Primera Air expand Stansted and cut-back Birmingham

Last year, Primera came to Birmingham’s rescue. At a time when the West Midlands airport had lost American Airlines & United flights to New York, it looked like Primera could both fill the void and stimulate new demand. But, since Primera came to the fold, Air Transat have cut their Birmingham-Toronto services and the airport has lost its Icelandair link to Reykjavik. If you thought Birmingham’s transatlantic woes would stop here – with the introduction of a vibrant, modern brand with low fares – you would be mistaken.

Primera’s onboard product for it’s transatlantic services.

When the services were first announced, Primera Air planned to operate:

  • London Stansted & Birmingham to Boston (4x weekly), New York Newark (daily) and Toronto (3x weekly)

Primera looked to be off to a positive start, with low-fares, a modern on-board product, with brand new equipment – the A321neo. They launched campaigns across Britain, in the effort to fill the seats onboard.

However, it doesn’t seem that Primera’s market research team did their job correctly. In early 2018, the airline decided to cut the Birmingham-Boston route before it even began. The programme was always ambitious – Primera planned to operate year-round flights on this route. Manchester-Boston, a much bigger market, served by both Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic in peak season, does not generate enough demand for service in the winter months. Originally planned to begin in June, the route was shelved, with minimal communication from the airline – leaving them with a tricky PR situation.

Primera is a relatively unknown brand in the UK. Bad experiences being broadcast on social media, wouldn’t help the profile of the company.

Then, just as it seemed things had hit rock bottom, Primera reduced frequencies for their Birmingham-Newark route from daily to just 4x weekly. Compare this to 2016, when in the peak season, Birmingham had Icelandair flights to Reykjavik, Air Transat A330s to Toronto, and double daily legacy operations to New York with American & United. Now, a token operation with an unknown low cost carrier – 4x weekly New York and 3x weekly Toronto.

At Stansted, however, Primera do seem to be succeeding. They have recently announced Stansted-Washington D.C. flights – operating 5x weekly and an increase to their Stansted-Toronto operation to 5x weekly (frequencies made available as a result of the Birmingham cuts).

With Primera Air succeeding in Stansted – and to a lesser extent, Paris – it begs the question: can Birmingham sustain regular transatlantic services? If not, the airport needs to change its focus to get ahead of the game.