Editor’s comment: The regional revival

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While it might not be quite the ‘great revival’ we’ve all been waiting for, Europe’s regional aviation sector has received a much needed boost this week with new life being given to old brands.

In a bid to encourage passengers living close to Norwich Airport to travel from their local hub, travel agency Fred Olsen is set to revive the Travel Norwich Airport brand after it ceased trading earlier this year. Fred Olsen plans to work with airlines and operators flying from Norwich to support holidays and travellers flying from the region.

Commenting on the new venture Richard Pace, Managing Director at Norwich Airport, said: “It’s important for our industry and our region that commercial flying returns to growth as quickly as possible and this announcement will give greater choice and a significant boost to the airport.”

Meanwhile, regional and secondary airports in Britain and western Europe will be spurred on by the news that Thyme Opco, a company affiliated to hedge fund firm Cyrus Capital, has acquired the brand and assets of Flybe. The regional carrier went bust earlier this year, however, Thyme Opco is now looking to revive Flybe. By doing so not only will it restore essential regional connectivity, but it will also create employment opportunities and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the UK’s economy. According to Flybe’s administrator Ernst & Young, the airline could restart in early 2021.

And delivering another confidence boost for smaller hubs serving domestic and regional flights, an online poll conducted during Kiwi.com’s Virtual Interlining workshop hosted by AviaDev Europe on Wednesday 21 October found that the bulk (45%) of those surveyed believed that smaller airports with a majority of point-to-point traffic would be first to recover. By contrast 37% of delegates thought large airports would recover first.

According to Kiwi.com’s Head of Airport Partnerships, Patrick Zeuner, airports can use that point-to-point connectivity to replace lost transfer traffic by creating a virtual hub for self-connecting passengers. “It’s a win-win situation,” he said explaining that ultimately, virtual interlining can result in increased traffic and increased passenger spend, both in an airport and the destination it serves.

Whether it’s breathing new life into an old brand or collaborating with other stakeholders to create a virtual hub, it’s good to see airports and airlines continuing to fight back following the fallout from the global pandemic.

Have a great weekend,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway.

Airlink

Windhoek welcomes return of Johannesburg link

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Airlink

With Southern Africa continuing to relax its intra-Africa travel restrictions, Airlink, the South African domestic and regional carrier, is resuming direct flights between Johannesburg in South Africa and Windhoek in Namibia from 26 October. Earlier this week, the airline commenced flights between Cape Town and Windhoek and between Johannesburg and the Namibian port city of Walvis Bay.

“We can’t wait to re-establish this important connection between South Africa’s and Namibia’s main economic hubs and enabel all-important trade, business and tourism between what are two very closely connected markets,” said Airlink CEO Rodger Foster.

The restored daily service will be operated by an Embraer E190, with the number of flights likely to increase in the coming months. The additional flights will likely be operated by the airline’s smaller Embraer ERJ135 regional aircraft.

The connection between Johannesburg and Windhoek will provide passengers with seamless links to Cape Town and Durban. It will also allow connections with the airline’s domestic South African destinations, such as Bloemfontein, East London, George, Hoedspruit, Kimberley, Mthatha, Nelspruit, Pietermaritzburg, Polokwane, Port Elizabeth, Skukuza and Upington.

Could all flights of the future lead to a virtual hub?

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Imagine if every airport was a hub rather than an endpoint to a journey. It might sound a little ‘out there’, but with Kiwi.com’s ‘Virtual Interlining’ initiative, airports can now position themselves as virtual hubs.

During a webinar hosted by AviaDev on Wednesday 21 October, Kiwi.com’s Head of Airport Partnerships, Patrick Zeuner, explained how Virtual Interlining can help stimulate visitor demand and passenger growth, as well as passenger spend.

Virtual Interlining connects carriers who do not normally cooperate, significantly reducing the cost and hassle of multi-segment journeys for the passenger, explained Zeuner. To ease the process of passengers having to collect any baggage, check-in and pass through security again, Kiwi.com has developed a number of solutions such as its ‘Hosted Stopover Programme’, optimised Minimum Connection Times and Transfer Experience optimisation to enhance the transfer process.

The online travel agency has already partnered with the likes of Milan Malpensa Airport in Italy on it’s Fly to Milano campaign and Budapest Airport in Hungary to support self-connecting traffic.

The Fly to Milano campaign saw transferring passengers encouraged to stay overnight with a free hotel stay and Consuela Scionti, Business Innovation Manager, Aeroporti di Milano, revealed the virtual interlining initiative also increased awareness for the airport and Milan as a destination on a global scale. Meanwhile, Balazs Bogats , Head of Airline Development at Budapest Airport said that having lost all its transfer traffic as a result of COVID-19, Virtual Interlining has presented his airport with the “opportunity to optimise those passengers who are now self-connecting through the airport.” Bogats also revealed that according to his calculations (based on IATA’s forecasting) around 7 million seats will be missing from eastern and western Europe in 2021 compared to 2019 figures. “There is certainly market potential for passengers to self connect and as the fastest growing market segment currently, I’d like to think that virtual interlining will help with our recovery,” he added.

The good news for regional and smaller hubs considering becoming ‘virtual hubs’ is that it doesn’t really matter what size the airport is. “It could be a small airport with limited connectivity” said Zeuner, explaining how Kiwi.com used its virtual interlining model to facilitate connections from long-haul flights arriving at Providence Airport with ongoing domestic flights. “Even a smaller airport with 3 million passenger capacity will benefit from those passengers transferring through their airport… It’s a win-win situation for all concerned – the airport, passengers and Kiwi.”

And in terms of the infrastructure needed? It’s minimal and depends on each airport’s requirements offered Zeuner. Budapest for example set up a transfer desk for self-connecting passengers, it’s beneficial but not always necessary, especially with the increased demand and roll out of self-service kiosks . “Factoring in consumer and customer behaviour and language needs is important,” he added. “Language can be a barrier so you need to think about where your connecting passengers are coming from so you can communicate with them easily.” Connectivity in terms of the carriers serving an airport is also key. “We’re always looking for airports with some low-cost traffic established,” Zeuner concluded. “That price competitiveness is key.”

COVID-19 testing Canadian airports

Pressure mounts for rapid COVID-19 testing at Canadian airports

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COVID-19 testing Canadian airports

Faced with the major Air Transat layoffs announced for November the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is calling on the federal government to immediately deploy rapid COVID-19 screening at Canadian airports.

As a result of the layoffs Air Transat’s Vancouver base will be closed completely until further notice and the Air Transat component of CUPE has learned that the number of its flight attendant members will drop to less than 160 in November, from a total of 2,000 employees in pre-Covid times.

“All of our information indicates that Air Transat’s resumption of activities in the summer and fall of 2020 was totally safe for passengers and staff,” said Julie Roberts, President of CUPE’s Air Transat component.

A rapid screening system that provides pre-boarding results would be a crucial addition for reviving the airline industry. We sometimes forget that more than 600,000 jobs in Canada depend on this industry, directly or indirectly. What we need is an efficient federal screening programme.

In total CUPE, which is the largest union in Canada, represents more than 13,100 members in Canada’s air transport sector. In addition to Air Transat, this includes employees at Air Canada Rouge, Sunwing, CALM Air, Canadian North, WestJet, Cathay Pacific, First Air, and Air Georgian.

Grab 3Sixty

Grab launches first retail partnership at Dallas Fort Worth

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Grab 3Sixty

The airport e-commerce platform, Grab, has teamed up with 3Sixty Duty Free to launch its first retail parternship at Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport in the US.

The new partnership allows passengers to pre-order from a large range of retail products via the Grab platform and then collect their purchase either in store or at their gate.

“We’re excited about bringing this touch-free retail experience to DFW,” said Ken Buchanan, Executive VP of Customer Experience & Revenue Management at DFW Airport. “It enables our customers to explore the very best of the airport’s retail offerings while also maintaining social distancing. And the convenience of ordering retail from your own mobile phone speaks to DFW Airport’s commitment to elevating the customer experience.”

The collaboration will utilise Grab’s omnichannel expertise and will benefit both domestic and international travellers, with collection or free delivery and the potential for home delivery in the future.  Jeff Livney, CEO at Grab underlined his enthusiasm for the initiative which marks the company’s first venture into airport retail. “As travellers return to the sky, it’s vital we provide shoppers with options they feel comfortable with. Some passengers will still prefer to browse a physical store, but there are many who will want the ease of mobile ordering, and the safety and hygiene of a touch-free experience. It’s important we tap into this demand for the benefit of the customer, as well as making it easier for retailers to reach a primarily domestic traveller for the forseeable future,” he said.

NOKIA thermal imaging

Nokia leverages thermal imaging and advanced analytics to advance fight against COVID-19

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NOKIA thermal imaging

With temperature screening at airports creating bottle necks for passengers and increasing pressure on resources Nokia has unveiled a new solution designed to advance the fight against COVID-19.

The Nokia Automated Analytics Solution (NAAS) for Access Control leverages thermal detection, video-based analytics and machine learning to streamline and fully automate the process of detecting COVID-19 symptoms and monitoring mask compliance. It’s ideal for use in environments with potentially thousands of people passing through at any given time – ie airports.

Nokia’s goal is to create a zero-touch, automated management system that will enable large organisations to make intelligent decisions to protect their people and facilities in a post-pandemic world.

Amit Shah, Head of Analytics and IoT for Nokia said: “Whether in factories, ports, offices, airports, schools, or outdoor screening centres, mission-critical networks and digital automation solutions play a leading role in ensuring supply resilience, business continuity, and workers’ safety in real-time. NAAS brings centralised data, analytics and an automation management system, allowing large organisations to make intelligent decisions to protect their people and facilities during and in a post-pandemic world, while respecting individual privacy.”

With data privacy a cause for concern among passengers, Nokia’s solution respects individual privacy as the video stream blurs faces.

London Luton passenger numbers down by 66%

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London Luton Airport (LLA) has revealed that passengers were down by 66% in September compared with the same period last year. Just 575,000 passengers travelled through the London hub.

In line with the Airport’s Council International (ACI) Airport Health Accreditation programme,  various measures have  been undertaken at the airport to ensure that it remains both a safe and secure environment for both staff and passengers. This has included enhanced cleaning and the installation of protective screens, as well as the introduction of hand sanitiser stations and the need to wear face coverings throughout the airport. Luton was the first UK airport to receive certification from ACI under its Health Accreditation programme.

“I am immensely proud of all the staff at LLA for continuing to deliver a high level of customer care and service even during these challenging times,” said Alberto Martin, CEO of LLA.

Martin added that following some recovery in passenger numbers during the summer months that has unfortunately been short-lived with numbers beginning to drop off again. “I welcome the formation of the government’s new travel taskforce, but urge them to work closely with industry to quickly and safely remove the need for self-isolation with testing.”

In addition to increasing measures to ensure the well-being and safety of passengers and crew, LLA is focused on delivering the best possible customer experience during this period. Earlier this year it became the first and only airport in the UK to be awarded with ACI’s Customer Experience Level 1 accreditation and new CAA data has shown that 89% of passengers rated their experience as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ in 2019 compared with 82%  in 2018.

Editor’s comment: Regional hubs mean business

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It’s been a week that’s seen yet more fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic with British Airways’ boss Alex Cruz stepping down and Singapore’s Transport Minister stating that the country’s aviation sector can no longer wait around for a vaccine. However, there has at least been some good news for regional hubs serving general and business aviation…

In China, Nanchang Changbei International Airport has welcomed an agreement between Sino Jet – Asia’s largest and fastest growing business jet operator – and Jiangxi Airport VIP Service Company to build and manage the first FBO facility at the airport. The investment forms part of Sino Jet’s expansion into mainland China ahead of an expected 20% year-on-year increase in business jet use in Jiangxi Province over the next three years.

“Despite the strong demand for business aviation in Nanchang, growth is slowed by a lack of facilities when compared with other regional airports. Sino Jet’s investment stems from our confidence in the growth potential of Jiangxi Province as part of China’s growing business aviation ecosystem,” said a spokesperson for Sino Jet. The jet operator believes that with the appropriate investment, Nanchang can become a regional hub for business aviation in south-west China.

Despite current global economic challenges, China’s business aviation sector is the most likely global market to achieve growth in the next six years according to the ‘Review of China’s Aviation Industry Development and Market Outlook Forecast Report.’

It’s not just in China that regional airports have had cause for celebration either. In the US, Flying Cloud Airport in Minneapolis has welcomed the opening of  Jet Linx’s newest private terminal – the 19th such facility for the aircraft management and Jet Card membership company.

Explaining that this latest opening represents another step in the company’s strategic growth and national expansion plan, Jet Linx President and CEO, Jamie Walker, said: “With the growing demand for personalised private aviation services, it is a pleasure to introduce our unique business model to the region.”

And back across the pond in the UK, London Oxford Airport has welcomed the expansion of Synergy Aviation’s services. The independently owned UK charter and aircraft management company has positioned a Cessna Citation CJ2 (G-JNRE) at the London hub, supported by a full-time, locally based crew. Synergy already has a Citation Bravo 550 based at Oxford and an additional G-JNRE that is looked after by JMI International, the Citation MRO specialist based at the airport.

“We are delighted with the services we receive from London Oxford Airport – in support of our busy charter operation and for regular maintenance inputs via JMI,” said Synergy Owner and Chairman, Glen Heavens.

With COVID-19 here for the foreseeable future, Heavens notes that with Synergy now operating from four London bases, it has seen a notable increase in enquiries for its services. “We have responded by adding additional flight crew and increased our AOC coverage to operate a wider number of aircraft, including heavier business jets.”

James Dillon-Godfray, Head of Business Development at London Oxford Airport, added: “Since the onset of the pandemic, the demand for private travel is unquestionably on the up with the assurances of bare minimal contact possible when utilising such jets.”

It’s certainly good to hear some positive news for a change!

Enjoy your weekend,

Chloë Greenbank
Editor, Regional Gateway

European Commission agrees to airport slot waiver extension

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Airlines have welcomed the European Commission’s decision on Wednesday 14 October to adopt an extension to the waiver of EU rules on the use of airport slots. A first waiver was introduced in March when aircraft were grounded following the initial Coronavirus outbreak. The waiver has now been extended to cover the entire winter season, until 27 March, 2021.

Under normal circumstances airlines must use 80% of the slots allocated to them or they risk losing them the following season. As a result of Wednesday’s decision airlines can now plan their flight schedules with more certainty without fear of losing slots due to the drastic reduction in flights as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on air travel and the aviation sector as a whole,” said EU Transport commissioner Adina Valean. “In extending the waiver, we are responding to traffic data, which show the number of flights in September was still 54% down on September 2019 and traffic is unfortunately unlikely to recover in the near future. This extension provides certainty for airlines, airports and passengers.”

The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) has welcomed the extension to the airport slot waiver saying it will bring much-needed certainty for the industry.

Suspension of WestJet services impacts Canadian airports

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Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet is indefinitely suspending operations from Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney and Charlottetown, while also reducing services to Halifax and St. John’s from the beginning of November.  A return to service date is unknown.

More than 100 weekly flights, the equivalent of almost 80% seat capacity from the Atlantic region will be eliminated as a result of the announcement.

“It has become unviable to serve these markets and these decisions were regrettably inevitable as demand is being obliterated by the Atlantic bubble and third-party fee increases,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO.

He added that since the beginning of the pandemic the airline has worked keep essential air service to all its domestic airports. “But we are out of runway and have been forced to suspend service in the region without sector-specific support.”

Up until this announcement WestJet was the only Canadian airline to maintain 100% of its pre-COVID domestic network. Since 2003 the airline has been credited with successfully bringing competition and lower fares to the Atlantic region, and subsequently driving tourism and business investments. The airline had announced permanent layoffs  to its workforce through its airport transformation and contact centre consolidation back in June. Further layoffs are expected at Fredericton, Moncton, Sydney and Charlottetown when services are suspended in November.

“We understand this is devastating news to the communities, our airport partners and the WestJetters who rely on our airline, but these suspensions were unavoidable without the prioritisation of rapid-testing or support for the introduction of a safe Canadian bubble,” added Sims. “We remain committed to the Atlantic region and it is our intent to resume operations as soon as it becomes economically viable to do so.”