Air Belgium: The Belgian Start-Up Flying to Hong Kong

At a time when the amalgamation between Brussels Airlines and Eurowings is an option being considered by the Lufthansa Group, there could be a new poster airline for the Belgian nation. Imaginatively named ‘Air Belgium’ is a new long-haul carrier that hopes to start operations within the next month – between Brussels South/Charleroi and Hong Kong.

Charleroi Airport at present. Not very fitting with Air Belgium’s new business model…

The brand was reborn in 2016, having also been used as a leisure airline in the ’80s and ’90s. This time, it is designed to be a full-service carrier, offering long-haul flights out of what is currently a Ryanair dominated airport. Brussels South Charleroi airport is actually located nearly 70km away from the centre of Brussels and its main purpose is currently to accommodate the majority of Ryanair’s flights to Belgium, along with other low-cost carriers such as Wizz Air and Pegasus. At present, they offer no long haul or premium flights. To accommodate Air Belgium, the airport will be making some important changes to its terminal, and says it will be ‘pulling out all the stops to welcome every passenger in optimal circumstances’. Specifically, the airport will:

  • Create a premium terminal, to meet the needs of Business and Premium Class travellers, which will offer a car to plane transit time of just 20 minutes.
  • Offer a Business Lounge, which will ‘offer extensive comfort options’

However, it is worth remembering that construction on these projects will only be finished by May 2019 – so business customers on the first Air Belgium flight will have to use the low cost terminal, in addition to travelling 70km out of Brussels.

They intend to operate a fleet of four Airbus A340-300 aircraft, all from Finnair – who are retiring the inefficient, unprofitable aircraft in favour for the Airbus A350 XWB.

Air Belgium’s planned livery.

The airline believes they will receive the first A340 (adorned with the national colours of Belgium) at some point during this month, with the ambitious goal of launching these flights between Belgium and Hong Kong from late March. I find Air Belgium’s business model particularly interesting. Recently, most new long-haul airline ventures have focused on the low-cost sector of the market – but Air Belgium will retain similar cabins to Finnair, offering three cabin classes. Economy class will be in the standard 2-4-2 configuration.

The Economy Class onboard.

Premium Economy will be offered (something that Brussels Airlines does not presently offer it’s customers) in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Air Belgium’s Premium Economy

Business Class will offer lie-flat seats, on par with other major airlines across Europe, alternating between 1-2-1 and 2-2-2 in a staggered set-up.

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Ultimately, start-up airlines find it notoriously difficult to be sustainable. Although, more recently, airlines like Cobalt  – the CAPA start-up airline of the year 2017 – have been successful and they too have big ambitions for the future. Crucially, Air Belgium will offer a national brand, with a clear “Belgian” identity and competitive onboard products and this might just give them the home advantage.

Route Review: January 2018

My first pick of the most important new routes for 2018; from Ryanair to Singapore Airlines, here are the newly developing markets in the aviation industry.

Ryanair – At the end of January, the Irish Low Cost Carrier announced $300 million investment in Manchester airport, with 10 new routes and increased capacity on existing connections. New routes from Manchester include Agadir, Almeria, Barcelona Reus, Cagliari, Palermo, Rhodes (all 2 weekly), Porto, Venice Treviso (both 3 weekly), Ponta Delgada (once weekly) and Belfast International (daily). Throughout the summer season, they will offer more flights on routes to Bologna, Chania, Alicante, Faro, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Ibiza, Malaga, Lisbon, Majorca, Naples, Tenerife and Fuerteventura. The boost for Manchester capacity represents 300,000 extra seats, an extra 9 million customers p.a. and 3,675 new ‘on-site’ jobs.

Ryanair will boost it’s Manchester operations.

Hainan Airlines – Hainan Airlines will be launching direct services from China to the industrial Northern German city – Hamburg. They will move two weekly of the present frequencies between Beijing and Berlin Tegel to Hamburg, from August 2nd. The only direct connection between China and Hamburg will be operated by a mix of Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner equipment.

It is feasible that a combination of 787 and A330 equipment will operate the new route to Hamburg.

Alaska Airlines – As Alaska Airlines pushes Seattle-Tacoma Airport to capacity, they have announced new routes from Everett Paine Field, to begin in autumn 2018. Alaska will operate 13 daily flights to 8 cities from the two gates at the newly constructed passengers terminal. Specifically, Alaska Airlines will fly to San Jose, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego & San Francisco. Alaska’s Chief Commercial Officer said “We’re proud to become the anchor tenant of the new terminal at Paine Field. With so many new possibilities for business and leisure travel, we believe this will bring increased opportunities to our communities.”

Alaska initially plans to operate Embraer 175 aircraft from Everett.

Southwest – Similarly to Alaska & United (who will operate services to Denver and San Francisco), Southwest will also begin to fly to Everett. it will operate five flights daily after the new terminal opens in September. It will fly Boeing 737s, larger than the Embraer E175 regional jets that Alaska Airlines and United plan to operate initially. The Dallas-based low cost airline will be the third to announce flights from the new airport, which will have just two gates. Furthermore, the announcement of these flights pushes Everett’s passenger capacity to the limit, with 24 daily departures (50% above the levels airport officials predicted last year).

Singapore Airlines – The ‘Capital Express’ – a route between Singapore, Canberra & Wellington launched with much fanfare not too long ago, with the concept of connecting the capital cities of Australia and New Zealand. Now, Singapore Airlines will change the routings for these flights, but continue to serve both capital cities. The new routings begin on the 3rd May 2018, operating as SQ247 (with a Boeing 777-200) between Singapore-Melbourne-Wellington and SQ288 in a triangular routing between Singapore-Sydney-Canberra-Singapore – increasing the frequency to daily and operating with a newly refurbished four-class Boeing 777-300ER.

The 777-300ER and daily frequency represents a capacity increase for Canberra.

Cobalt Air – From 27th March 2018, the newly emerging national airline of Cyprus, Cobalt Air, will launch services from their Larnaca hub to a third London airport. Adding to Gatwick & Stansted, Heathrow will become their fourth UK destination and will operate with the new Business Class product Cobalt offer. I will be flying the CAPA Start-Up Airline of the Year in February, from Manchester to Larnaca so stay tuned for my review.

Cobalt already flies from Larnaca to Manchester, Stansted & Gatwick in the UK.

That’s it for this month. Next month we’ll see many more new route opportunities for the upcoming summer season!

Another UK Gateway: Stansted Secures Emirates

Emirates is fast becoming a household name across the UK thanks to its large share of the market between the UK and the Middle East, Africa, Asia & Oceania. Although competing with many other airlines in this market (most notably Qatar and Etihad), Emirates has mastered scaling a market – serving London 9-times daily and Manchester 3-times daily, all with the Airbus A380. Unlike Etihad, they have also expanded into regional markets such as Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow – a trend we saw extended with Qatar’s launch to Cardiff announced earlier this year.  Many asked where Emirates would go next; now we know.

Emirates will launch daily Dubai-London Stansted services from the 8th June 2018. The aircraft operated will be the new three-class Boeing 777-300ER featuring 6 seats in first class, 42 in business class and 306 in economy class, featuring the revamped cabins in all classes.

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The new EK33/34 flight will arrive into Stansted at 14:10 and depart back to the UAE at 21:10, arriving into Dubai the following morning.

Emirates says that Stansted serves a “thriving business community in London’s north east and the wider 7.5 million population that fall within its catchment area.” According to research carried out by Emirates, Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and Mumbai are the most popular business destinations from the East of England. All of these are conveniently served via Emirates’ Dubai hub.  In addition to this, more than 25 of the world’s largest corporations have established operations in the wider Cambridge and Peterborough area, with Airbus, Astra Zeneca and GSK amongst the multi-national companies based there. This service is clearly intended to not only appeal to the leisure market of the area but also to the pharmaceutical industries based there.

Although Stansted has enjoyed flights to Asia before, this will be the first and only connection to Dubai.

Ken O’Toole, the CEO of Stansted whom recently transferred from fellow MAG Airport Manchester, said “We’re delighted that Emirates has recognised the strength of London Stansted’s catchment and the opportunity that our available runway capacity gives them to continue growing in the South East of England over the next decade.”

This new expansion will mean that, from Summer 2018, Emirates will offer 10 flights every day from London to Dubai.

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.





Wizz Expands in London Luton: Five New Routes Across Europe

Wizz Air is one of the fastest growing, and most dynamic airlines in Europe – their route network spans the entire continent, and further, with flights to Dubai, Tel Aviv and more. Although Wizz Air does operate flights from Romania to London Gatwick, their primary London gateway is Luton – currently offering 41 destinations from the airport, with a base of both Airbus A320 and Airbus A321 aircraft, of which I flew earlier this year to Warsaw.

Wizz Air’s A321 aircraft are frequented on its high capacity Europe-Luton routes.

Over the past twelve months, Wizz Air has carried more than 5.5 million passengers on its Luton routes alone, an increase of 11% compared to 2016, making them the second largest carrier at Luton airport.

This coming summer, however, Wizz will expand its footprint even further in the UK market. In 2018, Wizz will offer 6.9 million seats to 46 destinations in 20 countries, fulfilling its mantra, ‘now everyone can fly’ by providing new and exciting travel opportunities to the UK and European markets. Specifically, Wizz Air will base an additional four aircraft in London Luton, enabling them to add five new routes. These will include:

  • London-Larnaca, on a daily basis, from 30th May 2018
  • London-Tirana, three times per week, from 31st May 2018
  • London-Bratislava, on a daily basis, from 20th June 2018
  • London-Tallinn, four times per week, from 17th September 2018
  • London-Lviv, three times per week, from 18th September 2018

In addition, the new based aircraft means Wizz will be increasing frequency on many of its most popular routes, such as Tel Aviv, Pristina & Suceava.

The investment will ensure 150 new employment opportunities are created, adding to Wizz Air’s warm and dedicated team.

Owain Jones, Chief Corporate Officer at Wizz Air said this about the expansion:

“Today we once again bring more exciting news to the UK customers, again underlining Wizz Air’s commitment to the country. Our investment brings benefits to the local community by creating 150 new direct jobs, as well as stimulating more jobs market in aviation and related industries. Wizz Air’s network from Luton will expand with five new routes, to Larnaca in Cyprus, Tallinn in Estonia, Lviv in Ukraine, Bratislava in Slovakia and Tirana in Albania, creating more choice for our passengers and even more opportunities to discover Europe on WIZZ’s low-fare routes. Our friendly and dedicated team looks forward to welcoming our passengers onboard to enjoy WIZZ’s lowest fares and excellent onboard service”.

Its clear to see Wizz Air has a great commitment to the UK market, and is investing in London Luton Airport, creating 150 extra jobs as a direct result of their investment – in addition to the all important exciting new experiences and travel opportunities opened up as a result of this expansion.

October 2017: Route Review

October is the height of the route development season. Here is my monthly pick of this month’s best routing news.

Route Launches:

JAL – On October 29th JAL furthered relations between Japan and Britain even further when they added a morning Haneda – London flight. JL41 leaves Tokyo at 2.45am and lands at Heathrow at 6.30. The aircraft then turns around and operates back as JL42. Raj was onboard the inaugural JL42 and will be writing more about in the coming weeks. JAL operate the route with a B787-8 variant with three cabins – business, premium and economy.

Stobart Air – On Sunday, 29th October, Stobart Air launched its trio of operations from London Southend Airport. Flights will operate with Embraer 195 equipment to Dublin & Glasgow, with ATR-72 equipment operating their new Manchester sector. Read my review on Stobart’s Aer Lingus Regional offering here; I can’t wait to review their new Embraer aircraft following LondonSpotter’s positive experience on the Embraer 190. This new service is a significant step for London Southend airport, allowing customers easy access to 11 US destinations via Dublin’s US Pre-Clearance facility.

“With up to three daily services to Dublin, this route offers frequency, optimum schedules and an efficient, convenient and effortless connection to US destinations for our business and leisure passengers.’

-London Southend CEO, Glyn Jones

Air Arabia Maroc – The Moroccan division of Air Arabia launched its new Agadir base in early October. Flights were launched with the airline’s A320 aircraft to Manchester, Copenhagen, Cologne/Bonn, Dublin, Munich, Stockholm and Toulouse.

KLM – At the start of the winter season, KLM’s new flights to Mumbai and San Jose (Costa Rica) were launched. Both services operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment. It represents KLM’s second Indian destination, and solidifies the Dutch airline’s position as a market leader in Latin America.

Route Announcements:

Primera Air – The new airline on the low-cost Transatlantic scene gained the necessary permissions from the Canadian authorities to operate Toronto-European Union routes. Soon after, they announced services from Stansted and Birmingham to Toronto Pearson, operating with newly delivered A321Neo equipment. Both services will depart from the UK on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Primera hope to expand their Transatlantic operations further, with the delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX-9 aircraft. Image: Primera Air

LATAM – LATAM’s Brazilian branch announced major expansion in mid-October, with new routes from Brazil’s economic centre – Sao Paulo – to Boston, Rome and Lisbon. All routes will operate with Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. More details of the new flights will be confirmed in the coming months, but these are important additions to LATAM’s European network from Brazil, which currently includes Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Milan and Paris.

Qatar Airways – Qatar will launch thrice-weekly flights from their Middle Eastern hub in Doha to Penang. Services will operate with the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner and boast convenient connections to Europe and the US, promoting tourism in the region.

Qatar 777-300ER landing at London Heathrow. Image: @LondonSpotter

Iberia – Spain’s national carrier is ignoring the current diplomatic and constitutional crisis in the region, and ploughing ahead with further expansion out of its Madrid hub. Recently launched non-stop services to Tokyo will increase from three to five-weekly and two new destinations will be inaugurated; San Francisco and Managua. Both flights will operate with Airbus A330 aircraft, featuring lie-flat beds, but its important to note that although Managua flights will be direct, they will not be non-stop. These new services will be a tag-on to current Guatemala City flights.

Aer Lingus – The Irish national carrier will launch four-weekly flights from Dublin to Philadelphia next summer, with Boeing 757-200 aircraft leased from ASL Airlines. Aer Lingus says it will offer a total of 2.75 million seats to and from North America in summer 2018, with an additional 575 transatlantic flights compared with this summer, as part of its largest ever programme.

Aer Lingus will offer 11 destinations via its Dublin hub next summer.

British Airways – In a further move to bolster its domestic network, British Airways will expand services to Inverness from daily to ten-weekly. Its important news for the Highland communities, as the connections offered through London Heathrow are unprecedented. The airline also announced a new service to Southern Spain’s Almeria to operate on a summer-seasonal basis – with Airbus A320 aircraft.

British Airways has previously announced new long-haul destinations, including Nashville and the Seychelles. Image: @LondonSpotter

Air Transat – Birmingham has had a bad month in terms of route development. Air Transat pulled their loyal Toronto service for next year’s summer season, minutes after Primera’s new flight had been announced. With both United and Air Transat out of the Birmingham market, the airport’s managers are clearly taking a gamble on the Nordic newcomer. Whether that gamble will be worth it, remains to be seen.

TUI Airlines UK – In December 2018, TUI will expand its winter offering from the UK’s regional airports. They’ll offer a series of charters to Muscat, Dubai, Newark, Krabi & Cochi to connect holidaymakers to cruise itineraries, but will launch regular fortnightly services from Manchester and Birmingham to Malaysia’s Langkawi and the Thai capital, Bangkok operating with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline will also expand its Manchester-Phuket flights, to a weekly operational basis.

TUI will also operate a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from Manchester next summer, in addition to London Gatwick. Image: Fernandez Manuel

SAS Scandinavian – SAS will launch a twice-weekly service from Stockholm Arlanda to Birmingham. After the city pair was left unserved by the void Monarch left on October 1st, SAS has stepped in offering flights on Fridays and Sundays. The airline’s Regional Manager said the new flight would cater for increased demand of those travelling for both ‘pleasure and business’.

That’s all for this month! If you want to receive our monthly newsletter and know when new articles are published then sign up below!

Joon: Air France’s Path to Success?

For a while, we’ve known about Joon – Air France’s future-proofing airline, allowing them to appeal to millennials and the leisure market. It’s basically IAG’s Level, or Lufthansa’s Eurowings. On 25th September, however, we learnt a lot more about the fledgling airline and how Air France plans to run it.

joon’s identity

Joon is aiming to attract ‘young, working clientele’. Air France also market it as a ‘lifestyle’ whereas in reality it’s just a low cost airline! However, the name ‘Joon’ does ooze modernity and is easily recognisable around the world. The electric blue is supposed to represent the dynamism of the airlines and the uniform ‘basic and chic’. Here’s a video showcasing the airline’s branding:

Take from that video what you will, but Joon certainly is an ‘out there’ brand.

what routes will joon offer?

Something I am impressed by is the routes Joon will be offering. Air France has quite a conservative route development strategy, however they’ve really excelled with Joon. Whilst their short-haul offering is predictable, the inaugural long-haul routes are exciting.

Short Haul (begins December 2017):

  • Paris Charles de Gaulle to Porto, Lisbon, Berlin & Barcelona, presumably with A320/A321 aircraft on a range of frequencies.

To me, it seems that Joon will be taking over all of AF’s flights on this route and I think that that’s a mistake. Markets such as Berlin and Barcelona are extremely important and ceding them to a ‘low cost’ alternative is counter productive in my opinion.

Long Haul (begins May 2018):

  • Paris Charles de Gaulle to Mahe, Seychelles (3 weekly, A340-300)
  • Paris Charles de Gaulle to Fortaleza, Brazil (2 weekly, A340-300)

The prices look good too (this fits in with Air France’s promise to appeal to working clientele). Fares to Fortaleza start at £219, for example.

Air France Joon introductory fares.
what aircraft will joon fly?

At its launch, Joon will have A320 and A321 aircraft for short haul operations and A340-300 aircraft for its long-haul services. By 2020 they hope to have 18 A320/A321 aircraft, and 10 long haul aircraft (including A350s) so Air France is certainly confident that Joon will succeed.

JOON’s Fleet. Photo from Air France.
onboard experience

Joon is offering the same cabin as Air France on short haul. The seating will be exactly the same, but with a blue headrest cover. It certainly reminds of me of the comedy Come Fly With Me. They will offer USB ports at every seat and reclinable comfort. In addition, Joon will offer complimentary beverages and a streaming service of entertainment on your own device.

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On their long-haul services, Joon will offer a refurbished A340-300 Air France cabin. There’s not much detail on that at present, however Joon say they are working on a meal menu for intercontinental services.

Here is a sneak peek of the Joon Business Class long-haul cabin, which looks like the current Air France A330/A340 seat, reupholstered:

Joon’s Long Haul Business Class offering.

Overall, Joon is an interesting concept. Although I find it slightly demeaning to millennials, I understand what Air France are trying to do here. I do think it could be carried out better though – for example I would operate Joon out of Orly, rather than Charles de Gaulle so it doesn’t interfere with Air France’s full service operations.

Good luck to Joon!

September 2017: Route Review

As we glide into Autumn, airlines are well and truly giving us some great excitement with route planning for next summer. Here’s my monthly pick at the most important news.

Route Launches: 

Norwegian – Yet again, Norwegian dominates the route review – with new services from London Gatwick to Denver and Seattle both launching this month. Both services are to be operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and compete fiercely with BA’s current London Heathrow-Denver service and the plethora of carriers serving London Heathrow-Seattle. With Thomas Cook starting Manchester-Seattle services next May, one may ask, is the UK-Seattle market becoming oversaturated? The proof will be in the figures.

In addition, on 28th September 2017, Norwegian launched their new Gatwick-Singapore connection – the first long haul flight to be operated under the Norwegian UK subsidiary. This flight will also operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment, and marks the entry of Norwegian into the Singaporean market.

Norwegian operates their Boeing 787-9, equipped with Premium Economy on both new routes. Image: @londonspotter

Loganair – Loganair broke free from it’s Flybe alliance – starting it’s own services on September 1st. With the new services, comes the increase of Manchester-Glasgow flights to 6 a day, and a beautiful Tartan livery. What’s more, they’ve done all that without IndyRef 2

Route Announcements: 

United – After pulling back on the UK market, United has reinstated faith with the announcement of new services from:

  • Washington D.C. to Edinburgh (marketed cleverly by Edinburgh Airport as ‘Capitol to Capital’)
  • New York Newark to Reykjavik  & Porto
  • San Francisco to Zurich

All services will be operated by Boeing 757-200 aircraft, with the exception of Boeing 787-8 operated SFO-ZRH. The new European connections will begin next summer.

Air Canada – A transatlantic revolution is taking place, and for that we can thank the Boeing 737 MAX. The MAX opens up long thin markets for airlines to operate profitably; it’s why we are seeing routes such as Belfast to Providence, and Edinburgh to Stewart. Air Canada clearly didn’t want to miss out, and has announced services between Toronto & Shannon and Montréal & Dublin. This marks a massive vote of confidence in the Irish market for the Canadian flag carrier – as they will now serve three destinations from Dublin (Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal) and are the only foreign airline to offer a transatlantic destination other than New York, from Ireland’s second airport – Shannon.

Air Canada’s 737MAX render. Image: Air Canada

Delta – For Delta this month, it’s a very mixed story.

Firstly, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Next summer, Delta will cut two destinations all together – Moscow (SVO) and Stockholm (ARN). In addition, it will end service from Philadelphia to Heathrow (already announced) and Paris, suspending service from Newark to Amsterdam.

Now, on to the exciting route development news. Among the aviation community, it is widely seen that Delta is employing a rather different strategy than the other US airlines. Instead of expanding out of hubs, they are adding flights from smaller US markets to their main hubs of Paris and Amsterdam in Europe. Whilst in August, Delta announced a new Orlando-Amsterdam service, this month they went further. Delta will start a new 767-300ER service between Indianapolis and Paris in summer 2018, which will go on sale on the 23rd September. This will be the first transatlantic connection for Indianapolis – so, unsurprisingly, the route has been supported by subsides of $5 million, Indiana Business reports. They will also launch two new routes between Los Angeles and Paris/Amsterdam with Boeing 777-200LR equipment, adding to their joint venture partner’s (Air France and KLM respectively) frequencies. Finally, and perhaps the most surprising, is between New York JFK and Ponta Delgada (Azores). This makes Delta the only US airline to serve the Azores, and gives Delta two destinations in Portugal.

Of course, there is other less significant news and frequency changes but their is not enough room to report everything here.

Virgin Atlantic –  Virgin Atlantic will be increasing it’s operation at Manchester next year. They will be adding 40,000 seats to the market, with an additional 747 base. The new 747-400 will operate four-weekly services to New York JFK and three-weekly services to Atlanta. However, both routes are served daily, with the remainder being operated by the current A330-300 aircraft.

Next year, in peak summer, Virgin will offer 35 weekly transatlantic departures from Manchester, every week.

Icelandair – Iceland’s airlines just can’t stop growing. In fact, I may have to dedicate a whole blog post to them every month! This month, they announced services from their hub to Dallas/Fort Worth. Icelandair’s first venture into Texas will come in the form of a four-weekly, Boeing 757-200 service.

There is debate as to whether such rapid growth of tourism generated by the aviation industry in Iceland is sustainable.

In other news, they also filed the schedule for their 737 MAX services, which will operate to only Birmingham in the UK.

WOW Air – Yes, you guessed it. WOW Air also announced flights to Dallas/Fort Worth. This connection will operate thrice-weekly, but with a widebody aircraft – the Airbus A330-300. Both airlines are clearly trying to upstage eachother, but I fear it could end badly for both airlines involved. On a lighter note, more competition can only be good for the passengers!

British Airways – British Airways announced in mid-September that it’s London Heathrow to Austin route would be upgraded to a Boeing 747-400, from a Boeing 787-9. That’s a massive capacity jump – particularly for the high-yielding cabins – and shows how the 787 really can open up new markets, that can then be grown into a great success.

In arguably more exciting news, British Airways is launching service to the Seychelles in March 2018. The service will operate with Boeing 787-9 aircraft, on a two weekly basis. The interesting development here is that BA will operate this flight from Heathrow, rather from primarily Leisure-based Gatwick. This is clearly to optimise connection opportunities, around Europe and Transatlantic.

British Airways is another airline dominating the route development discussion at the moment. Image: @londonspotter

Cathay Pacific – After starting the route in 2015, Cathay Pacific has now confirmed it is axing it’s Hong Kong to Dusseldorf route from March 2018.

On the contrary, it will increase its services on the Barcelona and Tel Aviv  to Hong Kong connections – both of which operate with Airbus A350 equipment.

KLM – KLM will launch new service from Amsterdam to Fortaleza in Summer 2018, on a twice-weekly basis, with Airbus A330-200 aircraft. This will mark KLM’s third gateway into Brazil, and secures KLM’s position in the Latin American market.

Emirates – Emirates announced plans this month to launch a fourth-daily Dubai-Sydney service, operating with Airbus A380-800 aircraft. It will add more and convenient connections for customers, and an additional 6.846 seats per week in capacity. This, and expansion to the Brisbane service, means the UAE national carrier will serve Australia 91 times every week.

Emirates A380 leaving London Gatwick. Photo by @londonspotter

Qatar Airways – Qatar Airways stunned everyone back in May, when they announced the intention to launch Doha to Cardiff flights. This month, they opened bookings for the new route. It will be operated on a daily basis, with Boeing 787-8 equipment. Great news for Wales & Cardiff!

Garuda Indonesia – Garuda Indonesia transferred from London Gatwick to London Heathrow some time ago. Previously, due to the strength of the runway at Jakarta, they had to make a refuelling stop in Singapore. Now, it appears that has been resolved, as Garuda Indonesia will offer non-stop Jakarta to London services from October 31st. Frequency will remain the same, but with an amended schedule, as Garuda wants   “to boost connections from the UK to Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Perth), the Far East (Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul) and China (Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai)”.

Royal Air Maroc – Before March 2017, Casablanca had never been served from Manchester before, but Royal Air Maroc came bursting onto the scene, offering a wealth of connections to Africa through their Moroccan hub. Now, they are increasing flights to 4-weekly from next summer; from a standing start, this route can widely be acknowledged as a great success.

Air France – Air France will be launching new service to Seattle and Taipei, after a hiatus from both markets. It will join KLM in the Taiwanese market and joint venture partner Delta in the Seattle market. Both services will operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and from Paris Charles de Gaulle.

The Air Berlin Saga: All You Need To Know

background: how did this happen?

On the 15th August, Air Berlin – Germany’s second largest carrier – filed for insolvency. Etihad – a key investor and shareholder in the airline – withdrew funding, and, after Air Berlin reported a loss of £713m in 2016, things weren’t going to get any better. This is widely due to an identity crisis at the heart of the airline. Whilst a sizeable chunk of their operation is for business travel – they offer a very competitive business product on long-haul routes to the US – most of it was centred around leisure. Air Berlin simply didn’t know who or what it wanted to be. There was no lounge facility suitable to compete with the full service airlines in Europe, lack of timed ‘banks’ for connections, and the indecision on whether to employ a low-cost or high-service policy on short haul. In addition, the calamitous situation with Berlin’s airports clearly didn’t help. The lack of connection convenience, available expansion, and facilities in the tired Tegel airport, hampered profitability and it still doesn’t seem Brandenburg will open soon. The German government issued a transitional loan, to try and keep the airline afloat; that money isn’t going far. So what’s happening and what’s the timescale? Read on…

Air Berlin-Etihad livery. Not ‘Moving Forward’ anymore. Photo by Markus Guntli.
when are routes ending?

In August, they announced that all long haul routes out of Berlin (specifically to Abu Dhabi, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco) would end on October 1st 2017, in addition to Dusseldorf to Boston. That date is nearing now, so much of Air Berlin’s A330 aircraft will be dormant from that point onwards.

In early September, Air Berlin began only selling ‘full fare’ economy class tickets on Dusseldorf’s long haul routes to the US. This is usually a sign of a flights being added into GDS or taken out. Whilst most Dusseldorf long-haul operations are still bookable e.g. DUS-JFK, they are selling at £2,166 for a return ticket. This is indicative that Air Berlin aren’t confident they will survive.

Then, even more cancellations were revealed by the airline. All of their Caribbean routes (Curacao, Cancun, Havana, Varadero, Punta Cana, and Puerto Plata) were to end by 25th September. That’s tomorrow.

So, in a nutshell, come winter, I imagine all of Air Berlin’s previously prestigious long haul network will be non-existent.

Air Berlin used to have a large network out of Berlin, in particular.
what should i do if i’m booked to travel on air berlin?

If you booked after 15th August, it’s likely you will have already been reimbursed if your route was cancelled. However, due to the complications of how Germany’s law works, if you booked before – you are not entitled to reimbursement.

If you are booked to travel on Dusseldorf’s long haul network, I’d be making alternative plans and fast. The routes are still open for reservation but the signs aren’t good.

Also, in late August, an Air Berlin flight out of Gothenburg was grounded and prevented for departing, as AB had defaulted on their payments to the airport authorities. This likely caused great inconvenience for passengers and, at extremely short notice. This is something to watch out for if it is replicated.

what will happen to topbonus members?

At first, it seemed TopBonus miles would continue to be collected and valid, with partners and Air Berlin. However, TopBonus has since filed for insolvency. Here’s an email our author, James, received regarding his membership:

topbonus filed for insolvency today.
This unfortunate development follows airberlin’s decision last week to file for insolvency.
Given airberlin’s current situation and the consequential impact on the frequent flyer program, topbonus was left with no other option.

The earning and redemption of miles remain suspended.
The account access to review your profile and miles balances and your topbonus membership remain valid.

We will keep you informed about further proceedings.

-Air Berlin TopBonus Email

who’s interested in inheriting air berlin?

All the bids are now in, and a decision will be made on who the airline is to be sold to tomorrow.

Lufthansa want to take over 90 planes. They are probably going to be very interested in taking over more share of the German aviation market, including high-yielding long haul services from Dusseldorf, and ceding the leisure routes to their ever-expanding Eurowings subsidiary.

EasyJet is trying their utmost to expand in Germany. They’ve issued a bid for 40 aircraft, to expand their short-haul network. They will also be able to gain valuable slots at congested airports throughout Europe such as Berlin, Palma and Munich.

There are many more insignificant bids, although I find this one interesting.

Niki Lauda/Condor – Niki Lauda (yes, that’s who Austrian airline Niki are named after!) and German Thomas Cook subsidiary, Condor, have submitted a bid. Niki Lauda wants to buy his formerly owned airline for €100 Million and Condor wants to take over 17 aircraft.

the conclusion

There’s no doubt that Air Berlin will probably never emerge from this tricky spot – atleast in it’s current entity. Just a day after the German elections, we will receive the news of who will own the majority of Air Berlin’s assets in the future and what path it will take.