11 February 2015

Business airlines

That "La Compagnie" is starting business only flights from London to New York (Newark) as reported in Business Traveller (3-2-15) can only be welcomed. The business traveller might well ask why he/she cannot get that bit extra exclusivity when paying that (large) extra on a trip.

 "La Compagnie launches all-business London-New York flights" (Buying Business Travel 3-2-15)

 "French airline offers 'business class at Ryanair prices' as it slashes £1,000 off its flights from London to New York"   (Mailonline 4-2-15)
 "French firm starts 'budget business' class flights from London to New York" (London Evening Standard 4-2-15)

The previously failed experiences of "Eos, Silverjet, and Maxjet" makes one think that the concept was wrong. However, this begs the question. Those airlines tried to survive, unsuccessfully, during the biggest economic downturn in 80 years.

On the other hand British Airways, firstly, founded "Open Skies" and then took over "L´Avion" to fly from Paris Orly to New York. This has proved an moderate success. It changed its name unnecessarily  and then floundered to find the product it wants to present - which is still the case.

Obviously, the founders of "L´Avion" were bought out with the condition of not setting up any sort of competition for a certain period. That period will have finished since now, of the top six executives in La Compagnie four have previously worked in L ´Avion and/or Open Skies

Now we have the founders of the original idea, "L´Avion" setting up "La Compagnie". The new company starts flying Paris (CDG) to New York in July 2014. However, such is the confidence by them, and in them by their backers that it now proposes to fly London (Luton) to New York from late April.The frequency will be three times weekly, rising to six times weekly in June and eventually daily by the end of the year.

"Open Skies" still operates from Paris Orly to New York (JFK and Newark) and has not developed since then despite markets existing in Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva and maybe even in Nice(without thinking about other countries or languages).
It flies B757-200s in two different configurations: a) 114 seats  with 20 Biz Bed(business class seats), 28 Prem Plus (premium economy), and 66 Eco (economy seats), while the second option b) offers 112 seats with 20 Biz Bed, 20 Biz Seat and 72 Eco seats.

To be fair to BA, it has had to accept that its all business flights from London City to New York are not part of the same subsidiary, that operates "Open Skies". This was due to union oposition. As a result, however, both "Open Skies" and the operation from London City operate separately.  This second option was originally operated from London City from 2012 by British Airways (BA) Limited under the brand name Club World London City. However, from 2015 The Club World London City services are being returned to being operated directly by British Airways PLC.

The aircraft leaving London City cannot take on all the fuel necessary to make the transatlantic leap all in one go so provides a stopover on the outward flight at Shannon. This has given them the chance for the passengers to pass througn US Border Controls in Ireland so saving that time on arrival - no small benefit. They, therefore, arrive as domestic passengers and so save a lot of time and avoid the hassle which could be a couple of hours otherwise.The problem of loading weight for the return flight does not exist so the flight is direct New York JFK to London City.
The aircraft used is an  A318 in a 32 seat all business class configuration.

However, the choice of airport for London by La Compagnie makes for thinking. Considering that Heathrow is out of the question (flight slot availability and cost), and Gatwick (the same), then we are left with Stansted and Luton. Stansted might well be the more attractive site due to the supposed higher purchasing power of the potential passengers in the region, but one has to admit that it is stuck out on a limb (near Cambridge - only good if that is your destination). Luton, on the other hand, is well connected by road and rail to London, the Midlands and the North, so the immediate area for captive passengers is not so important. The airport itself might be considered second rate ( it is mostly used for holiday {bucket and spade} flights) but that would be irrelevant if the services provided by the airline on the ground were up to scratch.

However, the airport experience can depend on the airline if it so wishes. The pre-takeoff and post-landing experience are paramount.  A good lounge to relax in, a quick passage into the departure lounge and attention to all sorts of detail can make the experience worthwhile despite Luton not being focused on business passengers.

The ultimate question is if "La Compagnie"has learned the lessons of previous experiences and can apply them  -  I would think them capable of doing so.


The number of other airlines flying all business, or specially configured aircraft with a lower density of seating than most normal flights, is small.
What this blogger has found  is the following  -  at least  in /into Europe

Qatar Airways flies (to Europe) Doha - Heathrow  daily with an A319 in a 40 seat all business class configuration. A second A319 becomes available from 17-2-2015. It flies other routes and offers charter and contract hiring

(c) Lars Steffens
 Privat Air is based in Geneva and  does charter and contract flying. At present it is flying for...
SAS from Stavanger(Norway)  to Houston(Texas)  6 times weekly using a B737 in a 44 seat all business class configuration.
Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Dammam (Saudi Arabia) 3 times weekly and,
on a triangular route from Frankfurt to Pune(India) then to Bucharest and back to Frankfurt 4 times weekly. On both routes a BBJ2 (which is a modified Boeing 737) 
in a configuration of 32 business seats and 60 economy seats. 
ECAir (Equatorial Congo Airlines)based in Brazzaville(the Republic of the Congo).Here Privat Air has operated as the national airline of the country providing domestic and regional routes. Two intercontinental routes were offered from Brazzaville to Paris (4/6 times weekly) and Dubai (3 times weekly) using a B757-200 with 16 business seats and 132 economy seats. Thus it was not strictly an all business airline.

From what we have found there seems to be a very limited "ALL EXCLUSIVE BUSINESS SERVICE" on flights to/from Europe.  The European airlines seem to be concentrating their efforts on the regular long-haul services to the Americas and Asia/Africa - meaning regular flights with good services onboard for the  well-to-do while providing connectivity for the masses from point to point. This is a philosophy whereby the "economy" passengers pay for the basics of the flight while the "business" and "first" classes provide the cream - the profits. 

How this sort of service will develop in the future nobody knows. It is up to "La Compagnie" to show us what can be done. If it fails, that is is the end of all exclusive business flights. If it succeeds then the possibilities are endless. Let us wait and see.

01 February 2015

Heathrow and/or Gatwick - Let´s focus more

After having written a piece called "Heathrow´s 3rd runway - how to focus" in February 2012, it is about time to bring things up to date.

.....  Of course, you can look at these things from a very narrow perspective, or if you prefer you can see a bigger picture which is more illuminating.

The prestigious CAPA Centre for Aviation brings out analysises on a regular basis about different aspects of the airline industry.
In the last year alone, on 19th May 2014 it produced a study on the progress of the arguments in favour of one or another option for new runways titled, "London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports commence the next phase of Davies Commission runway battle."
On 10th September 2014 this was followed up by another article titled,"Thames Estuary Airport dropped: a milestone reached in the eternal debate on UK airport capacity."

Some specialised periodicals have been publishing articles about the runway expansion debate. Here is a selection from September 2014 to January 2015. Each headline itself  tells a distinct story though each has its own link so that it can be read in its entirety. 

Buying Business Travel:
29th August 2014,         "Heathrow urges Boris to support bid for expansion"
1st September 2014,     "Boris attacks ‘barbaric’ Heathrow third runway plan"
2nd September 2014     " 'Boris Island' airport plan rejected"
9th September 2014,     "Majority of MPs back Heathrow expansion"
19th September 2014,   "Gatwick airport gains public support for expansion"
2nd October 2014,        "Birmingham airport backs Gatwick bid for second runway"
8th October 2014,         "Business leaders criticise Lib Dems for airport expansion stance" 
3rd November 2014,      "Willie Walsh: ‘No business case’ for second runway at Gatwick"
7th November 2014,      "Heathrow warns of losing top airport status" 
11th November 2014,    "Heathrow and Gatwick plans to cost billions more than forecast"
11th November 2014,    "Public back airport expansion in south east, ABTA study finds"
20th November 2014,    "Gatwick warns of 'capacity crunch' after record results" 
1st December 2014,     "Heathrow to extend property compensation scheme"
1st December 2014,     "Regional airport chiefs back Heathrow expansion"
3rd December 2014,     "Heathrow CEO ‘sorry’ over runway promise"
20th January 2015,       "County council opposes second runway at Gatwick"

1st September 2014,     "Address UK air capacity 'ticking time bomb', says CBI"
2nd September 2014,    " Public urged to speak out on airport expansion" 
22nd September 2014"Small businesses 'back expansion of Gatwick' "
30th September 2014,   "Osborne hints at speedy decision on airport capacity"
3rd October 2014,         "Gatwick pushes case for second runway at regional roadshows"
27th October2014,        "Branson accuses politicians of being 'cowardly' over Heathrow"
28th October 2014,       "British business urges backing for Heathrow expansion"
3rd November 2014,      "Potential Conservative party split emerges over Heathrow expansion"
3rd November 2014,      "Environment as important as economic impact of airport expansion, finds YouGov poll"
12th January 2015,       "Heathrow and Gatwick claim record performance in 2014"
19th January 2015,       "Gatwick unveils 'low-risk' two-runway plan"
29th January 2015,       "Abta calls for new runways at both Gatwick and Heathrow"

Flight Global.
21st September 2014,   "Gatwick eyes point-to-point routes for long-haul growth" 

21st January 2015,        "UK Needs Quick Decision On New London Runway"

This blogger thinks it unnecessary to comment on each article. Readers can absorb what is written and come to their own conclusions. Sufficient it is to say that each person, grouping, poltical party or administrative area is pushing its own agenda for its own reasons. They do not necessarily reflect this blogger´s.
The most significant point to note is that mentioned on 12th January about an increase in traffic at both Heathrow (to 73.4 million passengers - up 1.4%) and Gatwick (to 38 million passengers - up 7.6% ) in 2014 compared to 2013. The problem about the need for expansion of capacity will not go away.

Let us look at some truths....

1-There is a big demand for more runway capacity in the South East of England.
2-More runway movements mean more flights into one, two or more, or all the airports in the South East region. Denying that is ignoring the evident. There is a demand and it has to be satisfied one way or another.
3-There are arguments both in favor and against the expansion of one airport or another.
4-The preferences for increasing the capacity of one airport or another is, many times, the ability of the politicians to convince people to their way of thinking. 
5-More runway capacity means more flights, which mean more point-to-point or transfer passengers, which mean more economic benefit for the regions, the airports and the principal players at the airports. The more flights, the more likely the increase in connections to various destinations.
6-the country as a whole benefits, not just the South East region.
7-If no new runways are to be built at Heathrow or Gatwick then a new site has to be chosen. This means Luton or Stansted. Luton is the better situated airport but presents difficulties in construction - but nothing like an Estuary airport. Stansted would be the prefered solution for many in government or the Civil Service - as it has been since the early 1970s. However, with respect to the rest of the country it is out in the boondocks, difficult to reach and needing an excessive investment in infrastructure. Most of this infrastructure already exists at/to Luton.
8-Any such commitment to a "new site" implies a commitment to a new 4 runway airport - something which is not necessary with the expansion of both Heathrow and Gatwick.  
9-The choice of Luton as a new 4 runway airport could well mean the reduction, or even closure of Stansted. The choice of Stansted would well mean the closure of Southend and possibily Luton. Both choices mean a reduction in alternatives.

Let us look at some of the non-truths....

1- Limiting the number of flights at Heathrow or Gatwick airports does not mean a total reduction in flights in a region.
2-Can the demand for more flights be satisfied by replacing Heathrow flights with Stansted ones, or Gatwick flights with Luton ones? This is just wishful thinking.
3-Many people like to think that the unused capacity at regional airports can be used to satisfy demand.
In certain instances this might well be the case. However, it is not true in most cases. I do not hide behind the decision of British Airways(BA) to pull out of UK regional airports to justify the fact that there is no demand into and from the regions to warrant onward flows to long distance destinations. I honestly think that there could be a demand but BA is not interested. That then becomes a self serving argument - no in-put therefore, no out-put,  no in-connecting services therefore no outgoing services to North America or Asia --- even if the demand had been shown to exist  before.
4)- Any meaningful descision can be put off/delayed  to another Parliament.That is just sweeping the problem under the mat.
5)- Luton cannot be developed as a 4 runway airport. This is false since there is sufficient space between Luton and Harpenden to fit in 4 parallel independent runways which would not affect either town with overflying.The ground itself needs leveling but the work itself is far less than any envisaged on the construction of an Estuary airport.

From this point we can develop the argument to include many differing opinions.

This blogger has expounded on this issue before as stated so it is not necessary to repeat all the same arguments in detail.

Considering one aspect, extending Heathrow´s runways westwards towards the M25 can help in the issue of noise reduction.The northern runway can be extended 900 meters towards the M25 while the southern runway can be extended 1300 meters.
This means that noise pollution over West london can be mitigated to some extent since the aircraft can be landed that much further down each runway so eleviating the noise problem over extensive areas of West London.
Add to that the possibility of increasing the angle of descent for the landing aircraft then the height at which the aircraft fly into Heathrow (or Gatwick) can be increased to a fair tranch over the built up areas - the higher the approach the lower the noise. 

Extending the runways further west over the M25 motorway and even over the reservoirs west of the motorway is a possiblity but would be ridiculously expensive and unnecessary.

If measures can be taken to extend the runways westwards towards the M25 thus enabling aircraft to land further along each runway then the noise issue can be mitigated.
However, combine that with the improvement of aircraft and engine design (which has been evident over the past decades) then there can be a real reduction in noise pollution.
If then you go the one step further to legislate that ALL aircraft entering or leaving from Heathrow (or Gatwick for that matter) have maximum permitted noise levels, then you can ensure that the reduction in noise levels over West London (or Crawley in the case of Gatwick) is real and substantial.

The fuel pollution, i.e. CO2 or other toxic emissions, is limited by improvement in airline and engine technology. Over the years the emissions have been reduced to much lower levels so as to be more acceptable. A Boeing 787 does not have the same emission levels as a B767 or B757. An Airbus A380 or A350 does not have the same level of emissions as a B747-400 or an A340. These new aircraft provide a lower level of noise and pollution not seen before.
Quite frankly, it is really ridiculous to say that the effects of aircraft movements over any given area are the same in 2015 as in 1985 or will be in 2030. That is an ostrich approach.

This blogger believes that a third runway at Heathrow and a second runway at Gatwick can both be built to solve the shortage of runways in the South East of England. They both would mean years of investment but not from public money.

They should be permitted on the basis of a reduction in aircraft noise, measurable, verifiable and, if necessary, sanctionable for excesses. The same criteria would apply for toxic emissions. The fact that the aircraft landing and taking off from Heathrow and Gatwick had to conform to a limit of 55-57 decibels, or whatever were decided, together with engine emissions of xxxCO2, could make the constructuion of an extra runway at each airport viable.

Applying these reductions for all operations over two years gives time for the airlines to adapt (previously I said a generation but now I reduce the time limit because the roll out of the new aircraft will be faster than originally thought  -  so in effect since the initial idea was proposed until its implication a generation will almost have past). Maybe the British airlines should lead the way with European, American, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern airlines following. Then the "poor neighbours" could follow.

These rules applied to Heathrow and Gatwick would mean a big change in flying patterns. Applying them later to Luton and Stansted would help redistribute the traffic into/out of London.

Other considerations:
A third runway at Heathrow does mean a new terminal. This would be situated over the road and rail tunnel out from the terminals 2 and 3. It might even be called Terminal 1(previously I called it Terminal 6) to replace the previous terminal which is due to be taken down. Then it would have a direct connection to the Heathrow Express services and the Crossrail services (as they will then be) to the rest of the airport and into central London.

Having a terminal north of the Bath Road does not mean there would be any necessity for aircraft to cross over the northern runway to gain access to any terminal. The best solution would be for all flights out of the (new) terminal one to connect to the islands and near connections. By this I mean Ireland and all the islands of Great Britain, plus others such as The Faroes, Iceland, Malta and even the Benelux countries, without excluding others. I mean all flights so that no airline or alliance is affected negatively.
That way BA (oneworld), Brussels Airlines(Star Alliance) and KLM(Skyteam) would be equally affected.
This is what was suggested in the previous article in February 2012.

News which is both good and worrying:
These headlines link to articles about all of London´s main airports and the increase in passengers year on year at each. Such is the reflection of an improving economy.
"Stansted welcomes over two million more passengers in 2014"  (Air Transport News 12-1-15)
"Record passenger numbers for London Luton Airport in 2014" (Air Transport News 8-1-15)
"Record year at London City Airport a sign of confidence" (Air Transport News 8-1-15)
 "Heathrow traffic and business commentary December 2014" (Air Transport News 12-1-15)

London Gatwick Airport: Facts and Stats

All well and good, but the worrying part is the delay in deciding on runway expansion in the south-east. This information surely illustrates the need to take decisions now and not after the next election. We are a victim of our own success.

We do not want any fudging. Let the government lay down (strict) conditions for runway building, then let both Heathrow and Gatwick get on with the job of building the extra runways at both airports with their own funding.
Not one but two runways are going to be needed by mid century. Cannot we anticipate demand for once?

Gatwick´s second runway option.

The analysis provided by the airline site anna.aero on 21st January 2015, provides some interesting comparative information about both Heathrow and Gatwick.

Let me quote the complete concluding paragraph....
"....It’s pretty obvious to anyone that both airports are clearly running close to maximum capacity and both are highly vulnerable to disruption (such as sudden bad weather or an operational emergency). An additional runway at both airports would considerably help with reliability as well as creating opportunities for significant traffic growth, and benefits to the UK economy of somewhere around a whopping £300 billion ($500 billion). To get this figure we combined the Airport Commission’s estimates of the economic benefit of each runway – a total exceeding £340 billion – and ‘slightly’ discounted the total to account for overlaps – in truth nobody knows what the actual figures are, but it is safe to say the benefits would be an absurdly huge boost to the UK economy and competitiveness, were any political party able to explain it to the electorate."

This blogger supports this view wholeheartedly.

Now on 3rd february 2015 the last chance to provide evidence for consultation presents itself..
To join the debate and tell the Airports Commission your feelings visit:
www. smartsurvey.co.uk/s/134578HXHDU.