First African Member: Royal Air Maroc Joins Oneworld Alliance

The Moroccan Flag Carrier – Royal Air Maroc – is now set to join one of the world’s leading airline alliances, Oneworld. The airline will become Oneworld’s first African airline, adding 34 new destinations and 21 new countries to the alliance’s network. RAM is the first recruit to Oneworld for six years and is currently the largest unaligned carrier across the African continent.

Royal Air Maroc’s revised livery, revealed this week.

Royal Air Maroc will officially join the alliance in mid-2020, at which point the airline’s regional subsidiary will become an affiliate member.

Royal Air Maroc already has established partnerships with Qatar Airways and Iberia – both prominent members of the Oneworld alliance. Additionally, the airline has a sizable fleet of 55 aircraft, connecting its Casablanca base with 94 destinations,  including the Oneworld hubs of Doha, London Heathrow, Madrid, Moscow Domodedovo, New York JFK and Sao Paulo. RAM’s five-year plan will see it expand even further, aspiring to carry 13 million passengers each year to 121 airports worldwide.

RAM’s network is extensive throughout Europe and the Americas.

The announcement that Royal Air Maroc is joining the alliance also avoids controversy as current member airlines can exercise veto rights over the acession of a new carrier, which is a possibility in the hypothetical case of China Southern and Cathay Pacific – but not an issue here.

Royal Air Maroc offers a competitive onboard product, with the backbone of its long-haul fleet comprised of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The airline also has a 2-2 ‘true’ Business Class onboard its Boeing 737 aircraft, meaning it is a good option when connecting into Europe too.

Royal Air Maroc recently launched flights to the US capital – Washington D.C.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce confirmed at a New York conference, on behalf of Oneworld, that Royal Air Maroc would be joining the alliance, saying :

“We’re pleased to welcome Royal Air Maroc to Oneworld  Africa is the last major region where Oneworld does not have a  full member airline – and has one of the fastest predicted air travel growth rates over the next few decades.  Royal Air Maroc will deliver greater value for more customers worldwide as we expand our alliance network to a new region.”


Ultimately, this is a positive development for Oneworld as it provides member airlines and frequent flyers with better and more convinient access to Africa, with a competitive onboard product. For Royal Air Maroc, Oneworld should be able to act as a catalyst for the airline to realise their ambitious growth plans.

Flybe On Sale Amid Financial Troubles

At a tumultuous time in the European aviation sector, following the collapse of airlines such as Cobalt, Primera Air, Monarch & Air Berlin, the continent’s largest regional carrier has put itself up for sale.

The Exeter-based regional airline confirmed it was “in discussions with a number of strategic operators about a potential sale of the company”, just weeks after a profit warning – stating that the airline would suffer an overall full-year loss of £12m.

The Exeter-based airline is Europe’s largest regional carrier.

The airline has launched a review, considering ‘strategic options’ such as cutting more unprofitable routes in the face of increasing challenges. A spokesman for the airline said that there was no threat to previously purchased tickets as a result of the review.

Flybe’s share price over the past three months. (LSE)

Flybe has been fighting to overcome losses for over 1 year already  – focusing on only the most profitable routes to raise load factors and returning aircraft to leasing companies – but the airline’s financial situation has declined considerably in recent weeks. Since September, Flybe’s share price has plummeted by 75% and the airline is now valued at just £25m – down by £190m since 2010.

what has led to Flybe’s financial woes?

Flybe has blamed the decision to put itself up for sale on the ‘current challenges’ the airline faces. Specifically, higher fuel costs, uncertainty over Brexit and the relative weakness of the Pound Sterling. Truthfully, however, this justification masks the long-term mismanagement and lack of vision at the top of the airline. Flybe has made a string of misjudged decisions over the past few years – culminating in today’s financial woes.

Flybe’s new livery was introduced just months ago. Photo: Melvin Debono

Faced with stiff competition from low-cost airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair and full-service airlines such as British Airways, Flybe has struggled to identify itself in a crowded market. It is unclear whether the airline’s focus has been solely on domestic flights within the UK or more connectivity to smaller airports across Europe. It is on these routes to continental Europe where low-cost carriers are able to undercut Flybe, given their lower operating cost per seat.

Flybe has faced stiff competition from ruthless low-cost competitors like EasyJet and Ryanair.

British Airways’ domestic flights possibly exist only due to the airline’s long-standing commitment to the hub and spoke model, giving passengers the opportunity to connect onto the airline’s wide-ranging network in London. This is something Flybe have attempted to replicate in recent years, with the airline’s ‘One Stop to The World’ campaign, promoting connections to worldwide destinations via Birmingham and Manchester but this was largely unsuccessful. Flybe even attempted to funnel passengers through London Heathrow onto flights with partner airlines, launching flights to Edinburgh & Aberdeen from Britain’s busiest airport.

Despite British Airways having owned shares in Flybe historically, today the airline is not a subsidiary of a major airline group, like IAG. This means that, unlike many smaller low-cost airlines across Europe (e.g. Vueling or Level), Flybe has no security blanket as it is not backed by a larger, more profitable airline group.

who are the potential buyers of Flybe?

British Airways previously owned shares in the airline, however, it seems unlikely that IAG would be a potential rescuer to Flybe. Stobart Group – owners of London Southend Airport – are in the frame as potential buyers, having abandoned a previous bid earlier this year.

conclusion

Ultimately, if Flybe is lost, a large void will be left in the UK domestic market and many smaller airports that Flybe operates from will lose out, including the likes of Southampton, Exeter & Cardiff. Flybe operates 78 aircraft, serving eight million passengers per year, with roots dating back to 1979. If Flybe was to go bankrupt, it would be the largest shock to the European aviation industry since the collapse of Monarch and Air Berlin.

 

Aviation Round-Up: 2nd November 2018

In November, airlines continue to plan and announce their summer 2019 flying programmes – including cutting routes and expanding into new markets. Take a look below at my top picks of all of this month’s route developments…


Routes News

WOW Air Axes Multiple US Destinations

WOW Air is the Icelandic budget carrier whose business model revolves around connecting passengers from Europe to North America. The airline has grown rapidly in recent years, although perhaps it appears that all of that growth was not sustainable.

WOW Air’s primary business model revolves around offering customer’s low fare travel between Europe and North America, connecting in the geographically well-placed hub of Reykjavik.

WOW Air will cancel its Reykjavik-St Louis route this coming January and will not restart its seasonal flights to Cincinnati and Cleveland. Additionally, the future of flights to New York-JFK and Dallas is uncertain. The airline has offset this reduction in its network, by introducing a new flight to Canada’s West Coast – Vancouver.

Hainan Airlines links China and Norway

At the China-Norway Business Summit, Hainan Airlines announced that it would be the first to link Oslo and Beijing non-stop in 2019. Detail on the equipment used or frequency for the new route is scarce – but it seems likely that Hainan Airlines will operate either the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Airbus A330 on its first Nordic connection. The new route continues Hainan Airline’s trendsetting attitude to the aviation industry – providing Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin and others with their first connection to China’s capital in recent years.

Delta & Virgin Atlantic Expand in The Scottish Capital

Delta Airlines – in cooperation with its joint-venture partner Virgin Atlantic – have announced a second route to Edinburgh, joining existing flights to New York-JFK. From May 24th 2019, Delta Airlines will launch a new route from Boston Logan to Edinburgh, to be operated by Boeing 757-200 aircraft configured with 16 Business Class seats.

Delta Airlines owns a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic and the joint-venture has become a force to be reckoned with in the Transatlantic market.

This development means that Edinburgh will join Manchester in offering the only non-stop flights to Boston Logan from the UK, outside of London.

British Airways Launches London-Charleston Route

British Airways has announced yet another new pioneering route to the US, from its London base. The airline will launch a twice-weekly Heathrow-Charleston service, to be operated with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft. Coupled with British Airways’ new route to Pittsburgh announced earlier this year, the airline will now offer 29 destinations in the USA – more than any other European airline.

Ethiopian Airlines Connects L.A. and Lomé

Since 2015, Ethiopian Airlines has had fifth-freedom rights to sell tickets for passengers travelling between Dublin and Los Angeles, as part of the wider Addis Ababa-Los Angeles flight. However, Ethiopian Airlines has recently stopped accepting reservations for the Dublin-L.A. flight, meaning that the airline was planning to alter the intermediate stop between Ethiopia and California.

Ethiopian Airlines’ Addis Ababa-Los Angeles route will now operate via Lome, Togo – replacing Dublin, Ireland.

The new flight will route via Lome, Togo and will continue to operate with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft. Consequently, Los Angeles will now have non-stop service to the continent of Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, Asia and Europe – putting it amongst a select group airports around the world.


Deliveries & Other Aviation Stories

Ryanair and Wizz Air Introduce Controversial New Baggage Policies

Two of Europe’s largest low-cost airlines have both initiated new cabin baggage policies, aimed at decreasing baggage related delays.

The changes in onboard luggage allowance are aimed at reducing delays.

Ryanair will limit non-Priority customers to just one small item onboard, with dimensions less than 40cmx20cmx25cm. They will be able to purchase a 10kg checked-bag for £8 at the time of booking, although it is important to note that this will have to be checked at the bag-drop desk. Priority customers will continue to carry one two pieces of onboard luggage.

WIZZ Air’s policy is broadly similar, but allows for a slightly larger small item onboard and allows non-Priority customers to purchase a 10kg checked-bag for just €7.

Etihad Airways receives first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner

In the past week, despite their ongoing financial issues, Etihad Airways recieved its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner – registered A6-BMA.

 

The aircraft will be configured with 304 seats in Economy Class and 32 seats in Business Class. Initially, A6-BMA will replace the Boeing 787-9 in operating flights from Abu Dhabi to Jeddah. Etihad Airways’ Boeing 787-10 will fly to Seoul Incheon from December 1st.


Get your next round-up of all the latest news, within the aviation industry, in two weeks’ time. 

Vueling A320 ‘Space Plus’ Manchester-Barcelona Flight Review

Throughout this year, I have embarked on a quest to sample every major low-cost airline in Europe. Previously, I have flown with Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air & Norwegian – though there was one notable exception: Vueling. I reviewed Vueling’s new ‘Space Plus’ seats  on the airline’s Manchester-Barcelona route to find out how Spain’s largest budget airline compared with the competition.


Flight Profile:

Vueling 8749: Manchester (MAN)-Barcelona El-Prat (BCN)

Aircraft: Airbus A320SL, EC-LVS

Seat: 2A (Space Plus)


EC-LVS would take me from Manchester to Barcelona that day; an Airbus A320, fitted with emission-reducing sharklets, that has flown with Vueling for 5 ½ years (barring a brief stint with Jetstar Pacific in 2016).

EC-LVS awaiting boarding in Barcelona.

My aircraft was one of 114 in Vueling’s fleet – comprised of Airbus A319s, A320s, A321s and A320neos. Currently, Vueling operates just three Airbus A320neo aircraft, with 44 further examples on order. My Airbus A320 was configured with 180 seats in a single-class configuration, with Vueling’s more spacious seats in a sub-section at the front of the cabin, marked by a ‘Priority’ divider behind the seats in row 4.

Vueling’s aircraft feature a divider after row 4, distinguishing the ‘Space Plus’ seats from the rest of the cabin.

After arriving at Gate 44 in Manchester 15 minutes behind schedule, getting the flight pushed back on-time would be a challenge. This was not helped by the fact that the boarding pass scanners at Manchester were dysfunctional, meaning that all passengers had to wait for traditional boarding cards to be printed. Additionally, minutes prior to boarding, it became apparent that the doors to the front hold of the aircraft were broken – all checked luggage would have to be stored in the rear holds of the aircraft. This meant that all passengers seated in rows 28-31 had to have their seats reallocated at the gate, causing further confusion and chaos. However, all of this was handled professionally, and the flight pushed back just 20 minutes behind schedule – an impressive fact given the challenging circumstances.

Once onboard, I settled into my allocated seat: 2A. Rows 1-4 are marketed as ‘Space’ seats.

Vueling’s ‘Space Plus’ seats offer 10% more legroom, with ample recline.

Rows 2-4, specifically, offer 10% more legroom than other rows on the aircraft and can be paid for onboard for just €15. If purchased prior to departure, these seats include priority boarding in addition to more space – allowing me to comfortable work throughout the flight with a large laptop. This new concept replaced Vueling’s previous answer to Business Class – ‘Excellence’ where the middle seat in the first row was blocked, allowing for a 2-2 configuration.

Row 1 is branded as ‘Space One’. Seats in this row have 20% more legroom and can be reserved for an additional fee.

The new ‘Space Plus’ offering is more affordable and accessible to Economy Class travellers and still offers significantly more comfort. For a low-cost carrier, it is refreshing to see an airline allocate more real estate to comfort rather than profit, available at a reasonable additional fee.

I would certainly recommend Vueling’s ‘Space Plus’ seats, which offer more legroom than many intra-European Business Class products.

The option of selecting roomier seats, including priority boarding, is a fantastic initiative, and I would recommend them to anybody considering flying with Vueling.

If these seats are not available, the exit rows (12 and 14) can be reserved for the same price and offer 20% more legroom.

Rows 12-14 also offer extra space.

In terms of pricing, Vueling follows the ‘pay for what you need’ model. This allows customers to fly for less and only pay for the amenities they want.  If a passenger, chose a ‘TimeFlex’ fare with an extra-legroom seat, the Vueling experience is akin to or better than that of almost any legacy airline across Europe. When comparing Vueling with other low-cost airlines across Europe, it is important to note that extra fees for luxuries like selecting your own seat or checking in luggage were inexpensive and the baggage allowance of 23kg was very generous.

The slimline Recaro seats were sufficiently comfortable, and were well padded, offering a good amount of recline. To provide more legroom for passengers, the lower seatback pocket has been removed and replaced with a literature pocket behind the tray table at eye level. Also provided was a coat-hook at each seat. It would be good to see Vueling take steps to install power-ports at each seat in the future allowing every customer to stay powered-up on the go. As our lives our increasingly conducted online too, Vueling could install Wi-Fi on newly delivered aircraft – catching up with competitors like Norwegian who are already rolling out the technology.

Vueling’s newest Airbus A320s feature Airbus’ SpaceFlex technology – meaning they are configured with 186 seats, rather than 180.

As part of this change, Vueling also introduced two new fares designed to meet the needs of the modern traveller: ‘Timeflex’ and ‘Family’. The airline’s new Timeflex fare offers priority check-in, fast-track security, priority boarding and free seat selection in standard seats, all in addition to flight time and date flexibility.

The Family fare type includes a dedicated check-in area at Barcelona, 1 checked luggage bag free of charge (with an allowance of 23kg), priority boarding with children under 2 and guaranteed seats together onboard.

This sort of innovation in air travel is something to be commended – making the entire experience easier for families travelling together and business people who frequent airports.

Vueling’s onboard menu was equally impressive. In addition to the conventional buy-on-board options, Vueling offered an ‘Iberic Box’ containing Gourmet Iberian Ham and Breadsticks – a nice touch that alludes to Vueling’s Spanish roots, proving that any trip starts onboard the aircraft.

Vueling’s branding is youthful and is designed to appeal to the trendy traveller, who wants new travel experiences at low prices.

The Gourmet Snack Box contained dark chocolate, rosemary crackers, chickpea hummus, olives, dried fruit and nuts for €7,50, with the option of adding wine for €12,50.

On my flight, I chose Vueling’s Nachos which come complete with Tomato Salsa in a handy travel box. As with almost all low-cost airlines, no beverages or snacks were complementary – if you don’t want to break the bank onboard, you may want to buy ahead of your flight at the airport. My seat neighbour did exactly that and when the cabin manager, Lela, observed my neighbour about to eat an airport-bought meal deal, she offered a napkin. This was a pleasant touch, showing that personable service doesn’t cost anything.

A snapshot of Vueling’s onboard gourmet options

The crew on both of my flights with Vueling were amiable and warm. Throughout the flight, they made very little interaction with the passengers, closing the curtains frequently at the front of the aircraft – creating a sense that they were unapproachable. When they did interact with passengers, however, they offered a smile, with quick and efficient service. This said, the entire Vueling experience, including comfort and crew, was clearly more polished than many of Vueling’s no-frills competitors.

The Bottom Line:

When looking at Vueling through a low-cost airline lens, it is clear that the airline is innovative, polished and convenient. Vueling’s ‘Space Plus’ seats mean that enjoying extra comfort onboard is easy and affordable and their ‘Family’ fare type is something I would like to see more airlines replicate. Additionally, Vueling offers an unprecedented network across the length and breadth of Spain, easily accessible from its UK gateways in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester & Edinburgh. Whilst there is some way to go before Vueling achieves a ‘Best Low-Cost Airline’ award, I would recommend Spain’s largest budget airline without hesitation.


Disclaimer: This flight was provided by Vueling. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Cobalt Air Grounds Flights & Ceases Operations

Cobalt Air, Cyprus’ largest carrier, will ground its flights from midnight tonight (Wednesday, 17th October 2018), after reports said it had failed to reach a deal with a major European investor.

Reports have suggested that the company has only €15 million its accounts, which are expected to be used to pay the employees of the company.

Cobalt Air will cease flight operations at midnight (local time in Cyprus).

The Cypriot Transport Minister, Vasiliki Anastasiadou, could neither confirm nor deny reports that the airline would be suspending flights.

In May this year, Cobalt’s CEO Andrew Madar was sacked by the airline and Cobalt Air posted losses in 2017. The Air Transport Licensing Authority (part of civil aviation) met with Cobalt officials earlier today for a meeting. This group has been monitoring the airline for a period, to ensure that Cobalt Air met all of its obligations for aircraft maintenance and payments such as employee salaries.

CO327 – currently en-route from London Heathrow to Larnaca International Airport – could prove to be the Cypriot carrier’s final flight, currently estimated to land in Cyprus at 00:10am.

CO327 from London’s Heathrow Airport to Larnaca could prove to be the airline’s final flight.

I flew with Cobalt Air between Manchester and Larnaca last year – I found the experience to be a fantastic blend between low-cost and premium, with enthusiastic and hospitable cabin crew. The airline also boasted what is arguably the most competitive intra-European Business Class of all the major carriers. This is one airline I am certainly sad to see go.

Cobalt Air’s fantastic Business Class in a 2-2 configuration, was one of the most competitive in Europe.

This is, of course, also a regrettable situation for all of Cobalt Air’s employees and the people of Cyprus – who will lose their largest national airline again after the liquidation of Cyprus Airways in 2015. The airline had ambitious growth plans and operated to 23 destinations this year. Unfortunately, those plans now stand little chance of being initiated.

Lufthansa Group Reveals Future Plans: Where Are They Headed?

The Lufthansa Group is arguably the largest and most influential grouping of airlines across Europe with the group’s three network airlines offering a network comprising of 263 destinations in 86 countries last year. Now, Lufthansa Group has revealed their growth strategy for the future and announced how they will be optimising their hubs and preparing for the 2019 season. Their goal? To increase quality and on-time punctuality across all of Lufthansa Group’s network airlines.

which airlines are part of Lufthansa group?

Lufthansa Group comprises of five airline ‘brands’ – three of these are referred to as ‘network airlines’ and two as ‘point to point’ airlines.

‘Network airlines’ are Lufthansa Group’s more traditional members: SWISS, Lufthansa and Austrian.

Network airlines offer connecting hubs and a premium onboard experience. These include:

  • Lufthansa German Airlines
  • SWISS
  • Austrian Airlines

The two remaining airlines are ‘point to point’ airlines. These airlines are designed to appeal to price-sensitive customers and tap into the growing direct traffic segment, with low-fare travel at its heart.

Brussels Airlines and Eurowings are the brands that make-up Lufthansa Group’s ‘point to point’ airlines.

The route network of the Point-to-Point Airlines is served from a total of eleven bases and in the summer flight timetable 2017 comprised 192 destinations in 62 countries. The airlines are:

  • The Eurowings Group (Eurowings, Germanwings and Eurowings Europe)
  • Brussels Airlines

Consequently, Lufthansa Group’s main hubs are Munich, Frankfurt, Zürich and Vienna. Notably absent is Brussels, which is home to Brussels Airlines, which is classed as a ‘point to point’ airline. Going forward, it seems as if Brussels Airlines will be more closely integrated to Eurowings – rather than the mainstream network airlines grouping. So what is Lufthansa Group’s plan to optimise operations in each of these hubs?

munich (muc)

Although ‘Lufthansa’ is most closely related to ‘Frankfurt’, the airline has decided to focus on and accelerate growth in Bavaria’s capital; Munich. Specifically, Lufthansa Group wants Munich to become a strategic hub for flights to Asia. Increased frequencies will be offered from Munich to Seoul and Singapore, Summer 2019 will see the first ever daily connection from Munich to Bangkok as part of this transformation. Additionally, the Frankfurt-Osaka flight will be moved to depart from Munich.

Munich has recently recieved more growth from Lufthansa, with A380s being transferred from Frankfurt successfully.

Five of Lufthansa’s Airbus A380-800s have already been transferred from Frankfurt to Munich. Lufthansa aims to transfer even more by 2020.  Three Airbus A320s are being moved from the Frankfurt hub to Munich to support the expansion of feeder traffic while three smaller Bombardier CRJ900s will be transferred from Munich to Frankfurt in exchange. The airline says Munich is a ‘five-star location’. As a result, the majority of Lufthansa’s first-class configured Airbus A340-600s will operate to/from Munich, rather than Frankfurt going forward.

Frankfurt (FRA)

Contrastingly, Lufthansa will be curbing its growth in Frankfurt, to improve on time performance. However, the airline is still growing. Eilat (Israel), Agadir (Morocco), Trieste (Italy) and Thessaloniki (Greece) are new additions to the flight programme from Frankfurt this year. Lufthansa is also expanding its footprint in the US. From 3rd May 2019, the airline will inaugurate its flight from Frankfurt to Austin, whilst terminating the Frankfurt to San Jose, CA route.

For 2019, there will only be low single-digit year-on-year growth at Frankfurt, which may come as a surprise, as the airport is Germany’s largest and one of the busiest across the European continent.

Zürich (zrh)
SWISS has been the recipient of a number of new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft recently.

Zürich has been growing moderately over recent times. As the home base of SWISS, the airport has grown as an attractive connecting hub. Now, however, the main focus will be on expanding European flights, rather than long-haul. For next year, this modest growth will continue and new routes will be added across Europe (Bremen has already been announced) but, given Lufthansa Group’s intentions, it is unlikely that SWISS will be flying any new long-haul routes soon.

Vienna (vie)
Vienna is Austrian Airlines’ home base.

Similarly to Zürich, Vienna will see moderate growth. Austrian Airlines will be adding new flights across Europe and is already increasing frequencies to destinations such as Athens and Kiev. This aims to strengthen Vienna’s hub status – given its strategic location in Central Europe, providing quick and easy connections from eastern Europe to the US and Canada. Austrian Airlines will continue to optimise its network in North America. Recently, for example, the airline has announced new services from their hub to Montréal – with Air Canada replacing services on the Vienna-Toronto route.

Lufthansa group’s fleet plans

Lufthansa has a firm order for 34 Boeing 777-9X aircraft, to be delivered from 2020. Whilst these aircraft are designed to replace the airline’s ageing jumbo-jet fleet, Lufthansa Group has not decided how they will be distributed between network airlines. The group says that they will be making a decision based on each hub’s performance next year as to which airport the new Boeing 777X will takeoff from initially. Whilst the majority of the aircraft are almost certainly going to be a key component in Lufthansa’s core fleet, there is a strong possibility that some aircraft could operate under the ‘Austrian Airlines’ banner, given Austrian’s lack of long-haul aircraft on order and existing Boeing 777-200ER fleet. SWISS has recently replenished its fleet with new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft so it is unlikely that any of the new aircraft will operate from Switzerland for the foreseeable future.

We do know one concrete fact about the 777-9X, however. It will feature Lufthansa’s new onboard product, featuring direct aisle access to every seat for the first time in Lufthansa’s fleet in Business Class.

Lufthansa will offer a 1-1-1 configuration on some rows in Business Class, with this intelligent design. 

If the new aircraft are to operate for Austrian Airlines, this onboard product will represent a significant upgrade over the current experience.

conclusion

All in all, Lufthansa Group clearly has a robust strategy for the future and focusing on consolidation and improving punctuality in their largest hub -Frankfurt – can only be a positive thing for passengers. As previously, Berlin still remains woefully underserved by Germany’s national airline – although this is probably in part due to the constant delays in the opening of Berlin’s Brandenburg airport. Whilst Brussels Airlines could feasibly be a ‘network airline’ – with a fully-fledged Business Class product and a developed hub in Brussels – Lufthansa Group clearly anticipates further alignment with Eurowings as a low-cost carrier.


 

 

Primera Air Ceases Operations

Last year, Primera Air shook up the transatlantic market once again with a raft of new low-cost flights from Europe to the US & Canada with newly delivered Airbus A321neo aircraft.

Primera Air’s transatlantic flights were significantly disrupted by delays in the delivery of their new Airbus A321neo aircraft.

However, Primera Air’s transatlantic plans were hampered by delivery delays and shambolic management. Throughout this year, these issues have resulted in:

  • flights from Birmingham to Boston were cancelled before their launch
  • flights from Birmingham to New York and Toronto were cancelled soon after launch
  • flights from London Stansted were operated by a leased Boeing 757 aircraft for a short period
  • a myriad of flights cancelled, delayed and rescheduled from Paris-CDG
  • customers misled after flights from London were scheduled to be operated by a Boeing 737 NG aircraft, which would stop for refuelling in Reykjavik

The reliability of the airline has been appalling, and there has been no real strategy for sustainable growth throughout the airline’s foray into long-haul flying.

Primera had hoped to expand their operations further with the Boeing 737 MAX-9 – with flights already announced from Madrid, Frankfurt and Berlin. It is certain that those plans will not materialise now.

Primera Air continued with its rapid yet illogical growth strategy and, since this summer, has announced transatlantic flights from Berlin, Frankfurt and Madrid with Boeing 737 MAX-9 aircraft – to be delivered next year. These new routes were announced less than a month ago, with eye-catching fares Primera Air has become known for.

This rapid growth and lack of proper financing has proved too much for Primera Air. The airline will be filing for bankruptcy and ceasing operations in the next few hours. Primera Air and IATA codes PF and 6F have been suspended as of today, October 2nd, 2018. In a letter sent to employees of the airline, Primera Air’s Director of Flight Operations said:

Dear colleagues,

It is with regret I am reaching out to you all this dark day. We have just been informed that both Primera Air Nordic and Primera Air Scandinavia will file for bankruptcy tomorrow October 2, 2018.

Currently flights are operating as normally and OCC, Crewing and Travel are working on arranging travel home for crews who happen to on outstations.

Reasons I am sure are many but very high cost for the aircraft with corrosion last year as well as the delays of our new Airbuses lead to too high costs for wet lease and cancellations which in the end became too much for the airlines. Our owner was working on securing financing but was not able to in the end. This is what was stated during today’s staff meeting in the Riga office.

All the staff in the Riga office have been informed but official information will not be sent out until midnight by our owner.

Whilst this was an unofficial statement, the airline has since confirmed this to be the case in a press release on Primera Air’s website:

It is unlikely that the airline will secure financing at this late stage, so it is almost certain that Primera Air will cease to exist within the next few days – just like Monarch Airlines, a British carrier, did one year ago. This will of course have unfortunate impacts on Primera Air’s employees and passengers – who will now have to amend their travel plans going forward.


If you were scheduled to fly with Primera Air in the coming months, you are advised to visit www.primeraair.com for updates over the next few days.  Tour Operator passengers are advised to address their Tour Operators and Agents for further information and actions.

 

 

JOON ‘Season 2’: Six New Destinations for 2019

One year ago, Air France launched its next-generation flying experience: JOON. JOON is designed to appeal to millennials, attracting a ‘young, working clientele’ with a chic, unique brand and several on-board innovations such as USB ports and VR-headsets.

Launched in September 2017, Joon has carried more than two million customers in Europe and worldwide from the airline’s base in Paris-Charles de Gaulle. JOON’s fleet consists of Airbus A320s and A321 aircraft on its medium-haul network and multiple Airbus A340-300s on its long-haul network.

JOON is aiming to have 28 aircraft operating in its fleet, by 2020.

Air France anticipate that JOON’s fleet size will reach 28 by 2020 – so, one year on, where is JOON expanding to?

In their second summer season, JOON will serve another 6 destinations across Europe, the Caribbean and South America. In Europe, JOON will operate Air France’s existing flights to Manchester (UK), Stockholm (Sweden), Prague (Czech Republic) and Madrid (Spain), with Airbus A320 and Airbus A321 equipment, offering up to 212 seats, all starting in Summer 2019.

JOON’s route network has grown consistently since the airline’s creation last year.

Saint Martin in the Caribbean will also receive the next-generation travel experience that JOON offers, whilst Quito – in South America – will be an entirely new venture for Air France from Paris-CDG. JOON’s flights to both of these inter-continental destinations will be operated by Airbus A340-300 aircraft.

Although Air France’s short-haul Economy product is competitive, JOON brings a host of extra benefits to passengers flying on these routes, including:

  • Individual USB ports, for recharging
  • Complimentary drinks and a range of gourmet snacks, available for purchase
  • Access to JOON’s entertainment system – YouJoon.

YouJoon will enable customers to access in-flight streaming, on their own smartphone, tablet or laptop. Once on board, they will be able to connect directly to the Joon login portal and choose from a wide range of TV series, animated series, Web TV and kids’ programmes. YouJoon also offers customers the opportunity to browse a range of magazines and newspapers – innovations that simply aren’t available on legacy airlines on the majority of intra-European flights.

Although JOON is simply a spin-off of Air France, the modern on-board product rivals that of many European legacy airlines.

Another benefit of flying with JOON over EasyJet or Ryanair, for example, is the fact that you can still access all of Air France’s onward connections through Paris-CDG and – when flying Business Class – you can also access Air France’s Business Class lounges.

Essentially, JOON is Air France’s swanky little sister – offering a more up-to-date flying experience. In a world where our lives increasingly revolve around technology, JOON’s onboard product is a refreshing change for European travellers, allowing every customer to stay entertained, refreshed charged up whilst in the air – yet still offering low fares.

Aviation Round-Up: 22nd September 2018

As we slide into Autumn, airlines are rushed off their feet – planning new additions and making difficult cuts, in preparation for the Summer 2019 season. Take a look at my top picks of the most recent developments in aviation…


Routes News

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines bets on Las Vegas

The Dutch National carrier – KLM – has added an 18th North American destination to its portfolio. By summer 2019, the airline will offer three-weekly flights from Amsterdam to Las Vegas – utilising Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment seating 294 passengers on-board (30 World Business Class seats, 45 Economy Comfort seats and 219 Economy Class seats). The new route will initially launch on a twice-weekly basis in June 2019, before expanding to three-weekly on 2nd July 2019.

KLM will fly its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to Las Vegas, Nevada – beginning summer 2019.

As a result of slot restrictions at KLM’s home airport – Amsterdam Schipol – the airline will have to make adjustments to its current route network to accommodate this new flight. From 29th March, KLM’s flights to Monrovia and Freetown will cease to operate – launched only in 2017. The airline says that, under normal circumstances, the route would have been allowed more time to grow but believes its slots can be utilised more profitably on a different route.

Air France ventures to Dallas-Fort Worth and Quito, Ecuador

KLM’s fellow SkyTeam partner, Air France, is also developing its flying programme for Summer 2019. The airline will be launching flights to two-new long-haul destinations.

Unlike KLM, Air France will not be using its state-of-the-art Boeing 787 aircraft to facilitate this year’s expansion

Air France’s 13th US destination – Dallas Fort-Worth – will be served from Paris CDG, beginning 31st March 2019. The new route will be operated with the airline’s Airbus A330-200 aircraft, with five-weekly flights in peak season, configured with three cabin classes.

Air France has also announced services to a new South American destination – to be operated by its subsidiary, JOON.

Air France subsidiary, JOON, will operate the new Paris-Quito route, with Airbus A340-300 equipment.

The new Paris CDG-Quito service will operate three-times weekly with Airbus A340-300 equipment, with 30 seats in Business Class, 21 in Premium Economy and 227 in Economy Class. This new development means that Air France will join European partner’s KLM in operating to one of the world’s highest altitude cities – the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

Aer Lingus launches 2 NEW North American destinations

Aer Lingus has confirmed that it will launch services to both Minneapolis and Montréal next year, after a month of rumours. Both routes will operate on a daily basis, launching in July and August 2019 respectively. Whilst the airline’s new route to Minnesota will be operated by leased Boeing 757-200 aircraft, the new Dublin-Montréal flight will be operated by newly delivered Airbus A321LR aircraft.

Aer Lingus offers a competitive Business Class on its widebody aircraft. This will be replicated on the airline’s new Airbus A321LRs. (Image Credit: independent.ie)

These latest plans for transatlantic expansion come after years of steady, yet sustained growth in the North American market. The carrier has expanded even more rapidly since IAG (the parent company of British Airways, Iberia and others) bought it – with new routes being added to Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Hartford, New York Newark, Philadelphia, Seattle and Miami since 2015.

The new routes to Minneapolis and Montréal will take Aer Lingus’ destinations in North America to 15.

With 12 Airbus A321LR aircraft on order, the future looks bright for Aer Lingus – who are likely to take advantage of the aircraft’s qualities and launch more “long and thin” routes to destinations that simply weren’t feasible with larger aircraft such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Air Belgium goes seasonal with Charleroi-Hong Kong service

Air Belgium has confirmed that it will temporarily pause its flights from Brussels South-Charleroi to Hong Kong, effective from 1st October through to March 2019 – after operating for just one season. The airline says that the pause is due to the ‘non-respect of contractual terms’ by one of Air Belgium’s major commercial partners.

Air Belgium launched flights earlier this year, amid delays to its original launch date

The airline, however, reiterates its commitment to continue operations after this pause and its ambitions to launch services to Mainland China destinations such as Zhengzhou.


Deliveries & Other Aviation Stories

Shanghai Airlines receives Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Shanghai Airlines – subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines – has recieved its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, registered B-1111.

B-1111, Shanghai Airlines’ first Dreamliner, will operate flights from Shanghai to Chengdu, Beijing, Japan and Korea.

The aircraft is the 100th Boeing-manufactured aeroplane in their fleet, powered by General Electric GEnx-1B engines. Shanghai Airlines is expected to operate the aircraft from Shanghai to Chengdu, Beijing, Japan and Korea.

Delta’s first Airbus A220 makes an appearance

Delta’s first Airbus A220-100 has emerged from the paint shop at the final assembly line in Mirabel, Québec.

Delta Airlines is the largest customer of the Airbus A220 series and is the first US airline to operate the aircraft.

The airline has 75 of the Airbus A220 series aircraft on order – the most of any airline – and is the first US airline to operate the variant. The aircraft will carry out its maiden flight in Autumn, before being delivered to the airline next year.

First Airbus A380 for All Nippon Airways takes flight

ANA’s first Airbus A380 “Superjumbo” has taken flight, before it is deployed on the Tokyo-Honolulu sector early next year.

ANA’s first Airbus A380 made its maiden voyage from Toulouse to Hamburg.

The first of three Airbus A380s for the Japanese airline on the orderbook, is now awaiting painting of its livery and installation of cabin products in Hamburg, Germany.

As previously reported on LondonSpotter, ANA has planned a series of special liveries for its Airbus A380 aircraft and will install fully-enclosed First Class suites onboard.

ANA’s three special liveries, to be painted on the Airbus A380 “Superjumbo”

The liveries represent the main elements of the Hawaiian islands, depicting either sky, ocean or sunset – respectively named Lani, Kai and Ka La.


Get your next round-up of all the latest news, within the aviation industry, in two weeks’ time. 

Low-Cost Indian Airline IndiGo launching flights to London

In January 2018, IndiGo  – India’s largest passenger airline – began to seek regulatory approval to operate flights from New Delhi to London, Paris, Madrid and Hong Kong. Now, it looks like IndiGo’s aspirations may be one step closer to reality.

The budget carrier, whose operations revolve primarily around short haul flights within the Indian subcontinent, has reportedly secured a slot at London Gatwick airport from the beginning of 2018’s winter season.

IndiGo has secured slots at London Gatwick – one of the world’s busiest single runway airports.

IndiGo is planning to launch the new route with its Airbus A321neo aircraft, scheduled for delivery this November, which will be configured with over 200 seats, sources say.

However, there is  an added complication. IndiGo does not have any Airbus A321neoLR aircraft on order – the variant other airlines such as Primera have used to facilitate their foray into long-haul flying. Instead, the budget carrier has only ordered the standard A321neo, which offers significantly diminished range. This, coupled with a dense seating configuration, means it is clear that IndiGo will not be able to operate its new Delhi-London service non-stop.

Istanbul has been proposed as a potential refuelling stop for IndiGo’s new route to London. Under this scenario, the airline would be able to carry passengers between Delhi and Istanbul –  in addition to passengers bound for Gatwick.

Due to the range of the Airbus A321neo, IndiGo would have to select a refuelling stop en route from Delhi to London – Istanbul is the favourite.

However, routing via Istanbul would add around 200 miles and inconvenient extra travel time, when compared to rival’s Delhi-London flights. It is also uncertain as to whether the airline would have fifth-freedom rights to carry passengers solely between Turkey and the British capital, removing an opportunity to top up revenue.

Regardless of whether IndiGo launches flights this winter, a new trend of low-cost Indian airlines setting their sights on Europe is evident. Rival to IndiGo, SpiceJet, has previously voiced its ambition to launch long-haul budget flights to Europe and has preemptively secured slots for Delhi-Manchester flights on numerous occasions.

Other low-cost airlines – both from India and elsewhere – are voicing their ambitions to launch low-cost, long-haul flights from India.

Additionally, Singapore Airlines subsidiary – Scoot – wants to operate its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners on Singapore-India-Europe routes, utilising fifth-freedom rights (the freedom that allows airlines to fly from their home country to a second nation and then carry passengers from there to a third nation).

“We can look at Singapore-Delhi/Mumbai/Chennai/Kolkata-Europe/Gulf flights. We can fly to places like Zurich, Paris, Manchester (not London), Abu Dhabi and Bahrain”

-indian manager of scoot, Bharath Mahadevan

 

Of course, Air India and Jet Airways would be badly affected by the advent of low-cost, long-haul flights. The cost structure of both airlines is simply too high to compete with fares offered by the likes of IndiGo and their profit margins would likely be slashed. For low-cost airlines, the road to long-haul flying could be fraught with challenges too – Primera’s disastrous transatlantic launch proved this. However, with LCCs controlling more than 65% of India’s domestic market, the trend towards budget flights to Europe is unstoppable.

Featured image: Devendra Kulkarni