Airlines and airports on both sides of the Atlantic are working hard to ensure the efficient and revenue boosting take-off of their expansion plans as Open Skies becomes a global commercial reality.
Without doubt the biggest story to emerge to date has been British Airways’ decision to form subsidiary carrier, OpenSkies, to operate services between the US and mainland Europe.
OpenSkies will enjoy a modest start in June 2008, using a single B757 aircraft to operate daily flights between New York JFK and Paris CDG.
However, it plans to add another B757 to its fleet later in the year and by the end of 2009 wants a fleet of six B757s which it aims to operate between New York and Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan.
The airline, expected to acquire the aircraft from BA’s existing fleet, has also indicated that it intends to launch flights to mainland Europe from other US cities, but for now is keeping these plans a closely guarded secret.
It has, however, been more open about the new airline’s planned business class product, which it trendily calls Biz. The airline reveals that it will offer 24 flatbeds in Biz, each of which will feature an on-demand in flight entertainment system. The carrier is also promising to offer “innovations in in-flight catering”.
“We’re out to change the meaning of airline food,” managing director, Dale Moss, says in a blog on the carrier’s website. “First off, we’re expanding beyond the standard chicken or beef option to bring more fresh, healthy, a la carte selections. Add to that a great choice of wines and a service style that is modelled from a fine dining restaurant.”
Bold words indeed, but those that know him would expect nothing less than the American-born former director of worldwide sales at British Airways and CEO of India-based Jet Airways.
Biz passengers will also enjoy dedicated check-in at private lounges on both sides of the Atlantic and aircraft configured to handle just 82 passengers in three cabins – 24 in business class (Biz), 28 in premium economy (Prem+) and 30 in economy.
Moss claims that the 52” seat pitch in Prem+ provides yet further evidence that BA’s new baby will be “doing things differently”.
The carrier’s B757s will have winglets retro-fitted to improve fuel efficiency, reduce the aircraft’s CO2 emissions and increase the aircraft’s operating range.
In fact the only fly in the ointment at moment appears to be the threat of strike action by British Airways pilots upset by the alleged “inferior terms and conditions” offered to the new carrier’s pilots. BA – which claims it would be too costly to offer OpenSkies’ pilots the same deal – and the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) are in conciliation talks at the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) in a bid to avert industrial action.
The US-EU Open Skies agreement has also encouraged British Airways to launch business class only flights between London City Airport and New York next year.
BA will operate 32 passenger capacity A318 aircraft on the service that is viewed by many as a direct challenge to Silverjet, which launched business class only flights to New York just over a year ago.
Robin Hayes, BA's executive vice president for Americas, says: "This niche service will fly passengers between the heart of the two largest financial centres in the world. We will offer a 15 minute check-in for customers in both New York and London. London City's size means that it is a quick and easy airport to use and, with a maximum of 32 passengers onboard, getting on and off the aircraft will be a smooth process. Once onboard, customers will experience all the benefits of our business class cabin including a fully flat bed.
“The New York-London route is a key market for us and these flights will be in addition to our current eight daily flights between JFK and Heathrow and three times a day from Newark. As well as the business market, we are confident that there will also be demand from premium leisure customers for this service.”
Silverjet, however, is adamant that the service poses little threat to its B767 business class flights between London Luton and New York’s Newark-Liberty International Airport.
“Our unique private terminals and dedicated security means that we will always be able to match any other commercial airline's check-in time,” says Silverjet CEO, Lawrence Hunt. “Indeed, from kerbside to boarding a Silverjet aircraft takes only 15 minutes.”
Elsewhere, Air France and Delta Air Lines have signed a joint venture agreement to share revenues and costs on their transatlantic routes from April 2008.
It will impact on all non-stop flights operated by the pair between Paris-CDG, Orly and Lyon and Atlanta, New York, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City and all Delta flights to the US from London Heathrow.
A combined 19 daily flights and more than 4,500 seats per day – a 45% increase on today – are expected to be part of the first phase of implementation.
By 2010, the agreement will be extended to all transatlantic flights operated by Air France and Delta between Europe and North America as well as all flights between Los Angeles and Tahiti.
“The launch of this joint venture marks a turning point in our partnership with Delta,” says Jean-Cyril Spinetta, chairman and CEO of Air France KLM Group.
The SkyTeam alliance, of which Air France and Delta are of course members, claims that the US-EU Open Skies agreement is a win-win situation for both passengers and airlines.
“SkyTeam applauds the progress made with the first-stage transatlantic Open Skies agreement between the EU and the US,” says Giorgio Callegari, chairman of airport and infrastructure special projects.
“We are pro-competition and strongly believe that greater liberalisation in the aviation industry opens up new opportunities for travellers, as well as airlines and their employees. We look forward to seeing the liberalisation process implemented as planned without delay, providing greater opportunity for competition within the industry to grow and thrive."
This article features in Routes News 2008 Issue 1