Sonoma Airport welcomes return of Sun Country Airlines

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Sun Country Airlines will restart its seasonal non-stop service between two US regional gateways: Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport (STS).

The US-based regional carrier launched flights to Sonoma County in March 2017, with services operating from August through to December 2017.

The airline will resume its service between its headquarters in Minneapolis and Sonoma County on 29 June 2018, operating twice a week on Mondays and Fridays.

“Sonoma County has been a great addition to our growing route network,” said Jude Bricker, president and CEO of Sun Country Airlines. “We look forward to giving our passengers the opportunity to experience Santa Rosa and Sonoma County’s charm throughout the summer months,” she continued.

STS is also preparing for Alaska Airlines to begin flying its Embraer 175 regional jet between Sonoma County and San Diego on 20 May 2018, with a Portland flight to follow on 18 July 2018.

March 2018: United Airports of Georgia

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Five is the magic number

Kate Aleksidze, CEO, United Airports of Georgia, which hosted the 15th Connect networking forum in Tbilisi last month, tells Chloë Greenbank why traffic across the country’s five airports is on the rise.

With a population of just 3.72 million, Georgia’s main airports served more than 4 million passengers in 2017. “It’s impressive, right!” Kate Aleksidze, CEO, United Airports of Georgia (UAG) tells me, laughing.

Aleksidze has every reason to be happy. When she joined UAG eight years ago, the country’s airports weren’t well known outside of Georgia – one of its smaller bases, Ambrolauri Airport, didn’t even exist – and they certainly weren’t on the radar for many airlines when it came to route development. But that’s no longer the case.

Since joining the state-owned Limited Liability Company (LLC) in 2010, which operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy & Sustainable Development of Georgia, Aleksidze has seen it evolve into one of the country’s biggest companies, which owns all of Georgia’s airports. “When I first joined there were only 50–65 employees, but now we employ over 400 staff across all three of Georgia’s primary airports,” Aleksidze reveals.

“Tbilisi and Batumi are managed by TAV Georgia,” she says, “but UAG manages Mestia and Ambrolauri, which are both small domestic airports, as well as Kutaisi International – which opened in 2012 as the country’s only low-cost airport.”

“While TAV oversees the day-to-day management at Tbilisi and Batumi, we work closely with them on structure and route development at both airports,” she says. “We also oversee aviation security across all Georgia’s airports and have become very active on an international level in terms of growing route development.”

Rise to the top

Despite having a background in law and public administration, Aleksidze couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the industry she has ended up in.

“I started out working for the young lawyers association, where I worked on trafficking, human rights and domestic violence issues, then moved to an anti-corruption group before joining a mining company. I also ran my own business for a while.

“When I was approached to come and join UAG, I had just been tasked with establishing a project management college with BP Georgia,” Aleksidze reveals. “I was in a good job, with a good salary, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge,” she says explaining how the idea of working in a different industry was part of the appeal of going into the airport sector.

“One of my first tasks when I joined in 2010 was to help bring all the airports in the country under the same group as part of UAG,” she says, before adding, “I can’t imagine ever letting go of this sector now.”

Part of the appeal she reveals, is that “airports are like small cities – they have so much going on and they offer a little bit of everything. We even have as many fire trucks as you’d find in most small cities.”

Visa-free travel

In recent years Georgia has seen unprecedented growth of air transport, passengers and the number of tourists. “The liberalisation of visa requirements has undoubtedly made it a lot easier for people to access Georgia, which has in turn made it a more attractive destination for airlines to consider when factoring in new routes,” Aleksidze concedes.

“We have seen a significant increase in the demand for air travel in recent years and we’re always looking at new markets,” she says, noting that the number of tourist visitors from the Gulf region, particularly Qatar and Israel, has increased since visa regulations were relaxed. But there has also been growth in traffic from Russia and Europe, too, particularly with increased services from low-fare carriers such as Wizz Air, which uses Kutaisi Airport as a base.

Highlighting that it’s a small country with a great infrastructure, Aleksidze agrees that it’s vital to work alongside the tourist board in promoting Georgia as a destination. She’s also quick to point out that despite its small size, the country has plenty to offer visitors. “There’s mountains for hiking and skiing, lakes for fishing and water sports, beaches for relaxation, cities and cultural sites, and of course we have been making wine for 8,000 years…” she says.

Tourism is critical for the country’s two domestic airports: Mestia and Ambrolauri. Both serve as hugely valued gateways, facilitating travel to otherwise remote regions. Ambrolauri opened at the beginning of 2017 to facilitate air travel to and from western Georgia and Mestia, Aleksidze tells me, “is beautiful and well worth visiting, but if you go by road from Tbilisi it can take 10 hours to get there, so an airport that’s a 45-minute flight away makes it much more accessible for both foreign tourists and locals.”

“However, it’s hard to make these small airports profitable due to their size and the fact they’re typically served by smaller aircraft, so the government has to subsidise flights to these hubs,” she adds.

Airline incentives and route development

“Building relationships with airlines is important, as is focusing on our infrastructure, but really we need to push Georgian airports on an international level,” Aleksidze says, unveiling that different discounts and promotional packages are offered from the different airports to incentivise new carriers.

“Kutaisi is an incentive in itself because it caters specifically for low-cost airlines,” she says, explaining how it was opened as the first low-cost airport in the region and is focused solely on attracting low-fare airlines to boost tourism development. “But for large airlines that don’t operate a low-fare model there’s also Tbilisi and Batumi, so we can offer that flexibility for airlines.”

She also insists that while hosting events like Connect might be time-consuming and involve a significant additional work load, they are also hugely rewarding in terms of highlighting the lack of connectivity to Georgia and showcasing the country’s airport infrastructure and all it has to offer. “There is still work to be done with our airports, but hosting events like Connect is a great way to show what we can offer and also that we’re open for business,” she states.

While there is no doubt that Aleksidze is a determined and driving force behind the developments and strategic planning across all five of Georgia’s airports, she’s also a warm and empathetic individual who sees her role as much more than just a commercial one.

“I have a great, reliable team and that’s been key to my achievements,” she says, crediting her colleagues with being integral to her success, but she’s also clearly not afraid to muck in when needed. “I’m involved in all aspects of running an airport and if there’s a flight delay I’ll take it personally,” she says, recalling how once when a passenger was left stranded by a flight delay she paid for a new ticket so the passenger could get her child to hospital.

“I know I can’t give that level of personal touch to each and every passenger, but as much as I can, I will,” she says.

I can’t help but think that the level of care and compassion with which Aleksidze applies herself to her role as CEO of UAG is testimony to the traditional Georgian hospitality for which the country and its people are famed. And it’s also a strong indication that those that travel through the country and its airports can expect a warm welcome with Aleksidze at the helm.

Images: Header image – Kutaisi International Airport ©Nakanimamasakhlisi; Batumi Airport; Top inset – Kate Aleksidze, CEO UAG; Bottom inset – Tbilisi Airport

March 2018: Milanamos

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Big data is key

With an extensive background in the aviation industry and a particular focus on network planning and revenue management, Christophe Ritter, co-founder of Milanamos, reveals why small airports need big data to attract low-fare carriers.

When did you launch Milanamos and what was the drive behind it?

Christophe Imbert and I launched Milanamos in 2013, with the objective of providing airlines and airports with an integrated end-to-end route development solution on a multi-modal level. We now have a team of 10 data analysts and developers serving 45 international customers on four continents.

Our customers include airports, regional and low-fare carriers, and consulting companies for whom Milanamos provides a cost-effective, flexible market-intelligence solution.

How does your product work?

We developed PlanetOptim in response to market demand for a user-friendly data analysis system that provides airlines and airports with a detailed business case for route development and network planning opportunities. We provide the complete package, from gathering preliminary market data, to estimating future demand and building a detailed profit and loss statement for that route.

How is your product scalable for smaller airports serving regional and low-fare air traffic?

Our solution is fully scalable. We partner with airports of all sizes, from primary airports, such as Hamburg, Manila and Paris, to low-cost airports, including Bergamo and Beauvais, as well as regional airports. Perpignan, for example, started out as a small regional airport in the South of France with all its traffic flying to Girona and Barcelona. But by using our predictive analytics platform, the airport has seen significant growth in route development. Ryanair has introduced five new routes and additional links are now served by Iberia and other regional carriers.

How has big data changed the dynamic of the relationship between low-fare and regional carriers and regional airports?

It has really put regional airports in the driver’s seat, as they can now leverage much more information than previously, which makes them much more attractive partners for low-fare carriers and regional airlines. For example, we can provide our clients with detailed information about the airport’s catchment area by integrating all web searches from the airport and local tourism authority. Similarly, we analyse telecom data and by cross referencing these different sources, we can provide our customers with a reasonable estimate of the traffic potential. For regional carriers or LCCs, which tend to operate on low profit margins, that sort of data is invaluable.

Why is historical data not sufficient for airports to build a competitive market analysis?

By 2035, air traffic is expected to double according to IATA. Most of this traffic is in markets that did not exist before. Take the UK for example – before the low-cost revolution, Liverpool airport had almost no commercial services due to its proximity to Manchester. Today, it caters for 5 million passengers annually and plans to have 7.8 million passengers by 2030. So, if you only base your analysis on historical demand, you will always underestimate the market potential.

What is the best way to increase an airport’s catchment area?

Facilitating multi-modal transportation. I am still surprised to see that sometimes when you land at an airport there is no bus service, or the last one left 10 minutes prior to you landing. The co-ordination of different modes of transport provides a direct benefit for passengers.

Your company has been recognised among the top 110 companies by the World Innovation Challenge for its vision of transportation in 2030. Can you expand on this vision?

It was a huge achievement to be recognised by international experts less than one year after starting up. Our vision from the outset was to provide the transport sector with the first ‘big data’ solution. We wanted to deliver multiple data sources and provide a comprehensive methodology to support the growth of the aviation industry, which includes airports, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers.

What are the next steps for Milanamos?

In parallel to the continuous enhancement of our existing solution, we are also working on building our multi-modal fulfilment platform with optimum connections between transport operators. It’s the equivalent of a clearing-house system, with the ability to offer the sale of end-to-end services, including air-rail or air-bus tickets.

easyJet celebrates Bordeaux becoming its 30th base

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Situated in southwest France, Bordeaux, which represents more than 11% of the total operation of easyJet in France, has become the low-fare carrier’s 30th base in Europe.

France is the airline’s largest European market – one quarter of all the low-fare carrier’s passengers start or finish their journey in the country – and the new base together with the expansion of other French airports brings easyJet’s total capacity in the country to 22 million seats.

Since the airline started serving Bordeaux with a flight from London Luton in 2006, it has carried 10 million passengers to and from the airport.

“easyJet has been operating to and from Bordeaux for 12 years now,” said Johan Lundgren, CEO, speaking from the French hub. “From one route in 2006 we have now become the airline that offers more domestic and international connections than anyone else at this airport, with a market share of nearly 30% and many destinations previously unserved.”

With three new Airbus A320 aircraft based at Bordeaux, easyJet will offer in excess of 400,000 extra seats this summer, which means more choice for passengers departing from the French hub, as well as more regular services and more affordable fares.

“We love Bordeaux and we have been investing and working hard together with the airport to continue to offer Bordelais passengers a great service through an efficient infrastructure and affordable fares, increasing their travel options as well as their connectivity for both leisure and business,” Lundgren continued.

The increase in service will also mean that nearly 400 jobs will be added to the 1,800 ones already created with the airline’s operations at the airport. More than 110 pilots and cabin crew are now based at Bordeaux, together with a dedicated management team, to operate the three new aircraft. Lundgren added that “all are working under local labour contracts and hundreds of additional jobs are being created in the wider local economy.”

Francois Bacchetta, easyJet’s France director, said: “Our growth in the French regions is helping to connect Bordeaux with the rest of Europe (69%) alongside domestic destinations (31%) where people have no other option than flying. We are very confident the new base will be a success, introducing three new city routes (Catania, Faro, Heraklion, Ibiza and Rhodes) and one domestic (Bastia), allowing us to attract a greater variety of customers.

“More importantly, thanks to a co-ordinated effort with the airport to develop a lean and efficient infrastructure, we keep improving our customer experience at billi terminal,” Bacchetta added.

Wizz Air expands London Luton fleet

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Wizz Air has celebrated the arrival of two new Airbus aircraft at its London Luton base and the launch of two new routes.

On 25 March the first flights took off from London Luton to two new destinations in the airline’s growing network out of the UK.

Flights to the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, will operate daily, and flights to the Italian port city of Bari will operate on Wednesdays and Sundays until 18 April, before increasing to four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Wizz Air said the addition of the new Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft to the London Luton fleet reflect the airline’s continued investment in its UK operations. The airline now has three aircraft based at London Luton, with a further five to be deployed by June 2018, increasing the number of direct local jobs to over 300.

“This is an exciting time for Wizz Air and its customers as we continue to expand our network across Europe. Our UK customers now have the opportunity to explore the fascinating cities and surrounding regions of Bratislava and Bari at Wizz Air’s lowest fares and travelling on one of Europe’s youngest aircraft fleets,” said Owain Jones, chief corporate officer at Wizz Air.

Jones continued: “The arrival of two brand new aircraft at London Luton reflects our commitment to our UK operations as we continue on our mission to deliver the lowest fares to some of the most exciting destinations Europe has to offer.”

Wizz Air expands London Luton fleet

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Wizz Air has celebrated the arrival of two new Airbus aircraft at its London Luton base and the launch of two new routes.

On 25 March, the first flights took off from London Luton to two new destinations in the airline’s growing network out of the UK.

Flights to the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, will operate daily, and flights to the Italian port city of Bari will operate on Wednesdays and Sundays until 18 April, before increasing to four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Wizz Air said the addition of the new Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft to the London Luton fleet reflects the airline’s continued investment in its UK operations. The airline now has three aircraft based at London Luton, with a further five to be deployed by June 2018, increasing the number of direct local jobs to over 300.

“This is an exciting time for Wizz Air and its customers as we continue to expand our network across Europe. Our UK customers now have the opportunity to explore the fascinating cities and surrounding regions of Bratislava and Bari at Wizz Air’s lowest fares and travelling on one of Europe’s youngest aircraft fleets,” said Owain Jones, chief corporate officer at Wizz Air.

Jones continued: “The arrival of two brand new aircraft at London Luton reflects our commitment to our UK operations as we continue on our mission to deliver the lowest fares to some of the most exciting destinations Europe has to offer.”

Bristol Airport unveils increase in millennials taking to the sky

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Research commissioned by Bristol Airport shows that millennials – classed in this case as those between 18-34 years – are much more likely to travel outside the UK now than they were two years ago.

Carried out by YouGov on behalf of Bristol Airport, the study found that more 25-34-year-olds are flying regularly for work than any other age group. It also revealed that leisure travel is on the rise among this age group with 56% of those surveyed declaring that they had flown in the past 12 months.

Millennials were also found to travel more frequently than older age groups when it comes to visiting family outside the UK. Of the 40% of those polled with close family living outside the UK, 29% of 18-24-year-olds and 26% of 25-34-year-olds declared that they visited family outside the UK once or more a year, compared to 18% of those aged 55 and over

Despite concerns over Brexit, the results also suggest that millennials think of themselves as having a more international outlook with 11% of 18-24-year-olds identifying themselves as European, compared to an average of 7% across all age groups.

Referencing the study, Nigel Scott, business development director at Bristol, one of the UK’s busiest regional airports, said:

“Millennials could make up as much as half of our passengers in 20 years’ time, so understanding what drives their travel decisions is important. Their international outlook suggests that they will continue to want to travel in future, so airports need to ensure we are providing the choice and value millennials are looking for.”

Unsurprisingly, cost plays a big factor when deciding which airport to fly from among younger travellers, with 67% of 18-24-year-olds and 68% of 25-34-year-olds saying it would impact their decision. Additionally, 35% of 18-24-year-olds also declared they would be prepared to sacrifice convenient flight times and 17% would sacrifice speed and efficiency when choosing which airport to fly from.

Younger travellers are also more likely to be concerned about cost when selecting where they are jetting off to, with 41% of 18-24-year-olds saying low cost influenced their last choice of holiday destination, compared to 18% of those aged 55 and over.

When comparing regions across the UK, the study also found that people in London, the South East and South West fly more frequently than those in the Midlands and the North. Scots place the least importance on speed and efficiency when at the airport, while Brexit has had the biggest negative impact on travel plans in London and the East Midlands.

Liverpool plans for growth through to 2030

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Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) has launched its Strategic Vision to 2030 outlining how it plans to grow operations and bring further benefits, including increased employment through non-aviation development, for Liverpool city and the surrounding region.

One of the UK’s major regional airports, LJLA plays an integral role both as an international gateway and as a major driver of the local economy. Already a large local employer both in its own right and through its supply chain, the airport facilitates trade and business links throughout the region by providing access to international markets and supporting inbound travel.

Referencing that it’s the ‘faster, easier, friendlier’ airport of choice for passengers from across the region, Robert Hough, LJLA chairman, said: “We cannot afford to stand still in what remains a very challenging economic and competitive environment, which is why we have set out our strategic vision for the airport going forward in order to deliver continued success.”

Despite a challenging environment, the airport has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with passenger numbers increasing 25% since 2014.

More than 5 million passengers a year now choose to fly to and from Liverpool and with forecasts indicating that the airport has the potential to grow passenger numbers to 7.8 million by 2030, LJLA has revealed ambitious plans to serve more destinations to its network including long-haul routes.

The airport also has extensive plans to expand the terminal building and improve passenger facilities including car parking, hotels and retail offerings, as well as extend the runway. The renovations, however, come with an impressive price tag, requiring a planned investment of around £100 million over the next 10 years.

New airport CEO, John Irving, stated that “prior to joining the airport company I was well aware of Liverpool’s recent success story and the excellent reputation it has within the aviation industry.

“The Peel Group’s continued investment in the airport has seen Liverpool become one of the UK’s stand-out, regional airports. By working with stakeholders from across the region to implement our latest strategic vision, there is every reason to believe that by building on our success, this growth can continue, bringing tremendous economic benefits for the city region, the North West and beyond.”

Header image: LJLA’s Strategy Director Mark Povall, Chairman Robert Hough and CEO John Irving at the launch of the airport’s Strategic Vision to 2030.

Southampton Airport invests in training centre for local businesses

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Serving as a gateway to South East England, Southampton Airport has launched a new training centre for businesses across the region, as well as further afield thanks to the airport’s strong transport links around the country.

EchoFour, which takes its name from the runway entry/ exit point to the airport’s fire training ground, was brought to life after it was identified that there was a need for a high-quality training resource in the South of England.

Neil Garwood, head of operations at Southampton Airport said: “Here at Southampton Airport we pride ourselves on investing in the local business community. That’s why we’re excited to open our new training centre, EchoFour. So companies from across the region and further afield can easily access high quality training in a unique environment.”

Courses on offer range from first aid and team building, to maritime firefighting and confined-space training in a purpose-built facility, as well as aviation fire training. The facility also offers the opportunity to tailor training courses to meet specific company needs.

Cologne Bonn gains Georgian link

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Serving as a gateway to Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region, Cologne Bonn Airport is adding a new carrier to its airline ranks later this month, when Georgian Airways launches a new route between the German Airport and Georgia’s capital – Tbilisi.

“We are very pleased about the new commitment of Georgian Airways at our airport,” said Athanasios Titonis, managing director, Cologne Bonn Airport commenting on the new service. “With Tbilisi now on our network, we can offer our passengers an exciting, unusual destination.”

Last month, United Airports of Georgia hosted Connect’s 15th networking Forum in Tbilisi, raising the profile of the country as a fast-growing market with huge potential.

Following this event, the Georgian carrier’s twice-weekly connection to Cologne Bonn is one of 11 new links being launched by Georgian Airways this month. As well as facing no competition on the airport pair, the route will boost Cologne Bonn’s airport capacity, adding more than 6,000 seats to its summer 2018 schedule.

Header image: Tbilisi Airport