Another Lifeline for the A380: Fresh British Airways Order Imminent

Airbus’ grand double-decker plan – in the form of the A380 – never really gained traction as the manufacturer hoped it would. Crucially, it was Boeing who judged the mood of the aviation industry more accurately, with its decision to focus on a mid-size, long range, technologically advanced aircraft that could open ‘long and thin’ routes – tapping in to the increasing propensity to fly from local airports non-stop, rather than connecting via a major hub. Boeing withdrew from the ideological and prestige-driven race for the first double-decker aircraft, but Airbus pressed onwards. From a PR standpoint, the A380 with its luxurious apartments and glamorous feel has personified airlines such as Emirates and Etihad. But, this doesn’t translate into versatility or profitability for the airline company. In fact, Reuters even reported that the A380 programme was on the verge of extinction in December:

“If there is no Emirates deal, Airbus will start the process of ending A380 production,” a person briefed on the plans said. A supplier added such a move was logical due to weak demand.

Luckily for A380 enthusiasts, Emirates signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire up to 36 additional Airbus A380 aircraft. The airline has committed to purchasing an additional 20 Airbus A380s, and has an option for 16 more, with deliveries to start in 2020. John Leahy, Airbus’ COO, said that the order ‘underscores Airbus’ commitment to produce the A380 at least for another ten years’.

Emirates A380 leaving London Gatwick.

In addition to this, last Friday, John Leahy suggested another A380 order would come soon. The industry is never usually this specific, when in open conversation with the media, but it looks like we may have a clearer idea about what this order might be.

British Airways is in talks with Airbus over an order for new Airbus A380 aircraft, according to Bloomberg.

Airbus SE is in talks to sell new A380 superjumbo planes to British Airways this year after securing a program-saving deal from Persian Gulf operator Emirates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.K. carrier, which currently has 12 A380s in its fleet, had said in the past that it was looking for six to seven second-hand A380s. Now it’s considering taking a larger number of new ones, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

BA currently operates A380s to destinations such as Johannesburg, Los Angeles & Vancouver. 

IAG has previously indicated they might be interested in purchasing second-hand A380s from airlines like Singapore Airlines (who began to retire their oldest models in 2017). These aircraft are heavier and perform less well than newer examples of the A380, and would also be costly and time-consuming to reconfigure. When all of this is weighed up, it may make more sense for British Airways to simply buy new aircraft directly.

In my opinion, the A380 was designed for airlines like British Airways – with an almost exclusive ‘hub and spoke’ model at a slot constricted airport like London Heathrow. There is clearly a benefit to eliminating two Boeing 777 flights and replacing it with just one A380 frequency. However, with corporate contracts from the city of London in the hands of British Airways, frequency is key – BA have even held back from rostering the A380 on the London-New York route, instead favouring additional timing options for business travellers. British Airways can also control the majority of the market in London Heathrow, meaning they could increase prices with less capacity on a route. So, although further pursuing the A380 may be of benefit to British Airways, perhaps Airbus didn’t weigh up the other factors of running a route dominated by business passengers.

Is the A380 really the best option for British Airways at Heathrow?

Willie Walsh has also indicated that any new A380s could be devolved to other IAG airlines, like Aer Lingus or Iberia. Dublin Airport is currently without commercial A380 operation and, quite frankly, I don’t see a trunk route with enough demand from the Irish capital. Iberia, on the other hand, could use A380s on routes to Latin America – replacing multiple frequencies on routes where sheer capacity matters more than flexibility.

Time will tell whether any new A380 orders from the International Airlines Group materialise but if and when they do, it will be interesting to see how British Airways deploy the new equipment and whether the group sees some use within Iberia or Aer Lingus.


November 2017: Route Review

route launches

Thai Airways – Thai Airways added another destination to their European portfolio: Vienna. The service will operate not with Thai’s new Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 aircraft, but with the trusty B777-300ER instead. Thai now flies from Bangkok to Copenhagen, Oslo, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Stockholm, London, Rome, Milan and Moscow.

Thai Airways launched daily flights from Bangkok to Vienna, making their debut in Austria, working with fellow Star Alliance carrier Austrian. Image: Anna.Aero

El Al – El Al – the national airline of Israel – returned to Miami this month, after a hiatus since 2008, offering flights to Tel Aviv, with Boeing 777-200ER equipment. Miami is the airlines fifth route in the US.

KLM – In Late October, after launching flights to Mauritius and Mumbai, KLM inaugurated flights to its third Central American destination – San Jose, Costa Rica. The flight will be served twice-weekly, onboard Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. Boet Kreiken, EVP of KLM Customer Experience commented on the launch,

“In recent years, Costa Rica has developed as a very attractive tourist destination for many Dutch and European tourists. We are happy to start operations to Costa Rica and of course, we also welcome Costa Ricans to travel with KLM to Amsterdam or one of our many destinations in Europe.”

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner ‘Jasmine’ did the honours of the inaugural service to San Jose. Image: Anna.Aero

Thomas Cook – Thomas Cook and Fred Olsen worked together to launch a new bi-weekly Manchester-Mauritius service, operated by the airline’s Airbus A330-200 aircraft. It faces no direct competition, after TUI left the route last April, and over 250 passengers were given a tropical farewell as they embarked on their journey.

Beijing Capital Airlines – BCA has become the fourth Chinese airline to serve London Heathrow airport, offering twice-weekly services to Qingdao, aboard 212 seat Airbus A330-200 aircraft. It adds to Heathrow’s current flights to Guangzhou, Shanghai & Beijing in China. As a result of this expansion, Hainan Group now offer three destinations in the UK: Qingdao-Heathrow with Beijing Capital Airlines, Tianjin-Chongqing-Gatwick with Tianjin Airlines and Beijing-Manchester with Hainan Airlines.

Heathrow celebrated the launch of flights to Qingdao – the only flights from Qingdao to the UK. Image: Anna.Aero
route announcements this november

Etihad Airways – One of the Middle Eastern ‘Big Three’ continued to cut back this month, with the announcement it was to drop its Dallas-Abu Dhabi route. Whilst Etihad currently codeshare with American Airlines (who operates a hub in Dallas-Fort Worth), this will terminate on the 25th March 2018, at which point Etihad will render the route ‘will become commercially unsustainable’.

Middle Eastern airlines’ growth has been slowing recently. Have they started to plateau?

WOW Air – The low-cost, vibrant Icelandic airline continue their expansion plans into the winter, with the announcement of adding flights to a second New York gateway: JFK. Daily flights will launch on 26th April, when flights also launch to a second London gateway of Stansted.

Alitalia – Despite the Italian airline’s ubiquitous financial woes, it continues to expand, this month launching its African adventure. Beginning in Spring 2018, Alitalia will add flights from Rome to Nairobi and Johannesburg, with Airbus A330-200 aircraft. Both flights will be offered four times each week, with Alitalia offering three classes of service.

British Airways Cityflyer – In Late November, British Airways continued to raise furore among those based in the regions, with the announcement of expanding its summer flying programme from Manchester, Birmingham & Bristol. New routes include a once-weekly Embraer 190 services from Manchester to Florence, Tuscany. The announcement comes as they prepare to inaugurate new ski flights from Manchester to Salzburg and Innsbruck.

British Airways continues expanding in the regions – but only in the form of ‘Cityflyer’.

Air India – Air India offers two UK gateways: Birmingham & London Heathrow. Both have been expanded recently, with the addition of a daily Birmingham-Delhi service and a new Ahmedabad-Heathrow-Newark service (both operated by Boeing 787 Dreamliner equipment).

Over 135,000 Sikhs live in the West Midlands, making Birmingham the perfect destination for the UK’s only non-stop link to Amritsar – home of the Golden Temple. After intervention from politicians such as Andy Street (Mayor of West Midlands) and inner-city MPs, Air India announced this new Amritsar-Birmingham link, to operate non-stop twice-weekly. Air India’s plan is not yet clear, on whether they are to continue their current daily Delhi-Birmingham flights.

Aer Lingus – In an effort to continue their steady but consistent expansion to the US, the Irish flag carrier will add the first ever direct link between Dublin and Seattle, operating four-times a week from 18th May 2018. This means Aer Lingus now serve 13 US destinations (New York JFK, Hartford, Newark, Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orlando, Miami, Toronto, Philadelphia & Seattle) and connections will be available from 12 UK cities – including the newly inaugurated Southend route, and other regional cities such as Leeds. 

Aer Lingus partners with Stobart Air to allow connections to UK cities such as Leeds or Newquay, conveniently allowed to make use of Dublin’s US Border Pre-Clearance system.

LOT Polish Airlines – Poland’s national carrier – LOT – will be introducing Warsaw’s first ever link to Singapore. The carrier’s first scheduled and regular service to Southeast Asia will commence in May 2018, initially operating thrice-weekly, with the airline’s long-haul backbone: the 787 Dreamliner. Following LOT’s successful expansion of flights to Los Angeles, and plans to start transatlantic services from Budapest – it seems the airline has a clear focus on intercontinental expansion and connecting the Polish capital to major Business centres around the world.

That’s a wrap, but I’ll be back next month, writing about all of December’s highlights in the aviation industry.





British Airways’ New Boarding Process: Zonal Boarding Introduced

In recent times, specifically in the US, airlines have been employing a ‘zoned boarding concept’. This is designed to speed up the boarding process, and make it more efficient for passengers to stow their cabin baggage – as numbers dramatically increase. The arguments for this system are:

  • Passengers are assigned zones easily
  • Consistent across aircraft types (unlike a ‘row by row’ boarding system)
  • Easier for passengers to comprehend
  • Refrains from blocking aisles when stowing cabin baggage

    Boarding a large aircraft – like a Boeing 747-400 – can be disorganised and time consuming for airlines.

As the concept grows in popularity, it has spread to Europe. For example, when I flew to Dublin – with Aer Lingus Regional – in August, I was assigned a zone on my boarding pass, but this wasn’t implemented at the boarding gate. Following this trend, it looks like the latest airline to implement this system is British Airways, to align itself with its IAG & oneworld partners – American Airlines and Iberia. This is what BA had to say about the new boarding system, which will be introduced from 12th December 2017:

British Airways will be changing the way it boards aircraft with the introduction of group boarding in December. Group boarding simplifies the process, making it easier for customers to understand the boarding sequence at the gate. At the check-in stage, the customer will be put into a group number dependent on their cabin of travel and frequent-flyer status. This number will then be displayed prominently on the boarding pass, printed or mobile. Customers who are entitled will continue to be offered priority boarding for both long-haul and short-haul domestic.

British Airways is introducing zoned boarding.

British Airways recently added a Business Class product to its domestic offering, so the short-haul boarding process applies to both European and UK services, and looks as follows:

  • Group 1 — Executive Club Gold, oneworld Emerald & Club Europe
  • Group 2 — Executive Club Silver and oneworld Sapphire
  • Group 3 — Executive Club Bronze and oneworld Ruby
  • Group 4 — Economy Class Passengers
  • Group 5 — Economy Class Passengers, with hand-luggage only fares

British Airways therefore seems to be disincentivising hand-luggage only fares, as its popularity grows, as boarding the aircraft last means a lesser chance of overhead locker space. BA will, however, check your hand luggage bag into the hold for no extra cost, if there is no space available.

The Club Europe seats British Airways now offers on domestic flights.

For long-haul flights the boarding process is similar, but differs slightly due to the different travel classes available:

  • Group 1 — Executive Club Gold, oneworld Emerald, and First Class 
  • Group 2 — Executive Club Silver, oneworld Sapphire, and Business Class 
  • Group 3 — Executive Club Bronze, oneworld Ruby, and Premium Economy
  • Groups 4 & 5 — Economy Class Passengers

This is a new scheme for British Airways, and it seems logical, following their partner airlines, who’ve clearly enjoyed more efficient boarding by employing this method. The main difference is that airlines such as American Airlines designate more zones to economy, to help further organise the process, in terms of back to front boarding etc. Providing the process is enforced with clarity and consistency, this new method should prove beneficial for British Airways.