An initial report from the Air Accident Investigation Board has cited improper maintenance as the cause of last Friday’s emergency landing at Heathrow.

The report states that the cowls, which cover the aircraft’s engines, were not properly shut and, as a result, came off in flight. At least one of the cowls, which weigh up to 40kgs, struck the aircraft and caused damage to the wing, fuselage, landing gear and fuel pipe.

This is not the first time that this has happened with over 30 similar incidents previously reported to Airbus, the manufacturer of the A319 involved. Indeed last year Airbus issued a safety warning to all airlines involved, stressing the importance of properly fixing the cowls.

With regards the engine-fire, the AAIB added that previous incidents involving cowls coming off had never resulted in an engine fire and that investigations were continuing. It also made clear that earlier claims, emanating from the US, that the left-hand engine had stopped working, were incorrect.

Keith Williams

Keith Williams

Commenting on the report, British Airways CEO Keith Williams said: ”We welcome the publication of the AAIB interim report. We continue to co-operate fully with the investigation team and can confirm that appropriate initial action has already been taken in accordance with the AAIB’s safety recommendation to Airbus. We regret we are precluded from releasing or discussing any additional details while the AAIB investigation is ongoing. We commend the professionalism of the flight crew for the safe landing of the plane and the cabin crew and pilots for its safe evacuation. We continue to offer our full support to those customers who were on board the flight.”

Heathrow airport has announced that it will increase penalties on the noisiest aircraft as well as ranking airlines overall for how quiet their aircraft are.

Management at Britain’s busiest airport claim that their program for a quieter Heathrow is all about being a better neighbour and unrelated to their attempts to have a 3rd runway approved.

british airways 747The airport already levies penalties on noisy aircraft but wants to further increase these to a maximum of £1000 per flight for the worst offenders. As a general rule-of-thumb, the older the aircraft, the noisier it is. Accordingly, British Airways, by far the largest airline at Heathrow, and with an above average age for its fleet, is likely to take a hit. The airline is the world’s largest operator of the 747 and also has a significant number of 767s. Many of these aircraft are more than 10 years old and will almost certainly be classified as ‘noisy’.

British Airways does have an ambitious fleet renewal plan in place which will see its older aircraft replaced by newer, quieter models such as the A380, 787 & A350. However, such renewals don’t occur overnight so British Airways is likely to still be operating a fair number of 747s & 767s in 5 years time. Like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic also operates an ageing fleet although it has finally begun the process of replacing its noisy A340s witn new A330 aircraft.

Qatar Airways AircraftUnfortunately for both British Airways & Virgin Atlantic, many of their competitors operate much younger aircraft and nowhere is this more apparent than with the Gulf carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways & Etihad who seem intent on buying up anything that Boeing & Airbus can offer.

As well as penalising the noisiest aircraft and ranking airlines, Heathrow have also released plans that involve aircraft landing at steeper angles and trialing new departure routes.

Speaking about their plans, the airport’s chief executive commented: “Heathrow is at the forefront of international efforts to tackle aircraft noise and as a result, even though the number of flights has almost doubled since the 1970s, fewer people are affected by noise. We will continue to work with airlines, Nats, policy makers and local communities to further reduce aircraft noise while safeguarding the vital connectivity and economic growth that Heathrow provides.”

British Airways Heathrow

Featured below is a video taken by a passenger onboard the recent British Airways flight forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow.

This video clearly shows that the casing has come away from the left engine although, as yet, there has still been no official explanation as to the cause. Following the incident on Friday, there were numerous flight delays and cancellations at Heathrow which took place at the start of one of the busiest weekends of the year – the May Bank holiday / school half term.

This author’s young nephews and niece were meant to be flying from Heathrow to their home in Amsterdam at 6pm on the Friday evening. Once at the airport, they were told that their British Airways flight was cancelled and that no other flights were available until Monday at the very earliest. Put simply, there was nothing that the airline could do for them. Fortunately their mother was able to get tickets on eurotunnel, drive over from Holland to London the same night, turn around and drive back again.

In the on-going saga regards the future of Heathrow, and its potential expansion, last week’s incident brought out all the expected reactions. Opponents of Heathrow’s expansion pointed out that the aircraft had been forced to make an emergency return to Heathrow while flying right over the heart of London. Supporters of Heathrow’s meanwhile pointed out that, yet again, a single incident at the airport is capable of throwing the airport into crisis with passengers from around the world deeply inconvenienced.

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Michael Markieta, a global transport planner at UK engineering company ARUP, has spent the last year creating a map that visualises the world’s flight paths.

There are some 58,000 flight paths around the world and, not surprisingly, the highest concentration is to be found over Europe and the east coast of the USA. Europe is home to 3 of the world’s 10 busiest airports, Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulles and London Heathrow, British Airways main base. Although Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger numbers, Frankfurt serves more destinations with some 235 routes.

One of the most interesting features of the map is the fact that no base outline was required to indicate the various different continents. That function was carried out by the various flight paths, indicating in the process one of the main features of human settlement over the years, our desire to live by the coast.








A British Airways flight was forced to make an emergency landing to Heathrow this morning after smoke was seen billowing from one of its engines.

At around 9am this morning, British Airways 762, en-route from Heathrow to Oslo, was forced to return to Heathrow for an emergency landing. The Airbus A319 had some 75 passengers on-board and, having successfully returned to Heathrow and de-planed, there are no reports of any injuries.

It is of course too early to know what the exact problem was although, in such circumstances, bird-strikes are one possible explanation.

A witness: – Chris Cooke described a major change in the sound of the plane as it went over head and then described how he could see that the right engine was on fire. At that point, he said, there wasn’t much smoke. He described the change in engine tone as a dramatic change in tone, almost like a blow-out.

Passengers planning to use Heathrow today have been advised to expect long delays.

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It may seem an absurd question, but perhaps the time has come to treat the country’s busiest airport as ‘UK Heathrow’ rather than ‘London Heathrow’.

Heathrow Terminal 5 view of runwayJust as the Houses of Parliament are located in London but representative of the UK as a whole, so Heathrow, while being located in London, could easily be construed as a national airport that has to serve the interests of the entire country.

Last week, the Davies Commission on airport capacity published its first discussion paper. One of the most telling points it raised was that Heathrow is only connected to 7 other UK airports, the lowest number for many years and a figure that is in danger of falling still further.  Even Amsterdam is connected to more destinations in the UK than Heathrow.

British Airways aircraft parked in front of Heathrow Terminal 5With no spare runway capacity at Heathrow, British Airways is under intense financial pressure to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of its existing slots. What this means is that the airline is being forced to make increasingly difficult choices, ones that may see low volume links to the likes of Belfast & Leeds/Bradford sacrificed for flights to the fast growing cities of Asia.

Of course we need these new routes but should only London and the South East benefit? Ask politicians and the business community anywhere in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England whether connectivity to Heathrow is important and you will get a resounding Yes. Are they not entitled to a say in Heathrow’s future?

Some politicians have called for legislation that sets aside a certain number of slots at Heathrow for regional connections. In reality this would prove difficult to enforce legally- Heathrow is a private business after all – and impossible to manage.

The only way in which regional connections can be both protected, and indeed added to, is by an increase in capacity. Whether this is by means of new runways at Heathrow or a brand new London airport, the next government must act in the national interest.

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British Airways has released details of the guest list for its inaugural UnGrounded flight on 12th June.

BritishAirwaysUnGroundedThe private flight from San Francisco to London Heathrow has been conceived as an ‘innovation lab in the sky’, with the 100 plus invited guests set to work together on a number of pre-ordained tasks and challenges. The ideas and solutions that they come up with will then be presented to the United Nations ITU Secretary General at the DNA (Decide Now Act) Summit in London.

Amongst the invited guests will be Gavin Newson (California Lieutenant Governor), Craig Newmark (craigslist and craigconnects), Gina Bianchini (Mightybell), Andrew D’Souza (Top Hat), Claudia Fan Munce (IBM), Will Young (Zappos Labs), Alexis Ringwald (LearnUp), David Raskino (Microsoft), Anthony Goldbloom (Kaggle), James Beshara (CrowdTilt) & Tiffany Shlain (The Webby Awards).

In addition, Mashable, one of the leading news sources for the internet, was invited to select 10 participants based on a competition which asked entrants to put forward their own ideas and suggestions. Amongst the winners were Jen Padgett (CTA), Brian Doll (GitHub), Kimberlie Cerrone (Tiatros) & Kristen Christian (Bank Transfer Day).

Further details regards UnGrounded can be found at the following website – http://ungroundedthinking.com/

first class at sunset

Just like home only better..

A new one-off show from BBC 2, Airport Live will broadcast live from Heathrow for 4 consecutive nights and will concentrate on aircraft movements, from the moment they enter the airport’s airspace to the moment they leave again.

British Airways HeathrowHeathrow is the 3rd busiest airport in the world in terms of passengers numbers, and the busiest in terms of international passengers, with some 200,000 passengers travelling through its 4 terminals every single day. Slightly less than half of all those passengers will be flying with British Airways.

Heathrow Terminal 5 view of runwayThe show will be presented by Dan Snow, Anita Rani & Dallas Campbell. Rani & Campbell will mainly focus on the logistics, science and engineering involved while Snow will be based in the air traffic control tower, one of the world’s tallest. Speaking about the new show, Snow had this to say: ‘Air travel has become an everyday luxury that we take for granted, but behind the scenes it’s a fascinating web of processes all precisely managed to maintain equilibrium. Over four nights we’ll get the chance to see how it all works. We’ll take a look at the complex choreography of air traffic control, learn to fly the world’s largest passenger jet, the A380, and discover how weather plays a crucial role in keeping the whole operation running smoothly. Airport Live will be a thrilling journey through the skies and a definitive account of modern air travel.”

No dates have yet been announced for the series although we hope that they hold off until the arrival of British Airways first A380 in July.

British Airways A380


The Davies Commission, brought about to look into future UK airport capacity, has just published its first discussion paper.

The Commission will not publish its official recommendations until 2015, after the next general election, but on Thursday published its first discussion paper which lays down the key issues, discussion points and problems that the nation faces in respect of future airport capacity.

At no point does this initial paper deal with any specifics – ie there is no mention of plans for a 3rd or 4th runway at Heathrow nor the alternative plans for a new airport to the east of London – although it does identify the two key, conflicting business models that makes any future planning such a difficult task.

Heathrow Terminal 5 view of runwayOn the one hand there are airlines, such as British Airways, that have nailed their colours very firmly to the Hub model.  Although British Airways operate flights out of London Gatwick & London City airports, the vast majority of its flights operate out of London Heathrow with, to a large degree, short-haul flights from the UK and Europe feeding its long-haul route network and vice verse. Capacity constraints at Heathrow mean that British Airways now serves less UK destinations than it did ten or twenty years ago and, with pressure to use each slot as efficiently as possible (ie operate bigger aircraft to long-haul destinations), there are fears in the likes of Belfast & Leeds/Bradford that, without an increase in runway capacity, they will soon lose connectivity to Heathrow altogether.

British Airways 787 DreamlinerThe second and contrary model, is that the future of aviation will see a marked increase in direct, point-to-point flights as travellers and airlines seek to avoid busy, expensive hubs and simply fly between far more different destinations. In the past, the relatively size small of the aviation market and limitations in aircraft design meant that this wasn’t really an option. However, with the increase in the world’s population and, in general, its wealth, together with the advent of aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 which can fly long distances much more economically than before, long-haul, point-to-point flights are becoming increasingly viable.

The question for the Davies Commission is, broadly speaking, which model is right for the UK and, equally importantly, whether the UK government and various airports are really in a position to shape the future. We can increase hub capacity at Heathrow or look to add capacity at regional airports such as Birmingham & Manchester; what we can’t do is tell passengers, especially from outside the UK, how and where they fly.

British Airways Heathrow

Vindicating the long held views of British Airways, the UK’s Transport Select Committee have come out in favour of expansion at Heathrow and rejected proposals for a brand new airport to the east of London.

Heathrow Terminal 5 view of runwayAlthough the Committee have no control over government policy, the findings of the cross-party groups of MPs will come as a major blow to Boris Johnson and his supporters who have been arguing that the UK should build a brand new airport somewhere to the east of London.

The Committee’s conclusions were that a new airport to the east of London would be too expensive to build, require huge subsidies and damage the local environment. Instead, as the majority of the business community and airlines such as British Airways have long argued, they came out in the support of Heathrow, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of international aviation, and backed plans for an additional 3rd and perhaps even 4th runway.

The bridge at Gatwick Airport North Terminal

London Gatwick

Indeed not only did the Committee call for an increase in capacity at Heathrow, they also encouraged Gatwick, the UK’s second busiest airport, to press ahead with plans for its own second runway. Again, such development has been rejected both by local residents and Boris Johnson.

Faced by strongly conflicting positions, David Cameron has done what successive governments have done over the years, run away from the problem. The government has therefore asked Sir Howard Davies to form a commission to look into airport capacity in the south east but to delay its final report, ready or not, until 2015, after the next General Election. The problem for David Cameron is that many of the parliamentary constituencies in west London that would be most affected by increased aircraft noise are currently held by the Conservatives…….but only just.

British Airways said the report ‘backs up our  view that a Thames Estuary airport is not a credible option’.

Heathrow Terminal 5 view of runway










It was double success for Heathrow at the recent World Airport Awards, with British Airways’ Terminal 5 winning the award for the best individual airport terminal in the world and Heathrow overall winning the award for best airport shopping.

Heathrow Terminal 5

The annual awards are carried out by SKYTRAX and are based on the responses of over 12 million people from 108 different countries. Overall, Heathrow was voted the 10th best airport in the world and 4th best in Europe, with Singapore’s Changi Airport reclaiming the title as the world’s favourite airport. Details of all the awards can be found here.

The award for Terminal 5 in particular is a marked turnaround for both Heathrow & British Airways after the fiasco of its opening in 2008; problems with the automated luggage system meant that many people left without their bags or weren’t able to travel at all. There were even those who suggested that both British Airways and Heathrow would never really retrieve the situation. These awards prove what most people knew then and now, that the opening itself was an ill-prepared shambles, but that the terminal itself was, bar a few mistakes, a wonderful achievement, a great introduction to the country and a huge improvement on the cramped conditions British Airways passengers had endured at Terminal 4.

Together with its IAG partner, Iberia Airlines, British Airways is the sole tenant at Terminal 5. Since its opening in 2008, an additional satelite terminal, 5C, has been added, with talk of a further extension, 5D, being added in the future. With the recent news that British Airways flights to Bangkok, Singapore & Sydney are all being moved from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5, by the start of November it should be that all British Airways long-haul customers are able to enjoy the Terminal 5 experience.

Photo of a beautiful British Airways lounge

Terminal 5 Concorde Lounge

British Airways received a major boost today when the UK regulator, the CAA, announced its recommendation that passenger charges at Heathrow should rise by the rate of inflation minus 1.3% for the five year period commencing April 2014. At current prices, that would mean a real term reduction from £20.50 per passenger now to £19.34 per passenger in 2019.

Heathrow Terminal 5

Heathrow Terminal 5

In February, Heathrow had proposed that its charges should increase by 5.9% above inflation for each of the same 5 years and, although in private it probably never expected such a generous settlement, it will still have been shocked by today’s report. While Heathrow has argued that it needs to increase its charges in order to continue investing in the airport, the airlines and CAA have taken a somewhat contrary view; with Terminal 5 having opened in 2008, and Terminal 2 set to re-open in 2014 after a complete re-build, the major capital investment projects at Heathrow will have come to an end and so, the likes of British Airways argue, any increase in charges would simply be an excuse for the airport’s investors to line their pockets - this at a time when airlines around the world are struggling to make any profit at all.

Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh

When Heathrow proposed its 5.9% annual increase in charges, British Airways had countered with an (equally unrealistic) proposal for an annual reduction of 9.8% below inflation. Reacting to today’s news, Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways parent company IAG had this to say: “Heathrow airport is over-priced, over-rewarded and  inefficient and these proposals, which will result in an increase in prices,  fail to address this situation. In the past the CAA has rewarded Heathrow for inefficiency and it is now the most expensive hub airport in the world.  Its charges have tripled in the last 11 years with inflation busting increases year-on-year”.  Nothing new there then although we are pretty confident that Willie Walsh will be happier than his counterpart at Heathrow, Colin Matthews.

At the same time as publishing its proposals for Heathrow, the CAA also announced that it planned to adopt a lighter touch in regards to charges at London’s 2 other major airports, Gatwick & Stansted. Both airports were once part of BAA, the original parent company of Heathrow, and were forcibly sold off in order to introduce competition to the capital’s airport industry.


The bridge at Gatwick Airport North Terminal

London Gatwick

Although British Airways has never flown out of Stansted (unless one counts its old low cost off-shoot, Go) it does still have a significant presence at Gatwick. There, the CAA has said that it wishes to see a more flexible regime that will allow the airport to compete with Heathrow on commercial terms. Thus far however, no agreement has been reached and, should that continue to be the case, the CAA has advised that charges at Gatwick will rise by 1% above inflation for the same 5 year period.

A final announcement on charges at all 3 airports is expected in October.

British Airways Heathrow



airlineBA777flying3British Airways has announced that it will be reducing capacity on flights between London Heathrow & Bangkok by replacing the existing 747-400 with a 747-200. While the 747-000 has a seating capacity of some 339 spread across all 4 classes (First, Club World, World Traveller Plus & World Traveller), the 777-200 to be used on this route has just 275 seats and no First Class, ie 48 seats in Club World, 24 Seats in World Traveller Plus and 203 seats in World Traveller. As well as changing aircraft, British Airways has also changed the timings of the flights. Whereas the existing flights are both overnight services, the new outbound fight ex London will still be overnight but departing at 15:05 instead of 22:05 (arriving Bangkok at 09:20 the following morning) while the return flight ex Bangkok will be a morning service departing at 10:55 and arriving back in London at 16:55 the same day.

Heathrow Terminal 5Despite the reduction in capacity, it’s not all bad news for fans of British Airways. While the current service operates out of Terminal 3, the new service, which commences on 27th October, will operate from and to the airline’s main base at Terminal 5, thereby offering passengers much easier connections to the airline’s extended route network as well as far more pleasant surroundings. With the airline already having switched its Sydney & Singapore services from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5, from this November it could be that all British Airways long-haul flights from Heathrow operate out of Terminal 5.

new wtThe other point worth making is that some of British Airways fleet of 747-400 aircraft really are beginning to show their age (hence the recent spate of new aircraft orders from the airline) and British Airways have already said that they will not be retro-fitting the aircraft with their new World Traveller & World Traveller Plus cabins. Hopefully, the 777-200 operating to Bangkok will be one of the aircraft that will be retro-fitted; alternatively, it could even be that this switch to the 777-200 is only temporary and that British Airways introduce their new 787 Dreamliner on the route next summer.

Although no explanation has been given by the airline, it would seem that Bangkok is now primarily a leisure destination (as opposed to the more business orientated routes of London to Hong Kong & Singapore for example) and the airline has been struggling to compete against more competitive Gulf carriers, such as Emirates, who have added significant capacity to the route. By operating the far more efficient 777-200, British Airways will probably carry a similar number of passengers as before but with higher loads and lower costs.



British Airways has launched a series of promotional fares between London & Scotland starting at just £39 per person one way. British Airways operates from London Heathrow, London Gatwick and London City to Edinburgh, Glasgow & Aberdeen. The lowest fares apply for travel from Gatwick and is for those customers travelling with hand luggage only. These special offers coincide with the launch of Virgin Atlantic’s new domestic service between Heathrow and both Edinburgh & Aberdeen which we reported on here. At the time, we did suggest that British Airways would not take this new competition lying down……..

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British Airways A321Despite their many differences and disagreements, the one thing that British Airways & Virgin Atlantic do agree on is the importance to the UK economy of the aviation industry. Both Willie Walsh & Sir Richard Branson have repeatedly criticised successive British governments, be they Labour, Conservative or Coalition, for their punitive increases in air passenger duty (now the highest in the world) and for their dithering over the issue of future airport capacity. After the pointless, lengthy and expensive fiasco that was the Terminal 5 Enquiry, the government talked of the need to make strategic national policy decisions much more quickly. The result? The Coalition government instigated the Davies Commission to look into airport capacity but to not report back until 2015……after the general election. Anyone would think that ’strategic national policy decisions’ were less important to David Cameron than a handful of marginal constituencies in west London.

Although this joint message from the two airlines is nothing new, the vast majority of their lobbying effort has been directed at the government. With the launch of a new public website, the Great British Flying Test,  it would seem that both British Airways & Virgin Atlantic are set on taking their fight directly to the people.

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t5 vintage ad

In association with BBH Asian Pacific, British Airways has launched a new Asia-wide campaign promoting its Terminal 5 base at London Heathrow airport. The vintage-style ads are meant to evoke a more glamorous age in air travel at the same time as highlighting the terminal as a destination in its own right. Together with its IAG parter Iberia, British Airways is the sole tenant of Terminal 5 which opened in 2008. The new ad campaign is first being launched in India and Korea (British Airways only resumed flights to the Korean capital, Seoul, in 2012) before being rolled out across the region.

cabin crew uniformsAsia is the world’s fastest growing aviation market and British Airways has said on numerous occasions that it wants to increase capacity between London and the region’s major business destinations. Capacity constraints at Heathrow are a major stumbling block in this ambition although the takeover of bmi in 2012 means that British Airways now has some 6% more slots than it did a year ago. A new service to Chengdu in China commences September 2013 while this November Hong Kong will become the second destination in British Airways’ route network to receive the new A380. Even so, British Airways still lags behind European competitors Air France/KLM and Lufthansa and there are numerous important Asian countries that it has no flights to at all – Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam & the Philippines.

a380 real

Dubai to overtake Heathrow as world’s busiest international airport

Heathrow Terminal 5Speaking at a recent conference in Ireland, Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways parent IAG, claimed that the UK’s unwillingness to build any additional runways at London Heathrow meant that, by 2015, Dubai International Airport (DXB) will have overtaken Heathrow as the world’s busiest international airport.  The London hub is currently the world’s third busiest airport in terms of overall passenger numbers (behind Atlanta & Beijing) but has been the busiest airport in the world in terms of international passenger numbers for quite some time now. Mr Walsh went on to say that not only would Dubai claim the number 1 position in the next 2 years but that in the next 10 years Heathrow would fall out of the top 5 and in 20 years would drop out of the top 30 of the world’s busiest international airports. British Airways accounts for just under 50% of available slots at Heathrow.

Heathrow experiences record number of passengers in March

British Airways plcAlthough Mr Walsh’s comments are hard to argue with, in the short term at least Heathrow airport has just announced its busiest ever March figures with passenger traffic for the month up 3.9% on March 2012. Passenger numbers were up almost across the board (exceptions being Greece & Africa) with traffic to China increasing a massive 15.1%, the Middle East 9.2%, Europe 7.4%, Latin America & India both 3.9%, Russia 3.0% & North America 1.4%. In total, Heathrow saw some 5.9 million passenger in March (annual total approx 70 million) with an increase in both load factors (75.8%) and average seats per departure (199.3) – the increase in seats per departure is partly down to British Airways takeover of bmi in 2012 and the resultant use of larger aircraft on more longhaul flights.

Willie Walsh speaks out in favour of further airline consolidation

VuellingSpeaking at the same CAPA conference in Ireland (see first article) Willie Walsh made clear his support for further airline consolidation; this in the same week that IAG made a final, approved bid for Spanish low cost carrier Vueling. He went on to claim that airline alliances, such as Oneworld of which British Airways is a lead member, were poor substitutes for full airline mergers. “The alliance gives you good revenue synergies, but consolidation gives you cost and revenue synergies,” Walsh said.

British Airways first Dreamliner gets a paint-job

Although no dates have been given for its delivery, nor any indication as to the routes it will fly, photos have emerged of British Airways first Boeing 787 as its receives a paint-job at the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington. The 787 has been grounded around the world since January due to problems with the aircraft’s state of the art batteries although test flights have now resumed and existing customer are hopeful of being able to re-launch flights by the end of May.

British Airways signs deal with golf star Justin Rose

 In the week of the Augusta Masters, British Airways has signed a three year deal with British golfer Justin Rose to support the company’s global marketing activity. The golfer will appear in campaigns promoting British Airways golfing holidays as well as supporting the airline’s charity initiative, Flying Start. The airline’s logo will appear on the golfer’s kit, starting with the Masters where he carded a 2 under par for his opening round.

British Airways Club World

virgin little red

Over the years British Airways & Virgin Atlantic have had numerous colourful disagreements. Now, with the launch of Virgin’s domestic service, Little Red, the battle will be played out over the skies of the UK for the first time.

Following its takeover of bmi in 2012, British Airways was forced to give up a number of slots on routes between Heathrow and Manchester, Edinburgh & Aberdeen. It would have had to do the same on flights between Heathrow & Glasgow except for the fact that bmi had already stopped operating the route before the takeover. Having given up the slots, it came down to a straight flight between Virgin Atlantic & Air Lingus as to who would take them over and, as the former could boast a complementary long-haul route at Heathrow, it came as no surprise to industry watchers when the slots were awarded to Virgin.

British Airways Terminal 5 ArrivalsStarting with services to Manchester, followed by the launch of flights to Scotland this April, Little Red now offers six daily flights between Heathrow & Edinburgh, three daily flights between Heathrow & Aberdeen and four daily flights between Heathrow & Manchester. One of the amusing ironies of this story is that because Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have any experience of flying short-haul, Little Red flights will be operated by aircraft and crew from, yes, you guessed it, Air Lingus.

All flights will be operated by A320 aircraft in the Virgin Atlantic livery, as per the picture above. The airline will offer a single cabin service with all-leather seats and hot-breakfast rolls on flights before 9am.

So, will Virgin be able to compete with British Airways and make a profit? Well, it’s always been hugely difficult for anyone to make a profit on UK domestic flights but especially full service airlines. In terms of cost, Little Red is unlikely to be able to compete with Easyjet & Ryanair (although neither fly to Heathrow) while British Airways has more slots and bigger aircraft which it could use (surely not!) to drive prices down. As a stand-alone service it seems highly unlikely that Little Red will ever make money so its value to the airline can only be considered as a feeder service. Clearly there are passengers near all three airports who will welcome the ability to fly Virgin all the way to the US, Africa & Asia but are there enough of them? Having recently seen US carrier Delta take a 49% stake in the airline,  and with talk of Virgin Atlantic joining the Sky Team alliance, Richard Branson must feel confident that Little Red won’t go the way of bmi.

A lovely BA plane in flight


British Airways have announced that from 31st March their service between Heathrow & Shanghai will increase from 6 to 7 flights a week. The announcement re-enforces the airline’s stated commitment to increasing flights between the UK and mainland China and comes before the September launch of their brand new service between Heathrow & Chengdu. Both routes will be served by Boeing 777s with 4 class cabins.

Earlier this month, the airline’s oneworld partner Cathay Pacific announced that they would be launching a 5th daily service between Hong Kong & Heathrow; British Airways currently has a double daily service on the route although it has been rumoured that Hong Kong will be British Airways launch route for the A380 when it arrives this summer.

Heathrow Terminal 5

The operator of Heathrow Airport has called on the regulator to allow it to significantly increase the charges it levies on airlines, calling in fact for a 5.9% annual increase in charges over the 5 year period commencing 2014.

The airport claims that the last time charges were set, predicted passenger numbers were greatly over estimated and that, as a result, the airport has missed out on over £600 million in expected revenue.

Having opened Terminal 5 in 2007, and with Terminal 2 set to re-open in 2014, the airport claims that it must significantly increase its revenue if it is to continue investing in the airport and compete not just with the likes of Paris, Frankfurt & Amsterdam but also fast growing hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Doha.

Once Terminal 2 does re-open, some have suggested that the airport will use the opportunity to close and knock down Terminal 1 before further expanding Terminal 2 into the available space.

Unfortunately for passengers, with airlines already operating at a loss or making minimal profits, any such increases in charges will invariably be passed on to the travelling public in the form of higher ticket prices. With some 50% of slots at the airport, British Airways is the airline most affected by these proposals and, not surprisingly, has called on the regulator to reject any such increases out-of-hand.

British Airways argues that with its 2 largest infrastructure projects out of the way, Heathrow simply doesn’t require the claimed for additional £3 billion and instead claims that the airport is more interested in rewarding investors than in improving the passenger experience. In this matter, British Airways does at least have the support of its traditional rival Virgin Atlantic.