May 2018: Route Review + Route Development of the Month

As summer is ushered in, most airlines are already in full swing, with their summer schedule finalised. Now, the focus turns to new routes for the winter season, with some carriers already planning ahead to May 2019. Here’s my pick of this month’s route development news:

ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES: MANCHESTER ON THE HORIZON

The route was officially announced on May 14th, and celebrated at Manchester Airport.

Ethiopian Airlines will be expanding its network to serve a second UK destination from December – Manchester. The new service will operate four-weekly with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment, via Brussels. Reservations opened for the new route this week, with two travel classes available: Business and Economy. It is hoped the Manchester-Addis Ababa connection will encourage more tourism to Africa, with the wealth of onward connections available to the south of the continent.

You can book the new Manchester-Brussels-Addis Ababa flight here to try out Ethiopian Airlines!

VIRGIN ATLANTIC: MANCHESTER EXPANSION WITH NEW ROUTE TO LAX AND A NEW HEATHROW-LAS VEGAS FLIGHT

Virgin Atlantic will further expand its base in Manchester next summer, with the launch of a brand new non-stop connection to Los Angeles. The airline will offer three-weekly flights to LAX, from May 25th 2019, allowing customer’s to connect to Delta’s onward flight network. Virgin Atlantic will find themselves in direct competition with Thomas Cook on the sector, but Virgin will have the monopoly when it comes to business flyers and high-yielding passengers. Additionally, frequencies on the Manchester-Las Vegas and Manchester-Boston routes will increase by up to 50% and the airline will hike capacity from the North of England to Atlanta and New York operating the Boeing 747-400 throughout the summer. The new Manchester-Los Angeles route will be bookable on the 25th June 2018 – cheap Business class fares can be found here.

JET AIRWAYS: MUMBAI IS NOW CONNECTED TO MANCHESTER

Manchester will be connected to India from November 5th, with a non-stop four weekly route to Mumbai. Jet Airways will operate the route, with Airbus A330-200 equipment, offering Business Class (in a 1-1-1 configuration) and Economy Class. The route will be the only nonstop flight between the North of England and India and will bring an unprecedented economic boost to the Manchester region.

Jet Airways’ new route will offer an economic boost to the North of England and will stimulate new Business and Leisure travel demand.

WIDEROE: FIRST E-2 TO UK WILL FLY FROM LIVERPOOL TO BERGEN

The Scandinavian carrier Wideroe has announced the launch of a new nonstop route between Western Norway and Northern England, choosing Liverpool John Lennon Airport as its gateway. The new services will mark the first time the Embraer E190 E-2 (of which Wideroe is the launch customer) has visited the UK, flying twice weekly on the LJLA-Bergen route from the 17th August 2018.

Wideroe’s Embraer E-2, with a refreshed livery.

ETIHAD: ABU DHABI-NEW YORK FREQUENCY HALVED, BUT ADDS NEW ROUTE TO BARCELONA

Etihad Airways is cutting route and frequencies left, right and centre. Flights to Edinburgh were one of the most recent casualties, leaving Scotland without a direct flight to Abu Dhabi. However, this most recent development represents the largest cut yet. Etihad will end one of its two daily frequencies to New York JFK (both of which are currently operated by the Airbus A380), leaving the airline with 6-weekly A380 flights and 1-weekly B777 flight. This is an extreme cut in capacity and is the most prominent indicator yet that the Middle Eastern airline is experiencing financial difficulties.

Despite this, Etihad is trying to expand in other markets. A five-weekly flight to Barcelona will launch in November from its Abu Dhabi hub, operating with Airbus A330-200 aircraft. It will be interesting to see how Etihad competes on this route with its Gulf rivals both already present; Emirates and Qatar Airways.

You can book the new Barcelona service and find other cheap Etihad flights on Etihad’s website here. 

BRITISH AIRWAYS: ANGOLA SERVICE SUSPENDED, BUT NEW FLIGHT TO DURBAN ANNOUNCED

British Airways has been more adventurous recently with long haul route development- with new flights to New Orleans, Santiago de Chile and Austin in recent years.

British Airways has announced a new non-stop connection to its third South African gateway; Durban. BA previously served Durban with a one-stop flight via Johannesburg, between 1981 and 1999. The new flight, however, will currently be the only non-stop connection between Europe and Durban, operating with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment thrice-weekly.

Simultaneously, however, BA is cutting one African route, with the suspension of services from London Heathrow to Luanda, in Angola.

ROYAL BRUNEI AIRLINES: LONDON GOES NON-STOP

Royal Brunei Airlines is also revamping its short haul fleet, with the delivery of its first Airbus A320Neo. Photo Credit Dn280 (Airliners.net)

The national carrier of Brunei will de-link London from its Dubai flight, instead offering nonstop services to the UK capital, whilst maintaining flights to the UAE. The new nonstop service to London will then continue to Melbourne, offering a convenient connection to Australia and tapping into the vast yet highly competitive UK-Aus market. The airline’s UK General Manager, Adiel Mambara, predicted that the new one-stop flight between London and Melbourne will see the carrier “become a major player in the UK-Australia market”. This new development comes at an exciting time for Royal Brunei Airlines, as they have recently recieved their first A320Neo.  

WOW AIR: ICELAND TO INDIA NON-STOP

Following rapid expansion in North America, WOW Air will add to its network with a new flight from Reykjavik to Delhi. The flight is estimated to take 10hrs 30mins and will operate with the low cost carrier’s Airbus A330 equipment. It is intended that the airline will attract customers in search of inexpensive fares from its plethora of US destinations to connect onto the new flight in Iceland.

WOW Air will expand to the Indian subcontinent with its Airbus A330 equipment.

EMIRATES: EDINBURGH SERVICE WILL LAUNCH IN OCTOBER

Edinburgh – the only major UK airport without regular direct services to Dubai – will be served by Emirates from October 1st 2018. The new service will complement the carrier’s existing services from Glasgow and Newcastle and comes as Etihad Airways withdraws its Edinburgh-Abu Dhabi service.

Emirates will now serve Manchester, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh in the UK.

The daily route will launch on October 1st, departing Dubai at 0955 and arriving into Edinburgh at 1450, with the return leg leaving the Scottish capital at 2015 and landing back into Dubai at 0640 the following day. Flights will be operated with Boeing 777-300ER equipment, configured with 8 first class suites, 42 seats in business class and 304 in economy.


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Jet Airways Links Manchester and Mumbai; brings India closer to Europe

In 2016, the Manchester to Mumbai route saw 74,000 indirect passengers and 73,000 surface leakages to airports near to Manchester, making the city pair the largest unserved market from Mumbai around the world.

Now, Manchester has secured the elusive Indian connection. On November 5th, Jet Airways will launch four-weekly non-stop services from India’s economic capital, Mumbai, to its 21st international destination – Manchester. The airline will operate the service with its Airbus A330-200 aircraft and the new route will mark Jet Airways’ fifth non-stop UK to India service, making them the largest airline in the crucial Mumbai-UK market.

Manchester Airport is Britains third busiest and has had great success in route development in recent years.

Jet Airways’ flight 9W 130 will depart from Mumbai at 0230 and will arrive in Manchester’s Terminal 2 at 0755. The return flight, 9W 129 will depart from Manchester at 0935  and arrive in Mumbai’s Terminal 2 at 0040. The new flight may offer connections to Virgin Atlantic’s increasing transatlantic programme from Manchester, including easy connections to Boston, Atlanta, New York (JFK) and Orlando.

The A330-200 aircraft will features 254 seats, in a two-class configuration – including lie-flat seats in Jet Airways’ Premier Business Class and a comfortable 2-4-2 arrangement in Economy Class.

The airline’s Business Class features fully flat seats in a 1-1-1 ‘herringbone’ configuration – much like their partner, Virgin Atlantic’s, Upper Class offering.

The launch of this new service will provide seamless connectivity to several domestic destinations to and from India which include Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Bhuj, Bhopal, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Indore, Aurangabad, Jaipur, Chennai, Nagpur, Rajkot, Raipur, Udaipur, via the airline’s Mumbai hub. Similarly, quick connections to beyond points on Jet Airways’ international network such as Bangkok, Colombo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dhaka and Kathmandu, will now be available.

Economy Class passengers can enjoy comfortable 2-4-2 seating, with in-flight entertainment and adjustable headrests.

The new service will complement the carrier’s existing thrice daily, non-stop services between Mumbai – London Heathrow, and a daily service between Delhi – London Heathrow. The launch of the new service comes one year after the airline launched 3 new international services last year on Oct 29 to Amsterdam, Paris and London from Bengaluru, Chennai and Mumbai respectively.

The route is extremely significant to the economic success of the North of England.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said that the new direct flight is a ‘major milestone in our work to forge ties with the fastest growing economy in the world’ and Vinay Dube, the CEO of Jet Airways said:

‘Manchester – the fastest growing UK city outside of London is also Europe’s second largest digital hub. The city lies at the heart of the UK’s North and the area is home to leading companies from a range of industries including Aerospace, Automotive, Chemical, Financial, IT, Media, Pharmaceutical and Retail. Consequently, the new service between Mumbai and Manchester is expected to be of special significance to business travelers, as also for a significant diaspora of people, including a growing Indian community residing in and around Manchester’.

Jet Airways’ new route will offer an economic boost to the North of England and will stimulate new Business and Leisure travel demand.

This route is seen as a culmination of the efforts of the Manchester-India partnership, created earlier this year to boost links – catering for over 100 Indian companies which have bases across the North West of England.

‘the new route will strengthen connections between two major global cities and the wider northern powerhouse’

The Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr. Liam Fox

In the wake of the announcement of Ethiopian Airlines’ new route to Manchester earlier this week, Manchester is on track to welcome at least two new international carriers this winter. Both will offer flights to destinations only previously accessible from London Heathrow. If the route proves successful a service to Delhi could be introduced and operations to cities including Amritsar are a possibility, Jet Chairman Naresh Goyal said and it has also been suggested that the Mumbai route could be expanded to a daily operation by the start of the summer schedule, in March 2019.

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Ethiopian Airlines Announces NEW Route to Manchester


45 years after Ethiopia’s national carrier started serving London, the airline is rapidly expanding its horizons and today sets its sights on a second UK destination: Manchester.

Whilst the airline is not expected to use the A350 on the route, Ethiopian prides itself on their modern fleet – including the 787 and A350.

The new Manchester-Addis Ababa service (set to begin on December 1st 2018) will operate four times weekly using a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner  in a two-class layout, initially as an extension from the Belgian capital of Brussels.

The flight will depart Addis Ababa at 0045, arriving Manchester at 0655 (via Brussels). It will then depart Manchester at 1900, arriving in the Ethiopian capital the next day at 0600am. The times will optimise connections to South and sub-Saharan Africa.

The route was officially announced today (May 14th), and celebrated at Manchester Airport.

Ethiopian, Africa’s largest airline by passenger traffic, has developed a network that links 67 major global cities with almost 60 African destinations via its hub in Addis Ababa. About 400,000 people living within a two-hour drive of Manchester currently travel to Africa each year, Manchester Airport states, with the ‘gateway to the North’ drawing on a catchment area including the major cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. The new route will provide an important new business link for the North of England, with sub-Saharan Africa – months after MAG’s previous successes in securing Northern England’s first non-stop flights to Muscat, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Manchester Airport is Britains third busiest and has had great success in route development in recent years.

Manchester Airport CEO, Andrew Cowan, said:

“The introduction of this route underlines the critical role Manchester Airport plays in connecting the people and businesses of the North to the world’s most important markets. While we have served a number of African holiday destinations for many years, this service will provide vital connectivity to one of the continent’s most important hub airports. That will unlock dozens more destinations across Africa through Ethiopian Airlines’ unrivalled network.”

The strategy of linking a new destination onto an existing route is a ‘tried and tested’ formula for Ethiopian to test the demand of a new market but CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, has suggested that direct flights could begin as early as next year if the route is a success. He also believes the route will boost tourism, with great ‘socio-economic’ benefits and says that Brexit will not affect demand.

Return fares on the route will start at £499 in Economy Class and £1299 in Business Class for the whole route between Manchester and Ethiopia. You can book flights here!


Do you have any thoughts on the new route from Manchester to Addis Ababa? Contact me I’ll answer any questions you have.

ANA’s New Airbus A380 Product and Seatmap Announced

Whilst it is fair to say that the A380 order book is gathering dust – Airbus was recently even pondering discontinuing the A380’s production – there is one airline preparing to receive the so-called “Super-Jumbo”. All Nippon Airways is expecting to receive three Airbus A380-800s in early 2019 – the first Japanese airline to do so – and plans to fly them exclusively between Tokyo Narita and Honolulu.

This is a niche market to begin with, mainly catering for Japanese tourists so it may seem odd that ANA has announced that its A380s will be configured with four cabin classes – including first class.

The Onboard Product

 

A couple of weeks ago, ANA revealed more detailed information regarding the configuration on its new aircraft. Specifically, there will be 520 seats onboard ANA’s A380 – a higher capacity than many airlines offer on an A380, but lower than Emirates’ 615-seater two-class example. The configuration is relatively premium-heavy, for a primarily leisure route:

  • 8 first class seats
  • 56 business class seats
  • 73 premium economy seats
  • 383 economy seats, with a 3-4-3 configuration on the lower deck

Here is some more specific information ANA has released about each cabin class:

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The First Class ‘suites’ will be located at the front of the upper deck, in a 1-2-1 setup. They represent an evolution of ANA’s current first class offering, on their 777-300ER but by no means a revolution. The suites have a sleek, premium design, with lots of privacy and a wide seat.

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The airline’s new Business Class also features a new design and upholstery, but is similar to the practical yet comfortable arrangement on ANA’s 787s. Each seat offers direct-aisle access and a fully-flat seat.

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At the rear of the upper deck, Premium Economy will be in a 2-3-2 configuration, with a substantial leg rest, wide arm rest and personal reading light in every seat.

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Economy Class will span the entire lower-deck with the industry standard of a 3-4-3 set-up. It is also worth noting that the airline will offer 34″ seat pitch – well above average, for the comfort of its passengers. At the rear of the lower-deck will be ANA’s newest innovation, named ‘Couchii’, whereby a group of seats with the leg rest raised can form an area to relax or sleep. 60 of the 383 Economy seats will have this benefit.

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According to the seat-map, ANA will offer at least one ‘bar-counter’ in every class (yes, Economy too) and at the rear of the lower-deck will be a larger ‘multi-purpose room’, which could serve as a duty-free shop area, such as the ones seen on Korean Air’s A380s.

Three Special Liveries

Having held a design contest in Spring 2017, to decide the new livery on the first Japanese A380, ANA have clearly been inspired by the winning design. Apart from the original design, the airline has created two other variations of the livery. Each of the three A380 aircraft will have its own character, representing either sky, ocean or sunset – respectively named Lani, Kai and Ka La. These liveries are certainly eye-catching and represent the main elements of the Hawaiian Islands.

Lani, Kai and Ka La will represent sky, oceans and sunset respectively.

Ultimately, ANA’s A380 throws the double-decker programme a lifeline with a new airline receiving the super jumbo. The Japanese carrier has introduced rejuvenated cabins and a trio of spectacular liveries to coincide with the A380s delivery. Whilst the Japan-Hawaii market is large, I do see other opportunities for ANA to utilise its new equipment out of Tokyo – to Frankfurt or London-Heathrow, for example and I hope that the airline considers expanding its A380 network in the future.

You can search for ANA A380 flights and plan your next adventure, with cheap premium fare tickets here!

Route Review: April 2018 + Route Development of the Month

April was a quiet month for route announcements, with airlines already implementing their summer expansion yet still considering any new connections for the winter season. Nevertheless, here are my picks of this month’s most important route development news:

British Airways – Oakland Connection Goes Seasonal

After being launched with much fanfare, including a rather odd advertisement campaign, British Airways’ new Gatwick-Oakland, CA route will be suspended for the winter season from October 20th. The airline is keen to reinforce that the route will be revived from March 2019.

British Airways is expanding it’s recently launched Santiago de Chile route – the only non-stop Chile-UK connection.

Despite this, British Airways will also be initiating expansion to the US and South America. The new Heathrow-Santiago de Chile flight, launched last year, will be increased from four to five weekly, served by the four-class Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Simultaneously, from October 29th, the airline will add three additional weekly frequencies onto its ‘capital to capital’ Heathrow-Washington D.C. service, taking the total number of weekly flights to 17.

Etihad Airways – Further cutbacks, with Perth and Edinburgh getting the axe

Etihad’s flights from its Abu Dhabi hub to both Edinburgh and Perth will end on September 30th, following a string of recent cutbacks and financial difficulty. It is widely accepted that the yield or revenue per seat did not meet Etihad’s expectations. Much of the Middle East airlines’ core market revolves around Europe-Australasia connections however, indirect carriers to Europe like Etihad face increased price competition following the introduction of Qantas’ new non-stop Perth to London route. It remains to be seen whether Etihad will continue with its recent cutbacks, but the airline is facing financial reality and rationalisation must be carried out.

Air Belgium – No permit for overflying Russia

Despite a promising start, Air Belgium is facing difficulty in obtaining a permit to overfly Russia. The airline’s CEO – Niky Terzakis – says that ‘overflying Russian airspace is unavoidable’ and, as a result, the launch date for Air Belgium’s new Charleroi-Hong Kong flights has been postponed until June 3rd.

Air Belgium was previously scheduled to launch flights on April 30th, however, this has now been postponed.

VLM – Expanding rapidly, with only flights from Ostend-Bruges to the UK

VLM will introduce two new routes to Manchester from Belgium, beginning in October.  It is the first time that Manchester will have a direct flight to Ostend-Bruges, offering passengers easy access with daily flights to the stunning, medieval city of Bruges. Additionally, VLM will serve Antwerp from Manchester twice daily Monday to Friday, with daily flights over the weekend. The new flights are in addition to recently announced Antwerp-Aberdeen flights and presently operating Antwerp-Birmingham and London City links.

VLM launched Antwerp-Birmingham services, earlier this year, with Fokker 50 turboprops.

ROUTE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MONTH: WOW AIR EXPECTED TO LAUNCH REYKJAVIK-DELHI

Having rivalled Icelandair in the US-Europe transit market, WOW Air is now looking to cities further afield in a race to beat Icelandair to Asia. In an interview with the CEO of the airline it was revealed that WOW Air is planning to announce routes to Asia in May this year.

WOW Air would use A330s on any new routes to Asia.

He says that this is the area where he sees the most growth, and just as WOW Air has added 14 routes to North America in the past few years, he could also see WOW Air adding 14-15 destinations in Asia, making Iceland the “Dubai of the North.” India would be the obvious market, competing against the MEB3, to operate low-cost flights from the US. Cities such as Mumbai and Delhi are widely tipped to be first in line, with the airline holding a press conference in Delhi on May 15th. This will certainly be an interesting development in the world of low-cost air travel.

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Featured photo by Wasim Zemerly.

Aigle Azur’s Reinvention

New aircraft, a new image, new routes & new products on-board

Founded in 1946, Aigle Azur is the second-largest airline company in France. It benefits from a long rich history and celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016. Every year, Aigle Azur transports almost 2 million passengers aboard its fleet exclusively composed of Airbus aircraft through nearly 300 scheduled weekly flights from its bases in Lyon, Marseille and Paris.

In August 2017, the airline instated Frantz Yvelin as their Chief Executive Officer – marking a change in leadership – and, simultaneously, another new chapter was opened with the arrival of a new shareholder, David Neeleman, from the parent company of Hainan Airlines – HNA.

Earlier this year, at a press conference in Paris, the airline announced its long-term reinvention with a host of developments, including new aircraft, a new image, new products onboard and new routes. Whilst Aigle Azur has long been prominent in its traditional Mediterranean markets, it is now expanding further afield. Last year, the airline launched new services to Beirut and Moscow and the airline will strengthen its position in the intra-Europe market this summer – with a new route between Orly and Milan and expansion of the existing Berlin connection.

Aigle Azur will embark on a new journey, with three new routes this year.

Building on this European expansion, the airline will launch new long-haul services from Orly to Beijing-Capital (beginning June 21st) and Sao Paulo-Campinas (beginning July 5th). Both services will operate on a three-weekly basis – although the latter will increase to five-weekly in September – with Aigle Azur’s new Airbus A330-200s.

France’s second largest carrier currently has twelve aircraft in its fleet (9x A320s and 1x A319) – but this is increasing to 12 with the arrival of two new A330-200s.

The refreshing yet classy identity of Aigle Azur

These new aircraft will operate the new services to Beijing and Sao Paulo and will reinforce current operations from Paris to Bamako, Algiers, Oran and Porto. In addition, these A330s will debut a new onboard product, divided into two classes, Business and Economy.

The new Economy class will feature VOD entertainment systems

The new Business Class will have fully-flat seats, a state-of-the-art on-board VOD-type entertainment system, mood lighting and access to Wi-Fi. Finally, the airline has unveiled a new visual identity, which includes a reimagined livery, which can only be described as refreshingly gorgeous. This is all part of Aigle Azur’s aim to compete with the best business class carriers and to ‘conquer new business opportunities’.

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As a growing carrier, the airline is also keen to form close  partnerships with airlines from around the world. Logically, Aigle Azur will codeshare with Brazilian carrier Azul – whose largest hub is in Sao Paulo-Campinas and will provide endless connections around Brazil for Aigle Azur’s customers – and the Chinese five-star carrier Hainan Airlines.

“This flight represents another milestone in the growth of Viracopos as a major hub of Azul. We are very excited about adding Paris to our ever growing domestic and international network. We will offer fast and convenient connections from all over Brazil to Paris.”

the chief revenue officer, Azul linhas aereas

Aigle Azur will also form a strategic and commercial partnership with Air Caraibes – a major client of Paris-Orly – and the Portugese flag carrier TAP.

Ultimately, seeing a regeneration of an airline is always interesting. Aigle Azur is sticking to its former markets faithfully but, also, expanding rapidly into unchartered territory for an airline of its size. Flying from Paris-Orly (an airport arguably more convenient for Business travellers travelling into Paris), with a variety of partners around the world and a globally competitive product, Aigle Azur is enjoying something of a renaissance.

 

A Compromise on Safety? Qantas adds seats on A380s, by deactivating Emergency Exits

The Australian national carrier, Qantas, has a remarkable safety record; no fatalities or hull losses in the jet era. This extraordinary record of pioneering safety achievements spans the airline’s 97 year history. In 2008, the Advertising Standards Agency challenged Qantas’ remarks that it was the world’s ‘most experienced’ airline. The carrier defended itself fiercely, listing 30 notable industry-leading achievements. I have a feeling that this latest development won’t go down as one of those symbolic actions.

Qantas launched the first ever Aus-UK non-stop flight last month.

After receiving the Airbus A380 10 years ago, the aircraft has become the backbone of the airline’s long haul fleet. In 2012, the airline announced plans to increase the seat count on its aircraft from 450 to 484 seats, by removing toilets and squashing in more seats. Last week, the airline announced its intention to become the launch customer for Airbus’ new ‘Cabin Flex’ programme. The initiative will deliver up to 11 more Premium Economy seats or 7 more Business Class seats. However, there’s a catch. In order to accommodate the new seats, Qantas will be deactivating emergency exits on the upper deck. Here’s how Airbus describes the new line-fit or retrofit solution:

A380 Cabin Flex makes extra space for additional seats  by allowing the upper deck “Doors-3” to be deactivated. The programme can bring up to 11 more Premium Economy seats or 7 more Business Class seats.

The so-called ‘enhancement’ is clearly attractive for airlines. Airbus predicts that there will be a Return on Investment (RoI) in just one year. The cabin-flex option is available to be fitted on new aircraft on delivery or retrofitted onto existing aircraft.

Our author, James, reviewed Qantas’ A380 Economy product earlier this year

Qantas have no plans to receive any more A380s – instead continuing to operate the 12 double-deckers already in their fleet. We don’t know yet whether Qantas will simply install seats in front of the exit doors – which is bound to be confusing for passengers, especially in an emergency – or just cover them up.  Furthermore, the press release never mentions safety. It is widely known that the maximum evacuation time for an aircraft on fire is just 90 seconds. Does the removal of these exits have an affect on that?

Will the cabin-flex option have an adverse effect on safety?

Although the cabin-flex option is attractive for airlines, it certainly isn’t for passengers. With no reassuring message on safety in Airbus’ press release, Qantas need to clarify this immediately, instead of profiteering from extra seats.

Aegean Orders up to 42 A320neo aircraft, worth $5bn



In one of the largest investments by a private Greek company since the financial crisis in 2010, the Greek national flag carrier – Aegean Air – has selected its long-term fleet replacement. Valued at $5bn, the airline will proceed with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Airbus, for up to 42 aircraft within the A320neo family.

Aegean Air currently operates an all-Airbus fleet, so it should come as no surprise that the Greek carrier has opted to continue, in the interests of commonality. Specifically, the airline will order 30 members of the A320neo family (with at least 10 of these being placed for the larger A321neo, with options for further conversions). Of course, the MoU suggests the airline will eventually order 42 aircraft, so Aegean Air has options for twelve more planes.

Aegean currently operates 46 A320ceo aircraft – SX-DGZ is seen here in Manchester.

The final agreement with Airbus is estimated to be reached in June 2018 and will, of course, allow Aegean to increase capacity with new routes and more frequencies but also (in the longer term), replace their current fleet. In 2017, Aegean’s fleet consisted of 46 Airbus A320 family aircraft, along with 12 turboprops operating under the name of their subsidiary – Olympic Air, so this order could theoretically replace most of Aegean’s fleet in one swoop. Interestingly, however, Aegean has not named an engine supplier and has initiated negotiations with both engine manufacturers (CFM International or Pratt & Whitney).

“Today marks the beginning of new period of growth and development for AEGEAN. With the investment in new generation Airbus A320neo aircraft, we strengthen our competitiveness and provide a platform that empowers our people to further improve service to our passengers as well the, important, first impression we provide to visitors of our country.”

-mr eftichios vassilakis, vice chairman of Aegean air
Aegean Air’s current network, originating from Athens.

Aegean currently only operates flights within Europe and the Middle East, but clearly, the new aircraft, with increased range capabilities of additional 600 to 1,500 km (equivalent to 1 to 2 hours of extra flight hours), will enable the airline to expand further. Perhaps Aegean will be looking to emulate it’s neighbouring airlines such as Turkish, to create a hub in its Athens base. Traces of this approach can already be seen, as Athens acts as a connecting point for the Greek islands and Aegean now fly to destinations in the middle East such as Kuwait and Tehran. With aircraft such as the A321neo, the airline may be looking to launch flights to destinations such as Dubai, India and deeper Africa from it’s Athenian hub.

Ultimately, the order is important news for Aegean and Greece on the whole. The largest private investment in Greece will no doubt also bring benefit to the Greek population – with increased connectivity, comfort and tourism from their national carrier.

Air Belgium gets off to a flying start: Brussels-Hong Kong ON SALE and LAUNCHING 30th April

Air Belgium as a brand was reborn in 2016, having also been used as a leisure airline in the ’80s and ’90s. With this reincarnation, it is intended to be a full-service carrier, offering long-haul flights out of Brussels Charleroi Airport to Hong Kong – the only European carrier currently offering the prospect of a direct connection between Greater China and Belgium. Yesterday, Air Belgium took its biggest step yet on the road to inaugurating its Brussels-Hong Kong flights. In this article, we analyse Air Belgium’s plans for the future, frequencies, schedule and onboard service.

Air Belgium’s Airbus A340 (adorned with the national colours of Belgium). The airline now has two Airbus A340-300 aircraft: OO-ABA and -ABB.

In February, we recieved more information about Air Belgium’s business model. They aspire to have excellent customer service, with three classes of travel – including Economy, Premium & Business class. Economy Class will be configured in a 2-4-2 configuration, Premium offering a 2-3-2 set up and Business Class will offer lie-flat seats, staggered between 1-2-1 and 2-2-2. Once on board, the airline says its guests will be ‘immersed in a Belgian atmosphere’, with a broad supply of Belgian products. In Economy & Premium Economy, passengers will have the choice between two menus and Business Class travellers will be able to choose from three.

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Moving forward, the airline will offer a brand new Business Lounge at Brussels South-Charleroi airport. As of early 2019, customers will be welcomed in a brand new, dedicated premium terminal. Upon arrival, Premium and Business class travellers can drop their bags, complete the security check and continue to the luxury lounge. The airline even aspires to offer a car-plane transit time of just 20 minutes within this premium terminal.

Air Belgium’s A340 will be configured with four rows of Business Class, three rows of Premium Economy and the middle and rear portions of the aircraft will form the Economy class cabin.

Yesterday, Air Belgium took its biggest step yet on the road to launching flights. At 9am, on the 3rd April, Air Belgium opened its reservation platform. Air Belgium has confirmed that it will inaugurate its new link between Brussels and Hong Kong on the 30th April 2018, becoming the first European airline to link Belgium and the Far East directly. The airline will offer four non-stop services each week, leaving Brussels on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and leaving Hong Kong on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Under the IATA code of ‘KF’, the airline’s flights will be numbered KF851 and 852. The schedule will be as follows:

  • KF851 Leaving Brussels (CRL) at 1400, arriving Hong Kong (HKG) the following day at 0730, local time.
  • KF852 Leaving Hong Kong (HKG) at 1030, arriving back in Belgium at 1715.

Additionally, Air Belgium has further ambitions to connect Brussels to further destinations in China from this summer. Tickets to Hong Kong can be booked on airbelgium.com, and will become available on Global Distribution Systems (GDS) and other travel agencies – such as Skyscanner – in the coming weeks.

Air Belgium continues to tap into a niche in the Europe-Asia air market and will no doubt revolutionise the experience of flying intercontinental, with a breath of fresh air, with a completely Belgian approach. With big ambitions, the airline will need to establish itself as a new force in the aviation industry quickly. However, with competitive products, three cabin classes and frequent services. the patriotic Belgian carrier is off to a flying start.

Route Review: March 2018 + Route Development Of The Month




This month sees the start of the summer 2018 season and with it a raft of new flights. Along with some last minute announcements for the summer, the route development season is also heating up for the winter. This month saw the first ever direct link between China & Edinburgh/Dublin announced, for a mid summer launch, amidst other important announcements. See my pick of the month’s most important developments below:

This month’s Route Developments

Air New Zealand – Complementing Air NZ’s existing flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston, the New Zealand national carrier will launch ultra-long haul non-stop services from Auckland to Chicago O’Hare. The new service will be operated by one of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft and will begin on 30th November 2018, operating with the following schedule:

NZ26 Auckland-Chicago departing 8:10PM arriving 4:15PM [Wed, Fri, Sun]
NZ27 Chicago-Auckland departing 8:10PM arriving 6:30AM (+2) [Wed, Fri, Sun]

Air New Zealand’s other US routes are operated by the airline’s Boeing 777s.

Virgin Atlantic – After pulling out from the Cape Town market a couple of years ago, Virgin is expanding its Johannesburg operation (with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft). In this coming winter season, the airline will double its existing daily services to twice daily. Although the airline will continue to have a notable absence in its South African network (namely Cape Town), the new flight will offer more convenient connections onwards from Jo’Burg to the Cape.

Focusing on Virgin’s transatlantic operations, the airline will operate all 7 of their weekly Manchester-New York JFK flights with Boeing 747-400 equipment from late-May 2018, as part of its summer schedule that Callum wrote about earlier this week.  This represents an unprecedented hike in capacity from last summer – when the airline operated all of these daily services with an Airbus A330-300.

Delta Airlines owns a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic

Thomas Cook Airlines – Thomas Cook continue their expansion out of Manchester with a flight to Jamaica. Following the increase of their US flights from Manchester (specifically the addition of a Manchester-Seattle route from May this year), the airline will return to the Jamaican market with a route to Montego Bay. It will begin in Summer 2019, operating with Airbus A330-200 aircraft on a weekly basis. It will face competition from TUI UK – a more established carrier in this particular market.

Hainan Airlines – Last month, we broke the news on the possible addition of direct flights from Beijing to Ireland and Scotland. In mid-March, China’s only five star airline made a move on is expected expansion. In addition to its new London Heathrow operation and existing Beijing-Manchester services, Hainan will launch a 4-weekly Airbus A330-300 flight from Beijing-Edinburgh & Dublin. Both airports will receive non-stop services from the Chinese capital, as it will operate twice-weekly as a PEK-DUB-EDI-PEK routing and twice-weekly as a PEK-EDI-DUB-PEK triangle. The new flight is expected to boost the Scottish economy and attract more business to the area. The question is: will Hainan commit even further to the market and announce the expected new Guangzhou to Manchester route? Only time will tell.

Hainan’s economy product on the A330

Cobalt Air – Amidst rapid expansion (most recently with the announcement of a new London Heathrow-Larnaca flight), Cobalt Air will enter the Greece-UK market, with a new service from London Gatwick to Athens. A new twice-weekly service from London’s Gatwick Airport to Athens on Tuesdays and Saturdays, effective Saturday 31st March, 2018. Launch fares are available to book now from £49.00 one way. The new Athens service will be the second London Gatwick route for the carrier, alongside its existing six times a week Gatwick to Larnaca service. Both routes are operated with Airbus A320 aircraft , with a business and economy class cabin. Although Cobalt already flies from Athens to both Larnaca and Paphos, this will be the first route to Northern Europe originating in the Greek market and marks a major development in Cobalt’s business.

Cobalt Air’s fantastic Business Class in a 2-2 configuration, will be available between London and Athens.

Loganair – Loganair will inaugurate flights from newly renamed ‘Carlisle Lake District’ airport on June 4th this year. They will operate services to London (Southend) – as a partner of Stobart Air, who own both Carlisle and Southend airports – Dublin and Belfast. Cumbria is a notoriously tricky place to access, so with the development of Carlisle’s airport and a link to London, hopefully this marks the beginning for a tourism boom in the Lake District.

 Lufthansa- The German national carrier will remove it’s mainline long haul services from the German capital. Back in Autumn of 2017, Lufthansa resumed its long awaited services from Berlin-Tegel to New York JFK. Then, the plan was to transfer them to Lufthansa’s low cost subsidiary, Eurowings, by March 2018. However, it now transpires, that with the start of the summer schedule, Lufthansa will axe the route all together. Lufthansa’s CEO claims the route was unprofitable and the current timings appealed to low-yielding leisure travellers, rather than the business travellers the airline needs to run the route profitably.

Qatar Airways – Qatar already flies to Manchester, Heathrow, Birmingham, Edinburgh & Cardiff, in the UK, but earlier this month, they announced a resumption of services to London’s Gatwick airport – following a seven year hiatus. CEO Akbar Al Baker said the reason for withdrawal was the lack of transfer traffic, after all the US carriers moved to London Heathrow following the Openskies EU-US agreement. Today, Al Baker says they now have an increased feed from IAG partner British Airways. The services are expected to operate with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment, on a double daily basis to begin with.

Raj flew Qatar Airways back in February (the A350-1000 from Toulouse and the A380 from DOH-LHR)

NEW Route Development of the Month

Here, I’ll pick what I think is the most important and exciting route development of each month. This month, the most significant announcement was Hainan’s first ever non-stop services from Beijing-Capital to Edinburgh and Dublin. In 2016 Hainan pioneered Manchester’s first ever Mainland China connection and, two years later, they’ll do the same to another secondary city in the UK and Ireland’s capital.

Edinburgh will now be connected to China via a regular scheduled flight.

The new connection promises a boost in tourism, investment and a new momentum in the Scottish and Irish economies. In addition, for us aviation enthusiasts, the new flight is expected to have fifth-freedom rights between Edinburgh and Dublin, hopefully meaning that there’s a new short-haul widebody route on the horizon. See how myself, Raj and the LondonSpotter team fly wide-body aircraft intra-Europe in our earlier post.


Featured photo courtesy of Mackenzie Waddell (@fl36zero)