Airbus has unveiled the latest member of its A321 family of aircraft, the Airbus A321XLR.
This will be the longest range single aisle aircraft in the world. Airbus plans for the aircraft to be available from 2023. It has a 15% longer range than the Airbus A321LR aircraft with a range of 4,700 nautical miles. Airbus has cited London – Miami and New Delhi as feasible routes – though established airlines in the UK will be looking at new destinations not already served by wide body aircraft. The aircraft is designed to accommodate 180-220 passengers.
There are attractions for airlines in that has a lot of commonality with Airbus A320 family aircraft, which is of course the workhorse of short-haul travel in Europe. Though, it remains to be seen how willing passengers will be spend nearly ten hours on a single aisle aircraft.
In terms of orders, the third party lessor Air Lease Corporation has signed a Letter of Intent for 27 of the aircraft at the Paris Air Show. Middle East Airlines has also signed a firm order for four of aircraft.
Further orders may be forthcoming at the Paris Air Show this week. However, we would hazard a guess that many other airlines will want to see how the Airbus A321LR performs before committing to the Airbus A321XLR.
Today, Saturday 2 March 2019, marks the 50th anniversary since Concorde’s first flight.
The French prototype Concorde 001 completed its maiden flight in Toulouse on 2 March 1969. The flight was crewed by flight Captain Andre Turcat, co-pilot Jacques Guignard, flight engineer Michel Retif and mechanical engineer Henri Perrier. On its first flight the aircraft was limited to flying at 250 knots and 10,000 ft.
The British prototype Concorde 002 completed its first flight on 9 April 1969. Piloted by Brian Trubshaw and co-pilot John Cochrane, the aircraft flew from Bristol Fulton airport to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. London received its first sighting of the aircraft two months later when it flew over Central London on the Queen’s official birthday.
The history of Concorde is of course well documented. Events are taking place at a number of sites today to mark the anniversary. Aerospace Bristol will also be holding events throughout the year.
Aviation has always attracted dreamers and it would remiss to not encourage progress. However, we live in industry where efficiency and discipline, in good times and bad, rules.
Even if a new aircraft was to come to fruition it is unlikely that the major airline groups would be prepared to buy it. Nor would major corporate clients be willing to give the revenue guarantees it would require to be profitable. The era of overt corporate largesse is over.
The future is, sadly, not speed, but flying as efficiently as possible for both the airlines and those paying for the tickets.
For day flights, speed is less important with in-flight connectivity. For night flights, whilst some way short of your own bedroom, there are of course reasonably comfortable flat beds in business class.
Progress will be linking new city pairs that were previously not feasible either due to aircraft efficiency or distance. For the next innovation, all eyes are on Qantas to see whether it will order aircraft capable of flying from London to Melbourne and Sydney non-stop.
Flybmi, formerly known as bmi regional, has suspended operations with immediate effect.
The following statement was published on its website shortly after 18:30 GMT on Saturday 16 February 2019.
Press Release: 16 February 2019
British Midland Regional Limited, the East Midlands-based airline which operates as flybmi, has today announced that it has ceased operations and is filing for administration.
Flybmi operates 17 regional jet aircraft on routes to 25 European cities.
All flights have been cancelled with effect from today. Customers who booked directly with flybmi should contact their payment card issuer to obtain a refund for flights which have not yet taken place. Customers who have booked flybmi flights via a travel agent or one of flybmi’s codeshare partner airlines are recommended to contact their agent or airline for details of options available to them. Customers who have travel insurance should contact their travel insurance provider to find out if they are eligible to claim for cancelled flights and the procedure for doing so.
A spokesperson for flybmi said:
“It is with a heavy heart that we have made this unavoidable announcement today. The airline has faced several difficulties, including recent spikes in fuel and carbon costs, the latter arising from the EU’s recent decision to exclude UK airlines from full participation in the Emissions Trading Scheme. These issues have undermined efforts to move the airline into profit. Current trading and future prospects have also been seriously affected by the uncertainty created by the Brexit process, which has led to our inability to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe and lack of confidence around bmi’s ability to continue flying between destinations in Europe. Additionally, our situation mirrors wider difficulties in the regional airline industry which have been well documented.
“Against this background, it has become impossible for the airline’s shareholders to continue their extensive programme of funding into the business, despite investment totalling over £40m in the last six years. We sincerely regret that this course of action has become the only option open to us, but the challenges, particularly those created by Brexit, have proven to be insurmountable.
“Our employees have worked extremely hard over the last few years and we would like to thank them for their dedication to the company, as well as all our loyal customers who have flown with us over the last 6 years.”
Bmi Regional employed a total of 376 employees based in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Belgium.
Flybmi operated a fleet of Embraer 135 and 145 aircraft. It operated just one schedule route from London, Stansted to Derry. It also had a larger presence at UK regional airports, notably Bristol, as well as Newcastle and Aberdeen.
The airline was formerly a subsidiary of bmi British Midland. It was sold to private investors in 2012 when bmi was acquired by International Airlines Group from Lufthansa.
The operating company, British Midland Regional Ltd, is ultimately owned by Airline Investments Ltd. This company also owns Loganair which is not affected by this news.
This, along with the acquisition of Flybe by the Connect Airways consortium, is not good news for many UK regional airports. It points to considerable weakness in the market for point-to-point regional jet services. It does also mean the final end of the bmi name.
At the time of writing there hasn’t been a response from the Civil Aviation Authority. However, guidance should be available shortly in its website.
For passengers who have purchased flights that have been cancelled, the best advice is to contact your credit company for a refund. Rival airlines may also announce “rescue fares” in the coming days. A full list of FAQs has also been published at the foot of the Flybmi website.
Update 23:30 GMT Saturday 16 February
The Civil Aviation Authority has provided general guidance for passengers on its website.
Eastern Airways confirmed on its Twitter feed that its Flybe franchise service between Norwich and Aberdeen (which was operated with Flybmi aircraft) is not affected by today’s news and continues as normal with alternative aircraft.
Update 17:00 GMT Sunday 17 February
British Airways is offering special fares for Flybmi passengers who need to return home.
Fares are available between London and Aberdeen, Belfast, Billund, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Newcastle, and Oslo. These must be booked by telephoning BA directly and quoting your Flybmi booking reference.
These fares are available for travel up to Sunday 3 March 2019.
easyJet is offering a special fare between Bristol and Paris Charles de Gaulle for passengers who need to return home. This is available for booking up to Wednesday 27 February for travel up to Sunday 17 March 2019. Full details are available from easyJet.
Loganair has announced it is to takeover a number of former Flybmi routes:
Aberdeen to Bristol, Esberg and Oslo from Monday 4 March; Newcastle to Brussels and Stavanger from Monday 25 March. These will be available for booking at Loganair from Monday 18 February.
Update Monday 18 February
The accountancy firm BDO has been appointed administrators of Flybmi. Passengers should continue to follow guidance on the Flybmi website. Creditors and employees should follow guidance from BDO.
Airbus has officially confirmed that it is to end production of the Airbus A380 in 2021.
The announcement was made today, Thursday 14 February, as Airbus announced its financial results for 2018.
The Airbus A380 has been a presence at Heathrow for over ten years. It was on 18 March 2008, that Singapore Airlines flight SQ308 arrived at London Heathrow from Singapore Changi marking the beginning of scheduled A380 flights from London Heathrow.
Emirates and Qantas soon followed at London Heathrow. As did Etihad, Korean Air, Malaysian Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Thai Airways, albeit with varying frequencies.
Emirates now operates up to 7 A380 flights from London Heathrow a day. It is is the largest operator of the A380 by some considerable margin.
Last year, it ordered 20 additional aircraft with options for 16 more. According to the Airbus order book for January 2019, Emirates had 109 A380s in service, with 53 aircraft to be delivered.
However, Emirates has now decided to reduce its order substantially by 39 aircraft in favour of 40 A330neo and 30 A350 aircraft.
Beyond Emirates, there has been little appetite to order more aircraft. Qantas officially confirmed last week that it will not exercise options to add to the existing 12 in its fleet. There has also been a notable lack of interest in second-hand aircraft.
Some airlines have also reduced A380 flights at Heathrow. Malaysian ended daily A380 flights last year, in favour of the Airbus A350. Qantas has switched one of its two A380 routes to a non-stop Boeing 787 Dreamliner service to Perth. Qantas is also studying next-generation twin-engine aircraft to fly non-stop from London to Sydney and Melbourne.
Whilst the A380 has been popular with passengers, efficiency rules and it seems clear that airlines see the future of long-haul travel is twin-engined.
This announcement by Airbus seems to have settled the perennial question of whether BA will order any more aircraft. It has 12 in its fleet, with options for 7 more. It’s clearly serving the airline well, with a year-round presence on routes such as Hong Kong, Johannesburg and Los Angeles. However, IAG CEO Willie Walsh has always insisted that the purchase price for new aircraft is too high. With production now due to end, there seems no prospect of an order.
Forty years ago this year, a now largely forgotten airline invented what is arguably the single most influential force on passenger behaviour in air travel.
The airline was a small regional US airline called Texas International Airlines. It’s invention was the frequent flyer programme.
In 1978, the US airline market was deregulated. This allowed US airlines to choose their own routes and set their own fares without Government approval. Established airlines facing newer upstarts turned to incentive programmes to revive falling revenues and profits.
By today’s standards, it was relatively unsophisticated. Passengers earned paper coupons which could be pooled to earn free flights. Texas International Airlines’ programme did not last long as the airline was acquired by Continental in 1982.
American Airlines launched its “AAdvantage” programme on 1 May 1981, which American widely credits as the first true frequent flyer programme. At the time of launch, it wasn’t certain it would last. However, all major US airlines quickly followed suit. And they were an instant success.
The basic premise was as it is today: Provide miles to passengers who fly on your airline at someone else’s expense which can be redeemed for free flights and other benefits.
It is the perfect dovetail of a free flight that would otherwise cost thousands of pounds for the passenger, which the airline can provide at minimal marginal cost.
The technology then was of course much less advanced than today. The New York Times in 1982 reports of membership packs taking weeks to arrive and miles recorded with the aid of paper log books and multi-coloured coupons:
A call to the airline is usually all it takes to register, and within three to four weeks members receive packets with all the necessary supplies. T.W.A. uses pink-patterned stickers that are attached to the ticket at the boarding gate, Republic Airways provides program members with a “passport” that is validated each time they book a flight, and Eastern Airlines mails its members “ionosphere blue checkbooks” filled with coupons.
By 1984, an estimated 75% of US business travellers were members of a frequent flyer programme. The programmes soon expanded their reach with the ability to earn miles from car hire and hotels, and redeem miles on international partner airlines.
Even without the aid of internet blogs and forums passengers quickly learned how to exploit the programmes to maximum advantage, as reports the The New York Times in 1984:
The programs have proved so successful since their introduction in 1981, say industry analysts, that loyalty is now verging on fanaticism for a growing number of passengers. Those most seriously bitten by the free-ticket bug even design business trips with the incentives in mind, to the point of flying to unnecessary cities just to increase the haul.
“I hear passengers in airports talking about how many miles they have on this or that program,” says David Aiken, a travel agent with Inverness Travel in Manhattan. “Travelers are very aware of what they are entitled to, and compare notes about the expanded range of frequent-flier tie-ins or add- ons. It’s like remembering how much money you have in the bank.”
Business travelers “will call and demand an airline,” says Steve Zinaman, senior vice president of Travel Horizons Unlimited, also in Manhattan. “They will refuse to fly another carrier even if the timing and fare are better, just so they can add to their mileage programs. That is real loyalty.”
As the programmes gained in popularity and airlines competed to win business travellers, they became more complex and convoluted. Again the New York Times reports:
As the programs have expanded they have become extraordinarily intricate, and the award descriptions can sometimes be baffling.
For example, a T.W.A. frequent flier who has flown 50,000 miles may choose: “One free first class round-trip ticket to any Eastern domestic or international destination. Plus a first class round-trip upgrade for the price of a round-trip coach ticket for a traveling companion. For international travel this bonus award also includes one free first class round-trip ticket on connecting T.W.A. or Eastern flights to the nearest Eastern gateway city, and a first class round-trip upgrade for the price of a round-trip coach ticket on the same T.W.A. or Eastern connecting flight for a traveling companion.”
There is a footnote: the two passengers must travel together.
“There’s no way to rein it in any more,” said one exasperated official of a leading airline, which offers its own complex program. “It’s a monster.”
And not everyone was enamoured with the concept. Two groups in particular: the companies who actually paid for the tickets; and the Internal Revenue Service who questioned whether the benefits should be taxed.
Unsurprisingly for a notoriously litigious country, one US corporation launched a law suit:
A Texas-based real estate company, Southmark/Envicon Capital Corporation, sued seven airlines in April, saying the carriers were committing “commercial bribery” by giving benefits to employees without the permission of the employers and with the intent of influencing the employees on behalf of the airline.
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhatttan on behalf of all similarly situated companies, also charged the airlines with interfering with the fiduciary responsibility of employees by inducing them to book roundabout flights that carry more mileage credits, for the employees’ benefit and to the employers’ disadvantage.
The action further asserted that the airlines, by limiting the beneficiaries to individuals, were wrongfully preventing the awards from flowing to the rightful parties, the companies paying for the tickets. The lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing the airlines from excluding companies as frequent flier beneficiaries and seeks the return of money Southmark says has been lost through increased travel costs.
Today, Saturday 9 February 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Boeing 747.
The first Boeing 747 aircraft, named “City Of Everett”, took off from Everett in Washington State.
Pan American World Airways was the first airline to operate passenger flights, from New York to London on 21 January 1970. Trans World Airlines followed shortly afterwards, operating the aircraft on domestic flights between New York and Los Angeles.
Aside from meeting Federal Aviation Administration requirements, the immediate concern was the ability of airports to handle the aircraft, at the time the biggest passenger jet in service. Both London Heathrow and New York JFK had to implement makeshift arrangements to handle the aircraft.
It may seem strange to think now, but there were also doubts as to whether airlines could fill the aircraft with passengers.
One of the two immediate predecessor airlines to British Airways, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) began passenger flights from London to New York on 14 April 1971. It had been delayed by a year, partly due to an industrial dispute with its pilots.
The 747 has of course been the mainstay of BOAC’s successor airline and its main UK rival Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic began passenger flights from London Gatwick to New York in 1984, using a leased second-hand Boeing 747-200.
BA ordered the Boeing 747-200 shortly after the airline came into existence in 1974. These, along with BOAC’s original Boeing 747s remained with BA until the 1990s. BA then placed a substantial order for the Boeing 747-400 in 1986 and 1990.
At its peak BA had 57 Boeing 747-400 aircraft in service, all delivered between 1989 and 1999. As of February 2019, there are now 34 aircraft in service. The precise retirement schedule is under constant review, but current plans are that the aircraft will be retired by February 2024. Virgin Atlantic also plans to retire its last Boeing 747s before then.
The Boeing 747 used to touch all parts of BA’s network. It has also operated many Royal flights, including Prince Charles to Hong Kong for the official handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. 747 charter flights for sports teams include “Sweet Chariot” for the England Rugby team to the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, “Pride” for Team GB to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and “Air Force Scrum” for the British & Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa in 2009,
The Boeing 747 now largely operates exclusively on North American routes and some routes to Africa.
Two events sealed the fate of the Boeing 747 at BA.
In the late 1990s when BA faced falling yields due to price competition, it decided to opt for the smaller Boeing 777-200 which is now the largest single long-haul aircraft type at the airline. The financial crisis of 2008 also saw a number of aircraft retired.
BA is now the last operator of Boeing 747 passenger flights at Heathrow. There is a very long list of airlines that no longer operate the 747, either to Heathrow or at all, including Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and United.
Whilst the 747s of today may not have the lounges of the original aircraft of the 1970s and they are some way behind more modern aircraft, there are still many aspects that are popular with passengers, namely the upper deck and the nose. Short of a major economic shock prompting BA to radically change its fleet plans, there is a good five years in the Boeing 747 yet.
This year marks 40 years since the introduction of business class.
That’s if you believe Qantas’ claim that it was the first airline to introduce a dedicated business class cabin.
It was not the first airline to introduce a class between economy and First Class. BA introduced “Executive Class” in 1977, later to become “Super Club”. Pan Am introduced its “Clipper Class” on 29 October 1978. That year, Delta also introduced “Medallion Service”. However, this was essentially designated economy seating with enhanced amenities for passengers purchasing full fare tickets.
The basis for Qantas’ claim seems to it introduced a dedicated cabin on its Boeing 747s in 1979, as per the advert below for the UK press in 1983.
Qantas promised a dedicated check-in, priority baggage handling, a separate cabin with dedicated cabin crew, wider seats and a choice of meals served on fine bone china.
A very Happy New Year to all our readers around the world.
We got new routes!
In 2019, we will see many new routes, and former routes from London reinstated.
By this time next year we may also know whether in three years’ time we will be able to fly to Sydney non-stop. Here’s a quick run through of new routes launching in 2019.
London Gatwick Long-Haul
Norwegian continues to reshape its London Gatwick network, launching Rio de Janeiro four times weekly from Sunday 31 March.
It will also swap routes from Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale and Oakland to Miami and San Francisco International respectively from 31 March.
Austin and Seattle will also resume following their winter seasonal suspension on Friday 1 March and 31 March respectively.
In theory, Norwegian is supposed to take delivery of the Airbus A321 Long Range this year and may announce more transatlantic routes but this is very much dependent on its overall financial health.
London Heathrow Long-Haul
Virgin Atlantic will transfer Las Vegas from Gatwick to Heathrow from 31 March.
Air China will transfer Chengdu from Gatwick to Heathrow from 31 March.
BA will return to Osaka after a near 20 year absence, four times weekly from 31 March.
American Airlines will launch a daily service to Phoenix from 31 March.
BA will return to Pittsburgh, four times weekly, from Tuesday 2 April.
BA will fly to Charleston twice a week from Thursday 4 April until Thursday 24 October. It’s relatively unusual for BA to launch a low frequency seasonal long-haul route, and if a success, this could presage more route announcements.
Two certain events are likely to dominate in 2019.
The first is BA’s centenary celebrations.
The airline will officially celebrate its centenary on Sunday 25 August 2019. This will mark 100 years since the first scheduled international passenger service between London and Paris.
It can be said with confidence there will be a lot of PR activity in advance of this. The airline has already said there will be “100 acts of kindness” throughout the year as part of its “BA Magic” series. You can also expect a lot of in-flight service improvements in the first half of the year.
The second is that both BA and Virgin Atlantic will take delivery of their first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
Both airlines will be introducing entirely new Club World and Upper Class cabins respectively.
This is the first time both airlines will undertake a full redesign of their cabins since they each introduced fully flat beds. BA will be abandoning its patented “yin-yang” layout. Virgin is also expected to replace its current herringbone design.
It’s hard to envisage both airlines not going for something other than a forward facing 1-2-1 design. Though both will want to differentiate themselves in the market. Whoever comes up with the leading design, will Virgin let BA have the last word? Probably, not.
As events this year have shown, there is no shortage of willing entrants on the UK transatlantic market. JetBlue, subject to obtaining slots, may announce new transatlantic routes from Boston and New York to London.
Like JetBlue, WestJet is respected local brand. However, it’s entry into the transatlantic market a couple of years ago got off to a very difficult start, primarily due to the reliability of its Boeing 767s. Its competitiveness should improve significantly next year when it introduces the Boeing 787 with its first international business class cabin at Gatwick.
Qantas is also expected confirm next year whether it will launch non-stop flights from London to Sydney.
It is currently in discussions with Airbus and Boeing about placing an order for suitable aircraft. The launch of non-stop flights to Perth this year generated huge amounts of PR for the airline and has, at least as far as Qantas is prepared to say, has been a commercial success.
In terms of loyalty programmes, easyJet will be making another move onto BA territory by launching its first ever frequent flyer currency. Virgin will also relaunching its frequent flyer programme as it, subject to regulatory approval, launches a new combined transatlantic joint-venture with Air France-KLM.
The two big unknowns are Flybe and Norwegian.
Virgin Atlantic confirmed shortly before Christmas that it is still in discussions with Flybe. This does suggest that it is serious in its intent.
In theory, next year Norwegian is supposed delivery of yet more Boeing 737 MAX8 and Boeing 787 aircraft, and its first Airbus A321 Neo Long Range aircraft. However, it’s clear from an update shortly before Christmas that preserving cash is currently a priority. Norwegian will be selling aircraft – both existing and those yet to be delivered. Whatever happens next, the era of rapacious growth is simply over.
Things have gone very quiet regarding IAG and Norwegian. That is not to say there isn’t activity behind the scenes – it’s when there’s an impasse that there are leaks. IAG is not an organisation to shy away from hard work and would relish the “transformational” aspects of any acquisition, specifically in the Nordic region and at Gatwick. However, given the number of overlapping city pairs between IAG airlines and Norwegian, it’s hard not to see slot significant divestures being demanded by competition regulators.
As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time for a customary look back at the year gone by.
It was a year of many airline failures. Some came and went in the UK market very quickly. Others will enter 2019 facing continued uncertainty.
Consolidation In Europe Has Some Way To Go
Over the past 15 years or so, legacy airlines in Europe have consolidated into one of Air France-KLM, International Airlines Group and Lufthansa.
easyJet and Ryanair have become the dominant low cost airlines.
After the failure of Air Berlin and Monarch in 2017, CityJet, once dominant at London City, suspended scheduled flying and now provides wet lease services only. Cobalt Air, Primera Air, and VLM Airlines failed.
Flybe is searching for a new owner. Finnair repeatedly indicates a desire to play its part in consolidation. There is some way to go yet.
Reykjavik Is Not Dubai
Iceland’s WOW air once had an ambition.
If Dubai could capture great swathes of connecting traffic between Europe and Africa and Asia, then why could Reykjavik not do the same across the North Atlantic?
The answer of course is what Emirates did at Dubai to great effect was provide passengers between Europe and Asia and Australia with scores of new one-stop connections that previously required two changes. And all in better comfort.
There are of course ample direct flights between most major European and North American gateways and many connection opportunities at better connected airports.
This did not deter WOW air which embarked on an aggressive expansion plan, launching many new US cities from Reykjavik. This now lays in tatters. It is rapidly shedding itself of aircraft and routes in the hope of securing a new investor. Continue reading “2018 – A Year In Air Travel”