San Francisco welcomes new low-fare links with Mexico

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Interjet, the low-fare Mexican carrier has today (Wednesday 14 March) launched its new nonstop service between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and two cities in Mexico: Cancun (CUN) and Guadalajara (GDL).

SFO is the Bay Area’s largest airport connecting non-stop with 83 cities in the US on 13 domestic airlines and is served by a number of low-fare airlines. It is the 10th US airport on the Mexico City-based carrier’s network and flights will operate 3 times a week on both the SFO-CUN and SFO-GDL routes using Airbus A320s seating 15- passengers.

The inaugural flights were celebrated at SFO with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and welcome speeches attended by representatives of SFO, City of San Francisco and Interjet.

Jose Luis Garza, Interjet’s CEO described San Francisco’s Bay Area as “a thriving centre of arts and technology, business, sports and innovation.”

He added: “We’re delighted to be able to offer business and leisure travellers to Mexico, our unique brand of low-cost prices with free checked bags on select fares, more legroom between seats and great service that has been embraced everywhere we fly.”

Inset image: The inaugural Interjet flight landing at San Francisco International Airport

OneJet launches new city pairings in US

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Kansas City Airport and West Palm Beach will welcome a new link later this month with Pittsburgh, thanks to OneJet – the US carrier operating regional aircraft and small business jets.

Established to provide consumers increased access to nonstop travel in the small to medium markets at relatively low cost, OneJet typically uses the normal passenger terminals and gates of the airports it flies to rather than operating from a private terminal or fixed-base operator (FBO) facility.

The new routes to West Palm Beach in Florida and Kansas City in Missouri will provide fast and reliable flight options to regional business travellers, including those employed by major corporate customers in the Pittsburgh area.

The launch of the Pittsburgh route will coincide with the introduction of the airline’s new OneJet Plus service, which will offer an enhanced service and amenities onboard larger ERJ135 aircraft. “For the past two years, OneJet’s right-sized, point-to-point , nonstop services have met our customers’ demand for expedited travel between key business and leisure destinations,” said OneJet’s CEO, Matthew Maguire.

Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO, Christina Cassotis told reporters “OneJet’s unique business model that caters to corporate travellers is a key part of the regional network strategy of Pittsburgh International Airport.”

Sabiha Gocken Airport

Fly Baghdad plans route expansion to airports in Europe.

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Fly Baghdad entered the regional air travel market at the end of 2017 with the launch of a service from Baghdad International Airport to Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Since then, the Iraqi low-fare carrier has launched flights to Ankara’s Esenboga International Airport, also in Turkey, Amman in Jordan and Beirut in Lebanon.

Plans are now afoot to expand the Iraqi low-fare carrier’s network beyond the Middle East to Europe and India.

The airline, which also serves Erbil International Airport and Sulaimaniyah Airport in Iraq, was  re-launched early last year to compete against the state-owned Iraqi Airways and several other private carriers.

Ali al-Hamdany, CEO of the Baghdad-based airline told reporters at a conference in Dubai last year that Iraq has a huge population of cash rich travellers, but not many places to visit and “everyone is talking about travelling”.

This year the airline is hoping to add flights to Frankfurt in Germany, Malmo in Sweden and Delhi in India as part of a network expansion that is also expected to include Dubai.

Header image: Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey.

Toulouse takes off in 2018 as France’s third largest regional airport

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Following record growth in 2017, Toulouse-Blagnac, France’s third largest regional airport, is showing continued growth throughout the first couple of months of 2018.

In January the airport recorded +8.6% growth (679,150 passengers) and +2.4% growth in February (667,681 passengers). Domestic traffic saw a dip (-3.2%) in the second month of the year, primarily due to the cancellations of 137 flights, mainly in Paris, due to adverse weather conditions and a strike.

With 9.2 million passengers (1.1 million more than in 2016) travelling through the airport in 2017, last year’s growth has been attributed primarily to Aeroport Toulouse-Blagnac (ATB’s) development strategy to increase European low-cost traffic at the airport. Ryanair, easyJet and Volotea airlines have all seen increased activity at the French regional hub.

Following the many records set in 2017, the year ahead looks equally promising  for the airport, particularly with the arrival of new facilities that will offer passengers an enhanced experience.

Explaining that the increased traffic has led to the need to improve facilities at the airport, Anne-Marie Idrac, president of the ATB supervisory board, explained:

A single area for security checks, incorporating the latest technologies, a more attractive range of shops and catering outlets within a vast commercial space, a boarding pier dedicated to low-cost and regional airlines, a 4-star hotel connected to the air terminal: this is what our airport will be offering its passenger in 2018.

With the airport’s commercial terminal undergoing a complete refurbishment, extension and enlargement, Dufry – the duty free and travel retail giant which has been awarded the contract to operate two new duty free stores at Toulouse-Blagnac – says the revamp will tie in with ATB’s strategy to offer its passengers all the services normally associated with a large international airport.

The retailer also says that the commercial merchandise offering is aimed specifically at the ‘Toulouse Airport Traveller’, which typically includes business and frequent travellers, plus low-cost passengers, families and children.

Greek regional airports to benefit from Sky Express’ expanded network

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The Greek regional carrier, Sky Express, which is headquartered in Athens and which currently serves 28 destinations is expanding its Greek network this summer with four new domestic destinations.

Alexandroupolis, Kefalonia, Lesvos and Samos will all benefit from twice daily flights from the Greek capital with Athens-Alexandroupolis and Athens-Kefalonia routes starting in May and the Athens-Mytilini (Lesvos) and Athens-Samos routes starting in July.

According to Sky Express’ CEO, Harry Botsaris, Sky Express is on a mission “to expand its presence and strengthen even more its position in the Greek aviation market.”

Adding that the airline is integral to the success of the country’s tourism sector, Botsaris added “we connect all corners of Greece to meet the needs of the local communities, thus contributing to the development of tourism.”

Loganair unveiled as Carlisle Lake District Airport’s airline partner

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Passengers travelling from Carlisle Lake District Airport (CLDA) can now look forward to flights serving the South of England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, courtesy of Loganair.

The Scottish carrier, which will connect Cumbria and the Lake District to London Southend, Belfast City and Dublin City, with eight flights per-day throughout the working week and a total of 12 at weekends. Flights went on sale today (12 March 2018) with services commencing on 4 June.

“We’re delighted to become the first operator at the new Carlisle Lake District Airport and will be opening up Loganair’s services to a whole new range of customers,” said Jonathan Hinkles, managing director of Loganair. He was commenting on the fact that when the new service launches, it will be the first time since 1993 that CLDA has offered commercial and business passenger flights.

Kate Willard, head of corporate projects at Stobart Group (which owns CLDA) said: “Stobart group is committed to delivering a brilliant air travel experience across the UK and Ireland. We are therefore delighted to be announcing flights with Loganair connecting London, Belfast and Dublin with Carlisle and the Lake District.

“There is huge demand from London, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to visit Carlisle, which is home to major businesses and serves as a gateway to the Lake District, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and South Scotland.”

Having welcomed 45 million visitors to the county last year, Gill Haigh managing director of Cumbria Tourism, revealed that a large number of these were day trippers to the Lakes. “The new flights from Carlisle Lake District Airport will be a major boost for Cumbria’s connectivity and our £2.72billion tourism industry,” she said.

“Our marketing strategy has a key focus on encouraging visitors to stay in the county as a whole,” Haigh continued before adding: “New flights through Carlisle will create alternative travel options and Cumbria Tourism is working in partnership with the airport to encourage new and existing visitors to enjoy more of our iconic landscapes and world-class experiences.”

Meanwhile Nigel Wilkinson, board member of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Cumbria LEP is contributing £4.95million to help the airport improve its runway and terminal, an important investment which will enable flights to and from Carlisle and provide wider global access via international hubs.”

Adding to the excitement about the new service to and from CLDA and what it will mean for the local economy, John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle stated: “It is vital that we have the infrastructure to support taking our local economy to the next level. The development of CLDA will have a huge impact on our ability to grow economically. Many local businesses will be able to expand as a result of these new flights and it will also encourage other businesses to choose Cumbria as a viable location.”

February 2018: The only way is Southend

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A long-established regional hub, Southend Airport in Essex prides itself on both its quality of service and its potential for future growth. Glyn Jones reveals why the east of London airport is the one to watch.

“It’s a surprise to most people – how close Southend is to London,” says Glyn Jones, CEO of Stobart Aviation, which is responsible for London Southend Airport. “Like most people, I mistakenly thought it was a long way from the city, so I was slightly surprised when I first came here how close it is to London.”

An enthusiastic Jones is explaining what drove his move from another of the UK’s regional airports – London Luton – to Southend in 2015.

“I was impressed by Southend in several respects,” he says, revealing that the airport’s real appeal was the “quality of the passenger experience as well as the potential for growth and opportunity at the airport.”

Capable of handling 5m passengers and boasting the same airfield capacity as Luton (a 16m-passenger airport), Southend could arguably cater for a much greater volume of passengers than the 1.2m it handled in 2017. But Jones argues that Stobart’s focus is on quality not quantity.

“Stobart has always been about providing a great passenger experience,” he says, arguing that if you were to push a higher number of passengers through the existing terminal, the quality of service would be compromised.

It’s no surprise then to learn then that Southend has been named Best London Terminal four years in a row (most recently in 2017) by ‘Which? Airport Passenger Survey’ and twice been recognised by the Airport Operators’ Association (AOA) as Britain’s best small airport.

Despite the airport not filling its current capacity, Jones reveals that Southend is projected to grow capacity to 10m by the late 2020s without compromising the quality of service. In anticipation of this growth, Southend has been granted planning permission to extend its terminal by a third in 2018.

“We don’t really need to do the work yet, but we are extending the terminal for operational capacity – we want to be absolutely sure that we can keep a very high level of service and that we can do so ahead of demand,” says Jones.

Race to the city

Although Southend operates as a hub for easyJet and provides a gateway to London, it doesn’t jump to mind as one of the UK capital’s primary airports, which include Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and to some extent London City.

But Southend has its own secret weapon says Jones. He reveals that passengers travelling through his airport will on the whole find themselves in London faster than they can get through Heathrow.

“I can stand in the air traffic control tower and watch someone come off an A320 and less than five minutes later they’re through the airport and on the train platform,” says Jones.

Last year Southend pitted London’s six main passenger airports against each other in a ‘Race to the City’ to see how they fared in terms of the fastest journey between two points. Starting at an origin common to all London airports – Amsterdam Schiphol Airport – the race ended at London icon – the Stock Exchange.

“It’s unsurprising that London City was the quickest option, taking 70 minutes in total from Amsterdam to central London. However Southend, which came in second place, wasn’t far behind with a total journey time of 99 minutes,” says Jones triumphantly. “With a flight time of just 24 minutes, a 5-minute aircraft taxi time from touch down to gate, and a gate to exit walking time of 3 minutes, the longest part of the journey was the final leg – the 67-minute journey on public transport to central London,” he continues.

Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton all lagged behind. So, as well as being situated outside the capital’s most congested air traffic area, when it comes to actual journey times into the capital, Southend can offer a more convenient and less stressful option for passengers when compared with other airports serving London.

Regional awareness

While Jones is the first to admit that Southend had a great product and offered a great service when he took over the helm, he divulges that what was lacking was “great awareness” of what was on offer.

“I brought honest recognition that there was a job to do (both in terms of business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing), as well as some of the tools and experience to carry this out.

“For me, marketing is all about numbers and understanding people in detail. Those people in our case are both businesses (the airlines) and the passengers,” asserts Jones. One of the first things he did in his role as CEO was to commission the use of big data to better understand the airlines and their passengers.

Accessing and analysing this data has not only allowed the airport to better understand its catchment (based on both outbound and inbound traffic), but it has also enabled the airport’s management team to help airlines to evaluate the risks and benefits of serving Southend.

“Airlines understandably get nervous about putting their capacity into a new airport because it involves risk and we all know the operation of airlines isn’t cheap. Our understanding of our catchment enables the airlines to evaluate the risks in a more detailed way.”

The airport has also teamed up with its airline partners to invest a seven-figure sum on consumer marketing. “It’s all about driving awareness and resonance,” he says, explaining that it’s not just about saying that you can fly from Southend to any number of destinations in Europe, but reiterating why passengers should choose to fly to or from Southend.

It’s the same issue faced by airports around the world; to attract passengers you need airlines and to attract airlines you need passengers. But Jones concedes the current aviation market is a particularly competitive one, particularly at a European level with asset allocation and airlines being able to pick and choose where they base their aircraft. “The competition is severe, so we need to make sure we can help airlines by creating new values and a whole new experience that they can benefit from, as well as the passengers.

“Fundamentally though it’s about being a believer,” insists Jones. “And we believe that in 10 years we will be a 10m passenger airport.” But he adds that government support is needed to drive this growth, particularly at airports like Southend which has peak capacity available, rather than to keep piling passengers into busier, existing airports. “This only increases delays and decreases the level of service at these facilities,” he argues.

Raising the game for smaller airports

Renowned for his outspoken campaign urging the UK Government to help free up capacity at smaller airports, Jones maintains that the focus should be on three primary areas.

The most obvious is Air Passenger Duty (APD). “Many airports are marginal financially and APD is disproportionate,” he points out. “I don’t see why the Government doesn’t take a more inventive view of APD and how it affects regional airports.”

Unlike the big airports and airlines, Jones doesn’t think that APD should be abolished altogether. “Rather it should be removed from smaller airports (those serving less than 3m passengers) to help rebalance the economy by using the existing capacity at these regional hubs.”

Secondly, Jones believes the planning system should be streamlined. This, he insists would help smaller airports – which are lacking in the budgets and resources of big hitters such as Heathrow and Gatwick – when it comes to applying for planning consent to expand and improve their facilities.

Finally, he stipulates that the Government needs to better understand the relevance of surface access to airports by improving rail and road connections. Not only would improved access provide passengers with a greater choice of options, but Jones adds: “Environmentally it’s really important that we manage things in the least impactful way possible, which means getting as many people as we can travelling by train.”

He would also like to see airports operating their own rail franchises so that they can tailor the service specifically with the needs of the passenger in mind.

When it comes to lobbying the Government and speaking out about the aviation sector, another issue Jones doesn’t shy away from is of course, Brexit.
He states that there needs to be a constructive dialogue that brings together the whole of the industry and the Government, as well as regulators on both sides of the channel (EU and non-EU).

“We’re not speaking with one voice and admittedly that’s not easy, nor may it be possible, but we should at least be able to reduce the fragmentation of those voices.”

Ultimately though, the most important thing is that we have open skies, says Jones, concluding that “it would be ridiculous to stop the free flow of aviation services and it is in no-one’s interest why anyone would want to do that. But irrational things do happen, so we must be absolutely sure to maintain open skies!”

Iberia airport services celebrates record year

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In 2017 Iberia Airport Services, the Spanish carrier’s handling division, served 91.2 million passengers, nearly 3.5% more than in 2016.

Providing passenger handling and ground services in 29 Spanish airports, including some of the country’s smaller regional hubs, Iberia Airport Services works with aircraft belonging to Iberia, the IAG group and almost 200 other customer airlines.

While around 60% of the company’s activity is concentrated in Spain’s larger hubs such as Madrid and Barcelona, Malaga, Alicante and Bilbao, other smaller airports, such as Los Rodes in the North of Tenerife, Jerez de la Frontera, La Palma and Reus are also among those to experience the largest growth.

According to Angel Marcos, director of Iberia’s Airport Services, “2017 was a record year in numbers of passengers and aircraft served, but, in addition, we continued to advance with our commitment to the environment and we introduced modernisation projects in invoicing, baggage management, and safety which let us offer a better service to our customers.”

With a fleet of more than 8,500 units of equipment for providing its services, around 39% of the ground vehicles used by Iberia’s Airport Services are now electric, which has enabled the company to significantly reduce its CO2 emissions.

O’Hare revamp negotiations near completion

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Despite being served by a vast number of regional and low-fare airlines and known as one of the world’s busiest airports, Chicago O’Hare International Airport is often described as ‘outdated’ and has a reputation for gridlocked traffic. But the airport, which has a terminal dedicated to regional and low-fare carriers including Lot, Spirit, Volaris, Viva aerobus, Wow and WestJet, may soon be vaulted into the 21st century with state-of-the-art remodelling plans (estimated at US$8.5bn) in the final stages of negotiation.

The renovation project would be the single largest and most expensive terminal revamp in the airport’s 73-year history. It has been described by Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, as “not just a game changer for O’Hare”, but “a turning point for Chicago,” that will create a vast number of jobs while strengthening the city’s position as a leader in travel, tourism and trade.

As well as growing O’Hare’s sluggish number of international flights the renovations will help create more room for its domestic carriers with more than 3.1 million square feet of terminal space added – an impressive 72% increase on the existing 4.3 million square feet.

Renovation plans include dozens of new gates and two new passenger concourses for domestic traffic, which will be linked to the main terminals by underground tunnels and moving walkways. Terminal 2 will be replaced with a new ‘Global Terminal’ to accommodate larger aircraft serving international destinations.

However news of the revamp has ignited a spat between the Texas-based American Airlines and Chicago-based United Airlines, with the former claiming that the renovation plans are favourable to United, with additional gates being allocated to them in the new terminal.

The battle between the two carriers could jeopardise the deal, as Chicago plans to issue up to US$4 billion in bonds backed by the airport’s revenue, such as terminal rents and landing fees, to pay for the capital improvements at the hub’s terminals.

The goal to overhaul the airport without raising taxes is underlined by the importance of getting buy-ins from both United and American, which could be an issue of the airlines don’t agree on the gate allocation.

Header picture: Terminal 3, Chicago O’Hare Airport – © Chicago Dept. of Aviation

Liverpool celebrates positive start to 2018

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Throughout January and February 2018, Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) has seen an average 3% increase in passenger traffic compared with the same period in 2017.

According to recently released figures showing 2% growth in January and 4% growth in February, almost 20,000 more passengers chose to use Liverpool this year compared to last year and it has been the busiest first two months of the year at the airport since 2010.

Describing 2018 as “already proving to be another good year for the airport with encouraging passenger numbers,” Paul Winfield, director of aviation development at LJLA cited this growth as an encouraging sign for the year ahead. “The airport has seen 70,000 more passengers use Liverpool than in February three years ago,” he added.

Many passengers have taken advantage of the airport’s routes to warmer climes with Alicante in southern Spain and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands proving popular destinations for those looking to shake off the winter blues. While links with popular winter resorts such as Geneva and Salburg have also proved popular with skiers from the region.

With six new routes already announced from Liverpool in 2018, growth in passenger traffic at the airport is set to increase further. Blue Air will operate new flights to Palma and Malaga, while easyJet will serve Pula in Croatia, Palermo in Italy and Dalaman in Turkey and Ryanair will fly to Shannon.

“The North West market is the largest aviation market outside London and by focusing on our best in class operational performance and high levels of customer satisfaction, Liverpool is becoming the ‘faster, easier, friendlier’ airport of choice for more and more passengers taking advantage of direct flights to over 60 short-haul destinations,” Winfield concluded.