WestJet temporarily suspends flights to four domestic hubs

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Operating at more than a 90% reduction year on year, Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet is temporarily suspending operations to St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador, London in Ontario and Lloydminster as well as Medicine Hat in Alberta. Services to the four domestic hubs will be suspended from 19 March to 24 June 2021.

Commenting on how the airline has continued to operate in the face of uncertainty throughout the pandemic as travel restrictions have caused demand to plummet, Ed Sims,  WestJet President and CEO said: “Unfortunately with new and increasingly restrictive policies, we are left once again, with no other option than to suspend services to these communities.”

In June 2020, the airline announced organisational changes through its airport transformation programme. As a result of the suspensions, WestJet will be working directly with newly established third-party service providers in St. John’s and London, Ontario, and directly with Pacific Coastal Airlines for affected WestJet Link operations in Lloydminster and Medicine Hat.

Flights between St. John’s and Halifax will be suspended as of 21 March, while service between London, Ontario and Toronto will cease on 22 March. WestJet Link service from Calgary to Lloydminster will end on 19 March and Calgary to Medicine Hat discontinued as of 21 March.

“Our ability to return to markets remains directly correlated to government policies and the prioritisation of a domestic travel programme,” continued Sims. “As we look ahead to contributing to the economic recovery of Canada, the relationship between testing and quarantine must evolve based on data and science.”

London Luton Airport welcomes increased connectivity with UK capital

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London Luton Airport (LLA) has welcomed a new rail service to central London with East Midlands Railway introducing a half hourly nonstop service between the UK capital and Luton Airport Parkway.

The new service, which will be part of the May timetable change, is the first significant step towards a separately-branded Luton Airport Express service. It will operate using electric trains that will run every 30 minutes between 6am and 10pm daily. Additional late night and early morning services will accommodate departures outside those peak hours.

LLA has long campaigned for an express rail service, supported by a range of national and local businesses including easyJet, in recognition that improved links bring to the local community and the national economy. With a reduction of up to 70,000 car journeys per year, the express rail link will also bring environmental benefits.

With ongoing travel restrictions, there are far fewer passengers using the airport than there would normally be. However, Alberto Martin, CEO of LlA pointed out that the airport needs “to take the opportunity to prepare for a return to air travel, and these changes do just that. It will be even easier for passengers to reach the airport as soon as it is safe to do so again, and I look forward to welcoming them back.”

Meanwhile, Will Rogers, Managing Director at East Midlands Railway revealed that a key part of the railway company’s enhancement of its services and timetable is the step change in service for Luton Airport.  “We look forward to continuing to work closely with the airport to further develop the service,” he said.

The additional connectivity from Luton Airport Parkway will be significantly enhanced by the construction of the Direct Air-Rail Transit (DART) service, which is nearing completion. The £225m investment sees the creation of a fixed link between the airport and the station, replacing the current bus service.

Marseille Airport

Passenger traffic in European airports drops to levels last seen in 1995

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Marseille Airport

Europe’s airport 2020 passenger traffic is back to 1995 levels, according to Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s traffic report for the Full Year 2020. Compared to 2019, Europe’s airports lost 1.72 billion passengers in 2020, a decrease of -70.4%

The report includes all types of commercial flights to, from and within Europe (full service, low cost, regional, charter, full freight and others) and reveals that EU airports were significantly more impacted (-73% and 1.32 billion passengers lost) than those in the non-EU bloc (-61.9% and 400 million passengers lost). This is mainly due to the size and relative resilience of domestic markets primarily in Russia, but also Turkey, combined with less stringent lockdowns and travel restrictions compared to the EU market.

“With just 728 million passengers in 2020 compared to 2.4 billion passengers in the previous year, Europe’s airports were back to their traffic levels of 1995,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “No industry can on its own withstand such a shock. While some states have taken steps to financially support their airports, only €2.2 billion has so far been earmarked for that purpose in Europe. This is less than 8% of the revenues airports lost last year,” he continued.

Jankovec also highlighted that with further decreases in traffic this year and no firm idea of when the industry will recover in sight more needs to be done .“Helping out airports is essential to rebuild air connectivity and effectively support local and regional communities and tourism. It is also critical to restore airports’ investment capabilities for the future. Without more financial support, investments in decarbonisation, digitalisation and SESAR are at risk.”

The size of domestic markets alongside the extent of lockdowns and travel restrictions have resulted in limited variations in extreme passenger traffic losses within the EU while non-EU airports showed stronger signs of recovery than their EU counterparts in terms of passenger traffic in Q4 of 2020.

In Q4 airports in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Slovenia and Slovakia were still seeing passenger traffic below -90%, with German and UK airports following closely (-87.9% and -86.6%).  Meanwhile airports in Bulgaria (-69%), France (-78.1%), Greece (-72.1%) and Portugal (-77.2%) slightly outperformed the EU average.

Outside the EU, airports in the larger Russian (-44.2%) and Turkish (-60.7%) markets proved the most resilient in Q4, with those in Iceland (-96.2%) and Georgia (-94.8%) being the most impacted.

The report also shows that all segments of the airport industry were almost equally impacted in 2020 in terms of passenger traffic losses from the smaller regionals (-69.4%) to the top five European airports (-71.3%).

Across the European airport network, aircraft movements decreased by -58.6% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Leeds Bradford Airport lands hydrogen refuelling hub

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Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) is pushing ahead with plans to become the UK’s first regional hub to produce its own hydrogen after collaborating with ITM Power, the largest operator of hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK.

The proposals for a new sustainable energy hub will use hydrogen and rapid EV charging facilities to power the airport’s fleet of vehicles, as well as allowing LBA to fuel the next generation of hydrogen and EV powered ground handling vehicles. The initiative is part of LBA’s current application for a replacement terminal and, if approved, would mean work could start on the energy hub as early as 2022.

“This project is a clear indicator of how serious LBA is about its future sustainability commitments and the first step in realising our ambitions to become a carbon net zero airport for ground-based operations,” said Charles Johnson, Head of Development at Leeds Bradford Airport. “It represents a significant investment in the sustainable future of the airport, preparing us for the new wave of hydrogen and EV powered specialist vehicles on the horizon,” he added.

With 20 years experience in producing hydrogen from [PEM] electrolysis ITM currently has eight stations in the UK where green hydrogen is produced. These provide zero-carbon fuel for both heavy duty vehicles and cars where continued use, long range or heavy loads are required, complementing the use of Battery Electric Vehicles for shorter journeys.

“Passengers will increasingly demand efficient and readily available charging as vehicle technologies continue to develop and become commonplace and we want to be at the forefront of this new way of thinking and operating,” Johnson noted. He also said that, “this initiative is the first of many that form part of our replacement terminal plans, which will have a direct impact on businesses and the economy in Yorkshire. We believe that LBA has a big role to play in the long-term future of the region and we have the perfect opportunity to lead on creating meaningful changes to infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, Duncan Yellen, Managing Director at ITM Power, Motive explained that green hydrogen provides the missing piece in the transport jigsaw. “It frees transport to perform all the functionality currently delivered by diesel whilst emitting nothing but clean water and helping us power our way to a net zero future.”

LBA’s plans for a replacement terminal were submitted to Leeds City Council in May. They include the construction of a modern, three floor, 34,000 sq. met. building on an alternative site within the airport’s boundary. If approved, the state-of-the-art terminal building, designed by leading architects, would deliver a passenger experience beyond what is achievable in the existing terminal, which was built in 1965.


Editor’s comment: Big problems require big solutions

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With the aviation industry seemingly stuck between a rock and a hard place, it has been tricky to stay positive this week. But a positive outlook is exactly what is needed!

So with that in mind, a post on LinkedIn by former Marketing Director of easyJet and easyGroup, Tony Anderson, has piqued my interest. Discussing how big problems need big, imaginative solutions, Anderson asks whether using airports as mass vaccination centres over a short-term period is a crazy idea or not?

In some ways it makes a lot of sense, especially as Anderson points out, airports typically have ample parking, excellent public transport links and are accessible for wheelchair users. They also have trained and available staff to administer vaccines, refrigeration units at food outlets for vaccine storage and easy-to-clean facilities.

In addition, many airports and especially those with cargo facilities, are already playing an integral role in supporting the transportation and distribution of vaccines around the world. Airport staff are already used to accommodating large numbers of people, while the infrastructure and technology to process and move people safely and securely between different locations within an airport is already in place. Existing passenger processing solutions, such as check-in desks, could even be used to register an individual’s arrival. Using airports as temporary vaccination centres could also provide a revenue stream for all those involved. It’s starting to not sound like such an outlandish idea after all!

It’s not a completely novel idea either. Berlin’s Tegel Airport, which closed for good last November, has already reopened its doors to thousands with Terminal C being repurposed as a vaccination centre. Similarly, part of Berlin Brandenburg’s Terminal 5 (formerly Schoenefeld Airport) has also been sectioned off to establish a vaccination facility.

It might be a big, bold suggestion, but given the current lack of passenger traffic and the need for airports to be flexible, perhaps it’s time to explore an idea that has the potential to speed up the vaccination process for all.

Have a great weekend,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway

dnata increases air cargo capacity at Manchester Airport

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Air services provider, dnata, has opened a £30 million state-of-the-art cargo complex, dnata City North, at Manchester Airport (MAN) in the UK.

With easy access to the airfield, the 15,000 sq. ft. facility allows the company to expand and consolidate its Manchester operations and includes a 125,000 sq. ft warehouse space capable of processing in excess of 150,000 tonnes of cargo annually. The facility is equipped with the latest technologies and complies with the highest industry standards ensuring efficient and safe handling of all types of cargo, including pharmaceuticals, perishables, dangerous goods, aircraft engines and vehicles.

“It’s great to see dnata open its superb new cargo complex here at Manchester Airport,” said Gareth Jackson, MAG Group Property Director. “The new facility will further enhance the role we play in ensuring freight is seamlessly transported into and out of the North region markets from all parts of the world. Not only will the centre help the North’s trade credentials, it will boost employment opportunities for communities in Greater Manchester too.”

Designed with flexibility and unique product handling requirements in mind, dnata City North incorporates a pharma and perishables centre offering customers a safe and reliable cold chain solution for the handling of temperature sensitive goods, including the COVID-19 vaccine. The cold storage areas in the centre are modular, allowing teams to manage changing handling demands with dedicated climate control capability. Web-based monitoring systems are also in place to facilitate real-time management of all areas.

Commenting on how the new purpose built facility in Manchester complements dnata’s existing operations including its dnata city complex at London Heathrow, Alex Doisneau, Managing Director at dnata UK said: “Our continued investment and expansion in the UK underlines our commitment to our customers and the local cargo industry at a critical time, providing operational excellence at key gateways across the country.”

In addition to its cargo handling facilities, dnata City North also includes 25,000 sq. ft. flexible office accommodation providing an innovative mixture of workspace and meeting facilities, as well as breakout spaces.


Urgent support needed for UK airports following travel curbs

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Following the news at the end of last week that arrivals to the UK from all destinations will be required to quarantine in an effort to prevent the spread of any new variants of COVID, the country’s aviation sector is calling for more government support to survive another long period of travel curbs.

The Airport Operators Association’s (AOA’s) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, stated that: “The closure of travel corridors is understandable from a public health perspective but this adds to the current near-complete shutdown of the UK’s airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity. This is making a devastating situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.”

AOA is calling for the UK and devolved governments to urgently set out how they will support airports through this deepening crisis. “Business rate support, announced last year and in England not yet even open to applications, is no longer sufficient to ensure airports can weather the difficult months ahead,” Dee said.

With airports having to keep their infrastructure up and running to support vital and critical services, including freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as offshore oil, gas and wind operations, which are essential to keeping the UK powered, they are doing so while running on empty.

“There is only so long they run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future. Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relieve from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year,” concluded Dee.

As of this morning all passengers arriving in the UK will need to quarantine for up to 10 days in an effort to prevent the spread of any new variants of COVID. They will also have to show proof of a negative test taken in the previous 72 hours before travelling. A ban on travellers from South America, Portugal and Cape Verde also come into effect on Friday, with scientists fearing the variants seen in Brazil and South Africa might interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines.

The UK Government has said a financial support scheme for airports in England will open this month with Aviation Minister, Robert Courts, saying the move was a response to the closure of all UK air corridors from Monday.

In a tweet Courts said that the Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme will “help airports reduce” additional costs faced due to the pandemic and that further details will follow soon.

The scheme will involve grants of up to £8m per applicant, to be used to cover fixed costs, such as business rates.

Allegiant Air’s service expansion includes three new hubs

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Allegiant Air is adding three new cities to its network  as part of a major  service expansion comprising 21 nonstop routes. Portland, Oregon; Key West in Florida and Jackson Hole in Wyoming, will all be added to the low-cost carriers’ schedule. Eight routes that were delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic are also included in the airline’s route newly-released schedule.

“Today, travellers are seeking destinations that allow them the chance to recreate in a safe way, usually outdoors,” said Drew Wells, Allegiant’s Vice President of Revenue and Planning. “The three cities we’re adding to our network – Key West, Portland and Jackson Hole – are gateways to some of the United States’ most scenic destinations, including national parks and other outdoor attractions that are in high demand.”

New links from Jackson Hole include Los Angeles, Phoenix Mesa Gateway, McCarran International Airport and Reno-Tahoe. From Key West, passengers will be able to fly with Allegiant to Nashville and Sanford International Airport in Orlando, and from Portland Allegiant links will include California’s Santa Maria and Monterey Regional airports, as well as Idaho Falls Regional Airport.

WestJet slashes capacity with knock-on effect on domestic hubs

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Following the Canadian government’s decision to introduce inbound testing and the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, WestJet has noted significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations on flights. Subsequently the airline has made further cuts to its schedule as it continues to face volatile demand and instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions.

Cuts to the airline’s schedule include the elimination of more than 230 weekly departures (including 160 domestic) and the removal of more than 30% of capacity versus prior months. It will also include the suspension of 11 routes (Edmonton-Cancun, Edmonton-Puerto Vallarta, Edmonton-Phoenix, Vancouver-Cancun, Vancouver-Phoenix, Vancouver-Puerto Vallerta, Vancouver-Cabo, Vancouver-Los Angeles, Vancouver-Palm Springs, Calgary-Las Vegas, Calgary-Orlando).

Around 1,000 employees across the WestJet Group will also be impacted through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leave and reduced hours. There will also be a hiring freeze implemented.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in response to the government’s new testing regime. “We have advocated over the past 10 months for a coordinated testing regime on Canadian soil, but this hasty new measure is causing Canadian travellers unnecessary stress and confusion and may make travel unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for Canadians for years to come,” Sims continued.

“Regrettably, this new policy leaves us with no other option but to again place a large number of our employees on leave, while impacting the pay of others,” he added.

The airline plans to remove approximately 30% of its currently planned February and March capacity from the schedule, a more than 80% reduction year on year. In addition, the airline will reduce domestic frequencies by 160 departures as frequently evolving advisories, travel restrictions and guidance continue to negatively impact demand trends.

Swedavia reports decrease of more than 30m passengers overall in 2020

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Swedish airport operator, Swedavia, has reported a decrease of 86% in passenger traffic across the 10 airports in its portfolio for December 2020. A total of just 408,000 passengers flew via its airports last month compared to 2,852,000 passengers during the same period in 2019.

In total last year saw a decrease in more than 30 million passengers (74%) compared to 2019, meaning air travel in Sweden during 2020 was back to levels last seen in the early 1980s.

“Air travel has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic and due to the escalating spread of COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions implemented, passenger volume decreased 86% in December,” said Jonas Abrahamsson, Swedavia’s President and CEO.

“The course of the pandemic, combined with new and expanded restrictions, is contributing to continued enormous uncertainty about the market situation in early 2021. The winter months are also always a seasonally weak period for air travel,” he continued.

Of the 408,000 total passengers that flew in December, 262,000 were international passengers, while 146,000 passengers were domestic travellers. In 2019 916,000 domestic passengers travelled through Swedavia’s airports during the same month.

While Abrahamsson admitted that he can see conditions in place for an “emerging normalisation and recovery in air travel in time for the summer season,” he also warned the performance of the air transport sector depends entirely on the pandemic and the major vaccination efforts now being made.  “So we also anticipate continued great uncertainty in terms of demand and expect the pandemic to have a significant impact on air travel this year as well,” he noted.

Swedavia’s seven regional airports saw passenger volume decrease between 68% and 92% to a total of 71,000 passengers in December. For the year, air travel overall decreased 70% to 1,664,000 passengers at the regional hubs compared to 5,491,000 travellers for the same period in 2019. The airport operator’s three primary hubs: Stockholm Arlanda, Göteborg Landvetter and Bromma Stockholm  all saw a decrease in passenger volumes of more than 85% during December, while the latter saw the biggest decrease both in December and the period January-December, with a decrease of 97% and 80% respectively.

Kiruna Airport and Luleå Airport were the two regional hubs that performed best in December and over the past 12 months, although demand was still limited at both airports.