said: “We’ll leave politics to the politicians. We’re focusing very much on the story we want to tell in this moment in time, which is confident one about Britain and what it means to be part of modern Britain today.”

“Events”, however, may have different ideas.

Boeing 787 Issues Continue

Staying with BA, it looks like Boeing 787 issues are continuing at the airline.

Blanket cancellations have returned to Heathrow – Doha, just two months after the route returned to normal following an eight month hiatus.

BA will also continue to wet lease an aircraft from Air Belgium for the foreseeable future, with it covering Newark from April.

Norwegian’s Financial Results

This Thursday all eyes will be on Norwegian as it releases its annual results.

This has been brought forward by a week, after it revealed it is to raise funds from its shareholders through a rights issue. Norwegian has already indicated that it will report heavy losses.

Key will be comments from its auditors on its ability to continue to trade as a going concern. Investors also await progress of its plans to manage its still aggressive expansion of its fleet.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 4 February 2019”

Monday Briefing – 28 January 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

Norwegian Boeing 787 aircraft.
Norwegian Boeing 787 aircraft (Image Credit: Norwegian)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 28 January 2019.

What’s Next For Norwegian?

Shortly before Norwegian began long-haul operations at London Gatwick, IAG CEO Willie Walsh spoke at a university business school event.

When asked about Norwegian’s plans for low cost long-haul, Wille Walsh was convinced that Norwegian’s approach wouldn’t work.

Whilst there may ultimately be a market for low cost long-haul, Norwegian’s approach was wrong. The Boeing 787 was the wrong aircraft. And Willie did not see the point of charging for meals on long-haul flights.

It’s not often that Willie Walsh admits to being wrong, but he has accepted that passengers have taken to the concept of low cost long-haul, at least when their flights are operating on time. IAG has of course launched its own low cost long-haul brand, LEVEL.

Last April, IAG announced it had acquired a stake in Norwegian with a view to acquiring the airline. After informal offers were rebuffed, IAG confirmed last week that it will not make a bid for the airline. Norwegian’s share price subsequently fell by 20%.

There were some big prizes for IAG in buying Norwegian: A significantly increased presence at Gatwick; a new region for the group in the Nordics and an increased reach for the Avios currency through the Norwegian Reward frequent flyer programme.

However, there would be challenges. Given the number of overlapping city pairs between IAG airlines and Norwegian, regulators would have demanded that slots be forfeited. Any attempt to add Norwegian to the transatlantic joint-venture would have been strongly resisted by competitors.

As for Norwegian, it will announce its results for Q4 2018 on Thursday 14 February. The latest published fleet plan shows that it plans to take delivery of 21 new aircraft this year, including 5 Boeing 787-9 aircraft and 16 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

There are yet further substantial deliveries planned for 2020 and 2021, including 22 Airbus A321 Neo Long Range aircraft. Norwegian maintains that all aircraft deliveries in the first half of this year are fully financed. The next financial results will inevitably be scrutinised closely.

Qantas – Project Sunrise

Before Qantas launched non-stop flights from London Heathrow to Perth, it made much of the fact that it was looking at every aspect of the in-flight experience for ultra long-haul travel.

It has partnered with Charles Perkin Centre at Sydney University to research passenger needs. So far on London to Perth flights, changes have been largely evolutionary such as in-flight menus and cabin lighting.

Qantas also continues, under the codename “Project Sunrise”, to study potential aircraft orders from Airbus or Boeing for non-stop flights from London to Sydney from 2022. A decision on an aircraft order should be made by the end of this year.

Qantas has released the top five suggestions from passengers from its research:

– Provide “sense of separation” experiences where passengers can be social but then “zone out” with either virtual reality relaxation zones, audio mindfulness experiences, or through the broader inflight entertainment.

– Spaces to do gentle exercise/stretches, promoting circulation and comfort.

– Wireless, noise cancelling headsets

– Innovative cabin designs across the entire aircraft, considering both seat and non-seat spaces to focus on a broad range of traveller needs including comfort, sleep, dining, entertainment and state of mind.

– An inflight cafe offering both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including wine, fresh juices, herbal teas and tisanes and mocktails along with snacks including dips with vegetable sticks as well as “treat foods”.

Any scepticism as to how many of these come to fruition is justified. Before airlines took delivery of the Airbus A380, there was much hype about the potential for onboard gyms and casinos that never materialised. Any space on the aircraft not dedicated to seating is lost revenue that has to be compensated for.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 28 January 2019”

Monday Briefing – 21 January 2019

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

London Air Travel » Monday Briefing

Aer Lingus Airbus A320
Aer Lingus Airbus A320 aircraft (Image Credit: Aer Lingus)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 21 January 2019.

Flybe and Connect Airways

The more you read about the deal between Flybe and Connect Airways, the more you wonder if those in the consortium know what they have let themselves in for.

There was an unexpected twist last week when Flybe plc circumvented the requirement for shareholder approval for its sale by agreeing to sell the trading subsidiaries of Flybe plc to the consortium, leaving Flybe plc effectively a shell company.

Now one major Flybe shareholder, Hosking Partners, is threatening legal action to block the transaction, albeit legal proceedings have not yet been instigated. (Sky News)

Virgin has had its fingers burned before. In the late 1990s, Virgin acquired EuroBelgian Airlines to launch a new low cost airline, Virgin Express. A subsequent flotation was hugely unsuccessful and the airline merged with what was then SN Brussels, later to become Brussels Airlines.

Aeromexico’s “DNA Discounts”

By now you’ve no doubt seen the AeroMexico’s “DNA Discounts” ad where the airline dives head first into the US Border Wall debate.

Brands have normally adopted a conservative with a small c approach to geopolitical and social issues. However, Nike and Gillette have found that the amount of free social media coverage and distribution is a price worth paying for threats of a backlash and boycotts.

The agency behind AeroMexico’s ad is Ogilvy, who also work for BA. Would we ever see a similarly provocative ad from BA or Virgin on Brexit? Probably not. The safety net for AeroMexico is that the people mocked in the ad were unlikely to travel with the airline in any event.

Cathay Pacific “You Asked Us” Series

Cathay Pacific has launched a nicely animated “You Asked Us” video series.

This video covers Cathay Pacific’s fleet decisions, such as its preference to offer a higher frequency of five Boeing 777-300 flights on London Heathrow – Hong Kong, instead of operating three Airbus A380s carrying the same number of passengers.

Kuwait Airways Returns To Baker Street

One of the last vestiges of the pre internet travel era is the city centre airline ticket office.

In spite of high demand for commercial property and soaring prices, there are still a good number dotted around London.

On Baker Street, you’ll find offices for Air Algerie and China Eastern. Elsewhere, there’s Eva Air in Euston and Thai Airways in Mayfair. Many, such as Korean Air in Piccadilly, have closed.

An always busy Kuwait Airways office closed on Baker Street a couple of years ago and is now occupied by a boxing club. However, the airline is now due to return in a new unit across the street which is now being fitted out.

Who knows maybe one day an airline will follow Apple and Samsung and launch a fully fledged “experience” store on the high street.

Etihad Holidays At Paddington

Etihad Holidays is launching, to use marketing speak, an “activation” at Paddington station this week.

Designed to promote the new Etihad Holidays website, from Tuesday 22 to Wednesday 23 January, the “sci-fi, steampunk style” activation will feature Etihad’s “Holiday machine” with prizes, including a chance to win a free trip to Abu Dhabi.

The general rule with these type of events is it’s worth stopping by, if you have the time when passing through.

Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 21 January 2019”