March 2013

VuellingFollowing on from our previous article, British Airways parent IAG has blinked first, increasing it’s offer price for Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling from 7 euros per share to 9.25 euros.  At the same time however, IAG has also said that it is now happy to settle for a simple majority stake in the airline rather than the previous aim to hold at least 90% of the company. In response to the new offer, shares in Vuelling this week rose to 9.24 euros while IAG shares slid. All this comes in the same week as British Airways sister airline, Iberia, parted company with its CEO.

Reports from the US claim that British Airways is planning to close its Jacksonville call centre, letting go of 280 employees in the process. The call centre was chosen back in 2000 and had been expected to employ far more than its current 280 employees; it would appear that the huge growth in internet bookings since then have sealed the centre’s fate.

Heathrow Terminal 5

Heathrow Terminal 5

Engineering support firm Babcock have been named as a preferred bidder on £440 worth of contracts at Heathrow; the work includes maintenance of British Airways ground fleet at Heathrow with the contract set to cover a 5 year period.

Unconfirmed reports from Malaysia claim that officials from British Airways have been to the country to review facilities and services at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. British Airways stopped flying to the Malaysian capital in 2000 but, with Malaysian Airlines now part of one world, a return may well be on the cards next year.

British Airways London City AirportCommencing 25th July, British Airways will be launching direct flights between London City Airport and the Spanish city of Granada. Located approximately 2hrs drive north from Malaga in southern Spain, Granada is primarily famous as being home to the superb Alhambra, one of the great European destinations in our humble opinion. The year-round service will be operated by Embraer 190 aircraft with fares starting from £85 one way.

 

airlineBAbusinessmealBA

In a previous article we explained how British Airways had teamed up with Twinings to improve the taste of the tea it served. Serving a decent cuppa is just part of the airline’s campaign to improve the quality of all the food and drinks it serves inflight and, to this end, it has come up with a specialist Height Cuisine program.

The problem that all airlines face is that, flying at 39,000 feet, altitude, cabin pressure and humidity all have a significant effect on what we eat and drink. As Sinead Ferguson from the airline has to say “At British Airways, we know that dining at altitude can have a dramatic impact on our senses. With the atmosphere being so dry in the pressurized cabin, the ability to smell and taste can be reduced by up to 30%. So Height Cuisine is basically the approach British Airways is taking to understand how we can provide great-tasting food and drink on board our flights.”

As part of a tv documenary series aired in the UK, British Airways invited world-famous chef Heston Blumenthal to look into ways of improving the dining experience across all their cabins from World Traveller to First Class. While the nature of television meant that the program was as much about entertainment as research, it did alert many viewers to the unique problems that airlines face. On a more scientific basis therefore , British Airways also brought in Leatherhead Food Research to conduct detailed research into the problems associated with high-altitude dining.

Amongst their findings, it seems clear that more delicate foods are most affected by the conditions onboard and that our sense of bitterness increases. Other studies support this.  In the past, airline caterers have also tried to compensate for such problems by adding additional salt to their recipes, something which in more health-conscious times everyone would like to avoid. Research has shown that one way to replace salt-heavy dishes is to use ingredients that contain umami.

The big winner in the taste stakes being ice cream which continues to taste good at altitude.

For further information about Britsh Airways Height Cuisine program, click here and visit the airline’s dedicated Taste Club website.

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Now for the science…

The air pressure inside the cabin is called the equivalent effective cabin altitude or more usually – the cabin altitude. This directly relates to atmospheric pressure, so if the cabin altitude was zero then the pressure inside the cabin would be the same pressure as at sea level. To preserve the life of the aircraft’s fuselage and for other practical reasons, cabins are virtually never kept at sea level pressure. For example, the cabin altitude of an aircraft cruising at 40,000 ft  might typically be between 6,900 and 8,000 ft.

The Airbus A380 can have a pressure of 5,000 ft when cruising at 43,000 feet*. Good news for customers who will be flying on the new British Airways A380. * Wikipedia

 

British Airways parent company IAG has announced that Rafael Sanchez Lozano, CEO of Spanish airline Iberia, will be leaving his post with immediate effect and by mutual agreement.

CEO of Iberia since July 2009, Sanchez Lozano has struggled to turn-around loss making Iberia and has been in almost continual battle with Spanish trade unions over job losses which management feel are critical for the future of the airline but which unions claim go way too far. While the unions have accepted the need for some restructuring, and associated job losses, they have flatly rejected the attempt by Sanchez Lozano, together with IAG boss Willie Walsh, to axe over 3000 positions.

Although Iberia’s unions won’t be sad to see him leave, they should perhaps be equally worried that his replacement, Luis Gallego, currently heads the airline’s low cost unit, Iberia Express, having previously been CEO of Vueling, another low-cost Spanish carrier – which IAG is trying to takeover. It seems unlikely that Gallego will differ much in his plans to lay-off a significant number of workers although his management style may be more acceptable to the unions (in much the same way that current CEO of British Airways, Keith Williams, has a less confrontational relationship with unions in the UK). Iberia Express was established in 2012 to take on the likes of easyjet and ryanair and staff at the airline work on less generous terms than its parent company; it also makes a profit. The irony is that British Airways tried the same thing with Go, but decided that it would never really work and sold the low-cost carrier to easyjet!

In other news, the Australian Trade commission has approved the new tie-up between Qantas & Emirates which we reported on here. 

Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh

 

British Airways in agreement with Tenerife Tourist Board

A lovely BA plane in flight

British Airways has signed an agreement with the Tenerife Tourist Board to promote the airline’s new route between the island and London Gatwick. The first flight commences 29th March and will operate 5 days a week. Sales are reported to be strong so far while British Airways will be the only carrier from the UK to offer a business class product for the 4hr flight. Britain is currently the single biggest market for visitors to Tenerife.

British Airways launches UnGrounded campaign

sheldon

British Airways has recently announced that it is launching ‘UnGrounded’, a global innovation program with some novel features. Starting on 12th June, the airline will be inviting 100 innovators, entrepreneurs, academics and assorted techies from the US to participate in the first ever ‘innovation lab in the sky’.  The invited guests will take to the air in California (we assume San Francisco) and, en-route to the UK, the UnGrounded guests will have to work together to resolve a specific problem that the United Nations is trying to resolve, in the first instance the “misalignment between where science and technology talent is emerging and where opportunities exist in order for them to realize their potential.” No details have been provided as to whether they will all fly in the same cabin, nor what happens when they finally arrive in the UK. And will Sheldon Cooper be invited?

British Airways survey trumpets online check-in as favourite innovation

British Airways Check-In Kiosk

A recent survey of 2,000 travellers by British Airways has revealed that online check-in is the most popular travel innovation. The top five technological innovations are online check-in, e-tickets, online seat selection, mobile boarding passes and self service check-in kiosks.  In the same survey, some 18% of respondents also said that in the future they would like to fly in an aircraft with a panoramic roof (really, in an electrical storm?) and 10% would like a special area for children (no, not in the hold).

 

British Airways to sell off Donington Hall

Following its takeover of bmi last year, British Airways has announced that it is selling off its one time rival’s headquarters to iconic motorcycle manufacturer, Norton. The grade II listed building which dates back to 1790 is close to Donington Park racing circuit where Norton is already based. Neither party has said how much the deal is worth.

 

Scottish traveller lambasts British Airways for rejecting Scottish currency

Jim Dunbar, from Fife, was returning to London from Gibraltar with British Airways when the airline told him that we would need to pay £40 for excess luggage. Handing over a £20 Bank of England note followed by a £20 Bank of Scotland note, the airline refused to take the latter. Despite his protestations the airline refused to back down and, with the threat of being refused boarding, Jim had no choice but to pay with Bank of England notes.

British Airways A321

This week saw the launch of easyjet’s newest route from the UK, a double daily service between the low-cost airline’s London Gatwick base and Moscow; in addition, the airline will serve Moscow from Manchester 4 times a week.

Flying rights between the UK and Moscow are controlled by a treaty that allows 2 airlines from each country to serve the route. On the Russian side, the route is operated by Aeroflot & Transaero while, until last year, British Airways and bmi operated the route from Heathrow. With its takeover of bmi however, British Airways was forced to release slots on the route which were then put out to competitive tender by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority. This tender quickly became a simple 2-horse race between Virgin Atlantic and easyjet and, to the surprise of many, it was the low-cost carrier that came out on top.

The reasoning behind the CAA’s decision was simple. Virgin Atlantic were unlikely to bring anything significantly different or new to the route whereas easyjet not only fly from a different UK airport but, more importantly, also guaranteed not to charge more than £140 per person return for the first 3 years – compared to British Airways current lowest fare of over £300. British Airways Pilot & Crew

At over 4hrs in length, the London – Moscow route isn’t the furthest destination that easyjet serves but it’s close. The airline will operate the route using a 180 seat capacity A320 whereas British Airways has thus far mainly used the larger, wide-bodied 767. The real difference however is that whereas easyjet offers a single, no-frills economy product, British Airways offers a choice between World Traveller (economy), World Traveller Plus and Club World. Many of those who currently fly on this route do so on business and will probably choke on their caviar at the prospect of flying with a low-cost carrier. However, easyjet is confident that its low fares can both win over existing market share as well as expanding the market and, accordingly, has predicted that it will carry some 230,000 people on the London – Moscow route in its first year (equivalent to approx 30% of the existing annual current market).

One factor that may weigh against easyjet is that Moscow is one of only a handful of routes that it operates where British citizens require a visa; currently an outrageous £115 for a single entry tourist visa. The cost and hassle of this visa might count against easyjet as it will discourage the sort of ‘casual’ flying from which the sector has thrived.

British Airways Club World Seat

 

 

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the North Terminal, British Airways’ home at London Gatwick. At the time, the opening of the new North Terminal marked a huge increase in capacity for Gatwick and, since the first flight took off for Naples, over 100 million British Airways customers have used the terminal. British Airways Gatwick Check-In

Originally owned by BAA, Gatwick was taken over in 2009 by GIP who have undertaken significant new investment following several years in which the airport played a very definite second fiddle to Heathrow. The most recent result of this investment was a £73 million extension to the North Terminal that gave British Airways its own dedicated check-in area. Npt only does the new check-in area offer British Airways customers a brighter and more spacious environment, it has also been designed with modern day travel in mind and boasts as many self service check-in kiosks as the more traditional desks.

British Airways operates a combination of short and long haul routes out of Gatwick, primarily aimed at the leisure market. On its 32 short-haul routes, British Airways has recently introduced new, lower fares for those passengers travelling with hand-baggage only; this new development from the airline is designed to combat competition from easyjet which is now by far the airport’s largest carrier with some 9 million passngers a year (out of a total of approx 33 million).

In terms of its long-haul routes, British Airways main focus is on the Caribbean with flights to destinations including Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, Antigua and Cancun in Mexico. However, the airline’s newest long-haul destination from Gatwick looks east rather than west, with flights to Colombo in Sri Lanka commencing on 31st March. The only long-haul destination that British Airways serves from both Gatwick & Heathrow is Las Vegas.

With much discussion and debate about the future of aviation in the UK, it will be intresting to observe the next 25 years at both British Airways & Gatwick.

Within the last 24hrs, Boeing have announced that they expect their 787 Dreamliner to return to the skies ‘within weeks’ - even though they still can’t say for sure what caused recent problems with batteries overheating.

A lovely BA plane in flight

British Airways Dreamliner

The 787 is ground-breaking in many way ways, not least for its use of lithium-ion batteries which are much lighter and more efficient than anything else currently in use.  Michael Sinnett, Boeing’s chief project engineer for the 787 claims that the company has come up with a solution to prevent any future over-heating of the battery as well as ensure that, even if it did, the problem was safely contained. He was speaking in Japan where around half of the current operational 787s are based, with both All Nippon & JAL; in addition, around 25% of the aircraft is also made in Japan, including the batteries.

The 787 has been grounded around the world since January and Boeing, together with its many existing and future operators of the aircraft, such as British Airways, have been desperate to find a fix to the problem. For All Nippon, easily the current largest operator of the aircraft, it has meant significant losses, while for future customers, such as TUI, it has led to a degree of embarrassment as well as a scramble to scrub down older 767s.

However confident Boeing are about their fixes, and no matter how keen British Airways and other airlines are to get the aircraft back in the air, nothing will happen until the American FAA renews the 787′s air worthiness certificate, something they won’t do until every single box has been ticked.

British Airways has orders for 24 Dreamliners, split between 8 of the 787-8 model and 16 of the slightly larger 787-9 model.  Deliveries of the 787-8 model are set to begin this year and, almost certainly, will be used to replace the airline’s oldest 767 aircraft on flights to the east coast of the USA. However, it is the later arrival of the 787-9 model (no date yet announced) that is far more exciting for the airline; with its new slots at Heathrow, British Airways will be looking to tap into growing long-haul destinations that can’t yet support the larger 777 or 747 and which would not have been financially viable with the gas guzzling 767. Such destinations might include Santiago de Chile & Bogota in South America, Saigon, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta in South East Asia together with numerous secondary cities in mainland China.

787 Layout

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Airways received a huge boost this week when LATAM, Latin America’s largest airline, announced that it had chosen oneworld over Star Alliance or Skyteam. LATAM was formed in 2012 after Chile’s Lan completed the takeover of Brazil’s TAM. As with both British Airways / Iberia & Air France / KLM, both LAN & TAM are set to retain their identity within a single holding company. British Airways First Class

Before the merger LAN had already been a member of oneworld while TAM was signed up with Star Alliance; once the dominant force, Star Alliance will now control a reduced 16% of the Latin American market, while oneworld will have a near 30% share.

From both the oneworld and British Airways point of view, this development finally gives both organisations access to the dominant, fast growing and critically important Brazilian market. Although British Airways has tradionally been no more than a bit player in the Latin American market, recent years have seen strong growth in passenger traffic between Heathrow and both Rio & Sao Paolo.  With access to a local partner, British Airways can now expect to significantly expand its reach to secondary Brazilian destinations that do not warrant their own dedicated service.  Of perhaps equal importance, it will allow British Airways to compete with both Air France / KLM (Skyteam) & Lufthansa (Star Alliance) on a far more level playing field than before.

However, other than a single, additonal route to  Buenos Aires in Argentina, British Airways has pretty much decided to leave South America to its IAG partner Iberia. With the current travails being endured by its Spanish partner however, it would come as no surprise if British Airways was to launch new routes in the near future. The most likely new destination must surely be Santiago de Chile; not only is it the headquarters and home base for LAN, it also currently lacks any direct flights to the UK (both LAN & Iberia currently operate between Madrid & Santiago). Having secured additional slots at Heathrow following the 2012 takeover of bmi, and with the airline set to take delivery of its fuel efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliners later this year, it must surely only be a matter of time.

British Airways 787 Dreamliner

British Airways 787 Dreamliner