Monday, 30 April 2012

Airlines and postal services, still getting along well

The association between airlines and postal services dates back to the very early times of aviation. In fact, many pioneering airlines started to carry mail and, only later, started to carry passenger...Some air postal routes became icons of an era, such as the famous Aéropostale, running between Toulouse and Dakar, with stopovers in Barcelona and Casablanca....

Although airplanes have continued to feature prominently in air mail stamp issues in many countries, the two industries have followed diverging paths, though, as "paper" mail has gone into decline, the number of air passengers worldwide has only gone up.

 This is why I really liked these stamps that have been issued by the French postal service, La Poste, to celebrate the start of the new Volotea service between Venice and Bordeaux.

As it happens, La Poste has a service that allows you to order customized stamps with images of your choice, Bordeaux airport has the tradition of ordering a set of stamps to celebrate each new route that starts at the airport.

Have you seen other air route stamps?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Starbrook Airlines, the airline that only exists in chocolate, and more...

There are many interesting stories in the aviation industry these days, so interesting that, actually, haven't got the time yet to sit down and write the proper article they deserve. So I thought about sharing a couple of, somewhat lighter, aviation-related stories that might also be of your interest...

For a start the story of this amazing chocolate box I came across the other day....Starbrook Airlines does not exist today...but a Belgian chocolatier has developed a whole range of airline-themed chocolates taking inspiration from the "belle-epoque" of aviation. According to the story in their website, there was actually a "Starbrook Airlines", started by a Belgian in California in the first half of the 20th Century, although I could not find further references to it...

And more vintage (and not so vintage) stuff today, as the great Spanish-language blog "Fronteras" has devoted two very detailed post to those airlines that, for whatever the reason, are no longer name them: TWA, Varig, Malev, Mexicana, Spanair...even if you do not read Spanish, these two articles (1 & 2) are worth a look, since there are some amazing pictures I am sure any aviation enthusiast will enjoy!

Have a great start of the week!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Aviation Videos (II): attempting to land in windy Bilbao

Cross-wind landings are always spectacular to watch, and there is a good collection of them on Youtube, but those seen yesterday at Bilbao airport (BIO), while it was being hit by a gale brought about by storm "Petra" are really impressive!

By the way, one of the planes you can see in the video that managed to land was a Boeing 717 in Volotea's inaugural service from Venice Marco Polo...quite a memorable start!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Meet Surf Air, the Californian startup that wants to disrupt the corporate air travel market

                                                                       Picture: Surf Air

As if traditional network airlines were not facing enough competition from low cost carriers, Surf Air, a new aviation start-up based in Santa Monica, California, is proposing a business model that, if generalized, could put under strain their grip on business travelers and major corporate accounts.

The recipe is similar to that you can find in other industries such as telecoms or cable tv: an all-you-can-eat (or in this case all-you-can-fly!) flat use an executive aircraft!

What I found quite interesting, though, is the pricing: from $800 to $1500 a month, which seems quite a reasonable amount for frequent fliers, particularly when taking into account the additional advantages of flying in an executive jet.

The carrier, that is still awaiting FAA approval, is planning to fly 8-seat Pilatus PC-12 aircraft between several Californian airports, starting possibly this summer. In the meantime it is taking applications to join its member's list (again a marketing trick that is common in other industries, such as e-commerce).

While I ignore what are the economics that would make it possible to sustain its operations, expect frequent fliers and small airports to benefit greatly if surf Air's business model takes hold!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Volotea still flying under the radar...but for how long?

 Not exactly welcomed by everyone...

These past weeks have been quite hectic for Volotea, Europe’s startup airline...and I say "Europe's" because as we progressively get to know more about the project it becomes more and more clear that this is a project with European ambitions. Just a few months after Volotea was unveiled, its network already spans most of Italy, France and Spain, with some routes reaching as far as Poland and the Greek islands. Reminds me of Flybe, but on a much wider, pan-European, scale. 

Until now Volotea had been flying below the radar, IAG's chairman Antonio Vazquez even said to this blogger at a recent event in London that they are not concerned at all since there is currently little overlap, however if growth continues at this pace it might soon set the alarm bells off in some quarters...while we do not know for how long this tranquility will last,Transavia's CEO has already made it clear that they take Volotea very very seriously...

Monday, 23 April 2012

What is going to happen to BMI Diamond Club miles after BA's acquisition?

As most of you might already be aware of, British airline BMI was sold by Lufthansa to its Oneworld competitor IAG (aka British Airways). Once the news was confirmed, one thought came to my mind: what happens with BMI's Diamond Club frequent flier miles?

As both airlines operated out of the UK, many frequent travelers were members of both British Airways' executive club and BMI's Diamond Club.

The truth is that BMI has moved fast to inform its Diamond Club members and in the last few days has sent a couple of messages providing looks like BMI Diamond Club cardholders are actually going to get a good deal and, whereas they will have only until the 31st of May to use their miles within  the Star Alliance group, the Diamond Club programme itself will continue to work as usual.

This is possibly the reason that BMI is still accepting applications for its Diamond Club programme while I am writing these lines:

I ignore if this "business as usual" will last for long, as Diamond Club members  are being invited to join British Airways' Executive Club programme. They will also be able to exchange miles into IAG's Avios at a rate of 1:1.

This is literally, an excerpt of BMI's Diamond Club notification email:

"As part of the transition of bmi into British Airways, from 1 May 2012 British Airways is inviting you, as a Diamond Club member, to also join the Executive Club at your equivalent tier status level. Diamond Club Gold customers will be invited to become Gold members of the Executive Club and Silver members to become Silver, which will be in addition to your Diamond Club membership. Further details will follow shortly."

Whereas it's not stated explicitly, I guess IAG's plan is to progressively transition all Diamond Club members to Executive Club. In any case, I think Diamond Club's members are getting quite a good deal and many of those that were on both programmes will be able to consolidate and advance their status within the programme really fast.

Friday, 20 April 2012

An Interflug Tupolev at Schiphol airport!

Looks like a museum of European aviation

The flag carrier of the former Eastern Germany is no stranger to this blog and while "retro" is now in fashion in aviation, it is not everyday that you get to see a model airplane of one of its Tupolev TU-154M, and it could be anywhere else but at my favourite shop at Amsterdam Schiphol airport (by the way, a must for any aviation enthusiast traveling through the Dutch airport!)

By the way, did you noticed that below the Interflug model of TU-154M there is a...Malev aircraft model!...coincidence?

Well, the two airlines have in common that they used to be flag carriers of Eastern block countries and that both no longer exist...Malev was modernised after the fall of Berlin Wall and managed to survive as the flag carrier of Hungary until its demise last January. Interflug did not survive the system and the state that created it and went down with the Wall...

For those interested in the history of Interflug, there was also an East German TV series, Treffpunkt Flughafen, produced in the mid-eighties, that was based on the stories of the crew of an Interflug IL-62 aircraft as it toured such iconic spots of Cold War geopolitics as Vietnam, Cuba or Angola...

Interflug and the East German state are now gone for good, but you can still see some fragments of Treffpunkt Flughafen on Youtube:

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A look at the Swiss regional airlines industry

                                                                                                    Picture: Skywork

While preparing for an upcoming trip to EBACE, Europe's executive aviation fair, that takes place in Geneva this May, I had a look at the aviation industry in Switzerland....and was amazed to find out that Wikipedia lists no less than 20 airlines in the country!'s true that some of them are small charter or helicopter operators and that the list also includes the Swiss operation of Easyjet...

However, one thing that caught my attention is the several regional airlines operating out of the country, mostly with turboprops: there is Skywork, a growing airline based in Bern, that I already had the chance to write about, and also two airlines with curious names that I would never associate with Switzerland: Darwin Airline, based in Lugano and Baboo, based in Geneva (the latter was recently bailed out by the former). I guess the "raison-d'etre" of these airlines is to provide direct services from Swiss secondary airports, both domestic and internationally. Switzerland is certainly a small country and has no large metropolis, but when taking into account the cost of trains (at least for those that do not enjoy an type of special discount) these turboprops become competitive even when flying relatively small distances.

By the way, also in Switzerland you can fly what I guess is one of the shortest domestic services anywhere in the World (if you know of any other that is shorter, please, let me know): Zurich-Basel (92.5km or about 1h drive!)

Monday, 16 April 2012

Aviation videos (I): do not get too close to a jet engine!

In addition to the text articles I publish in this blog regularly I would like to regularly share with you spme aviation-related videos that I come across. Here is today's video! I am sure that most of you are already familiar with plane-spotters beach next to Sint Maarten airport in the Caribbean...see what can happen if you place yourself next to the blast of a jet engine...! (btw, there is  also really great footage towards the end of the video of an incoming Boeing 747!)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Is Vueling getting ready for an African adventure?

 Ready to fly South

One of the consequences of Spanair's demise was that Barcelona airport lost some niche African routes, such as Banjul (The Gambia) and Bamako (Mali) that were only operated by the bankrupt carrier.

While these routes never carried a large number of passengers, they were strategically important for Barcelona airport, that, lacking a traditional flag carrier, has long been struggling to find its place among European hubs. Africa's developing air travel market might provide some opportunities for Barcelona to develop its long-haul network. Over 560,000 passengers flew between Africa and Barcelona last year, around 60% of these on Moroccan routes, however these numbers are only a small fraction of the 30 million passengers that passed through Barcelona-El Prat (BCN).

According to Spanish business daily Expansion, quoting sources of the CDRA, Barcelona's route development organisation, nearly 25,000 passengers flew on the Banjul route last year and almost 15,000 on the Bamako one, with both routes showing robust growth. The CDRA has also identified Dakar as a potential viable route from Barcelona, since 24,000 passengers currently fly between the two cities annually through indirect routes.

If we are to give credit to some reports, Vueling might be seriously considering stepping in. Those are certainly challenging markets, but the absence of competition means that airlines can get higher yields on their African routes. This fact and growing economies all over the continent, despite current political instability in part of the Sahel, means that airlines from all over the World have turned their attention to the once-neglected African market.

It would be logical that Barcelona's home airline had a go at it. The Catalan airport, in turn, would also benefit from leveraging its advantageous geographical position to become a connection point between Europe and Africa.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Could history become a new source of ancillary revenue for airlines?

A few days ago a friend of mine mentioned that, after several years, he had flown again on an aircraft that he knew well from a previous stint in the airline industry. I checked the registration details of the aircraft in question and found out that I had also flown on that plane in the past, only that when it belonged to another airline and had a different name.

So the following idea came to my mind, given the rush to get more and more ancillary revenue, why don’t airlines create a list of famous or important people that have flown on a given aircraft, even on a particular seat, and “market” this experience to the public?

Time to add some plates to aircraft seats too?

The same way that some old houses have historical plates that recall the people that have lived in them, why not airplanes?... well, to be fair, I see a major obstacle with this: whereas age might be perceived as a positive attribute in a house (because a long history might give it its character), it might have quite negative connotations when applied to what is, after all, a flying machine (old equipment!).

Nevertheless, you do not need to go back that many years, there are plenty of contemporary icons that could serve this purpose well (football players, artists, celebrities). Airlines would just need to take care not to highlight these "celebrity seats" past a certain amount of time, and keep renovating them...Anyone willing to pay extra to seat on the same seat that your favourite sportsman sat on when flying to that important match? Judging by the video below, maybe Turkish Airlines is well positioned to do it...