Saturday, 30 June 2012

First impressions about the Georgian airline industry

Where to start? The first impression upon landing in Tbilisi was really positive, Tbilisi airport is brand new. I liked it. It is spacious, yet,  it has about the right size for the traffic it handles (you won't get lost here!). There are also lots of natural light, all is very clean. Customs and immigration are swift and efficient.

It looks like Georgia has been making a big effort in marketing itself as a tourist-friendly country (for example no visas are required, most signs and indications are in English in addition to being in Georgian, there is free public wi-fi in the most central areas of the capital...) and the efforts are starting to pay-off. Foreign tourist arrivals are increasing in Georgia and so is the number of airlines that have started flying to the Caucasian country or are planning to do so, such as Aegean Airlines, Qatar Airways (via Baku), FlyDubai or Alitalia. In the meantime, Turkish Airlines seem to have the upper hand when it comes to connecting the country with the rest of the world (Tbilisi airport is also run by a Turkish company, TAV, that manages also Istanbul's impressive Ataturk airport).

One curious fact is that, contrarily to what happens at most European airports, it seems that most activity happens during the early hours of the morning, between midnight and 4am. This is the time when several scheduled flights arrive: Turkish Airlines from Istanbul, BMI (soon to be replaced by BA) from London (via Baku), Aerosvit from Kiev, Lufthansa, from Munich...

These schedules make sense when you take into account Tbilisi's geographical position, most of these airlines can extract an extra rotation from the aircraft by flying it to Tbilisi at night, gathering feeding passengers throughout the afternoon at their more westerly hubs and then feeding their westward-routes early in the morning with the return flight.

 One of Airzena's Boeing 737s

When it comes to local airlines, Airzena is Georgia's national airline and, although its network and schedules are currently somewhat limited, the flag carrier currently has several Boeing 737-NGs and 787s on order. It looks like Airzena is betting on the steady growth of the Georgian tourism industry, the Dreamliners order might be an indication that it is also looking to start flying long-haul (possibly to the US?)

Another Georgia-based airline is Sky Georgia, although currently focused on cargo only and with no scheduled passenger flights, according to Wikipedia, you can still this dilapidated DC-9 next to Tbilisi airport's runway...

Two new airlines are starting soon FlyGeorgia and Air Caucasus, and low cost airline Wizz Air is also starting flights to second-largest city Kutaisi. In short, a market that is really taking-off!

And, once you are in Georgia, if you wish to visit the country from a privileged angle and have some spare cash, you can buy this Mil Mi-8 VIP helicopter, apparently on sale on!

Friday, 29 June 2012

More on Vueling...and a couple of cool aircraft paint-shop videos

And yet another Vueling-related story...placing this blog at risk of becoming too Vueling-centric, but, shortly after publishing the latest story about the in-flight concert that took place on one of their aircraft,  I got a note from Vueling letting me know about the following video. It shows the aftermath of one of their other recent marketing campaigns, the Vueling Air Gallery, celebrating Vueling's 50 millionth passenger.

In the video you will see how an airbus A320 is painted with the Instagram photos submitted by people that participated in this contest.

For those of you with an interest in the topic, there are quite a few good time-lapse videos of aircraft paint-jobs on youtube, for example this one of a Northwest Boeing 747 becoming a Delta aircraft. Enjoy!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

In-flight live music concert

A lot of Vueling news lately, and this actually happened a few weeks ago, but I thought it was interesting enough to devote it a few lines...

Passengers on this Vueling flight from Barcelona to Madrid, were surprised by a live performance of Catalan pop group Els Amics de les Arts. I first learned about it shortly about the plane landed, from some comments I concidentally read on Twitter. Finally, I have also managed to find a picture, also on twitter (thanks to @lauragp72 for posting it online!)

A nice surprise, that I am sure most of the passengers appreciated, even those that might have been trying to have a little nap!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

New entrant in the wide-body aircraft market?

Interesting news: it looks like China and Russia are set to cooperate in the development of a new wide-body long-range airliner.

 Picture: Wikipedia

The closest thing to such a projected aircraft is possibly the Ilyushin Il-96, that has not enjoyed much commercial success (still operated by Aeroflot though!) and suffered also from reliability problems.

It won't be easy to challenge Airbus and Boeing on this market, but, given enough political and financial support, I guess they will eventually get there...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Spain increases airport charges...killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?

 It is going to cost a lot more to dock your aircraft here...!

I guess there is no need to highlight once more how distressed is Spain's current economic situation, however, everything can get the government finds itself in the position where it has to balance the need to obtain more tax revenue with the preservation of one of the few industries that are in good shape and generating employment in Spain.

Spain's airports are government-owned and, after postponing an already planned IPO of airport operator AENA, the govenment is now increasing airport charges...quite dramatically. At Barcelona and Madrid airports are set to increase charges by 50% and top go up by 30% in smaller airports

Ryanair has already announced that its going to pass this cost on to passengers. Easyjet goes a bit further and is closing down its Madrid base. To be fair, cut-throat competition in this market might have had a bigger role in this decision, but sure high charges did not help...

This charges increase is surely going to have an impact on the number of arrivals, at the very least arrivals might be lower than previously expected, although figures might still be strong in absolute terms, as the effect of increased airport taxes must not be taken in isolation, though, since other factors might be at play that might come to the rescue of the Spanish tourism industry, like more Europeans vacationing in the relative proximity of Spain due to the economic crisis.

Some studies estimate that Dutch airports lost nearly 2 million passengers to their rivals across the Netherlands borders (Dusseldorf, Brussels) after an air passenger duty was introduced (and scrapped shortly after) a few years ago. But, of course, users of Spanish airports do not enjoy the same number of choices when it comes to airport gateways than do the inhabitants of the more densely populated Benelux.

In any case, although some airport charges were maybe a bit too low (proof of that might be that Spain is one of the few countries where Ryanair uses main airports) the Spanish authorities need to be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, since tourism is one of the few industries still generating so-badly needed jobs.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Best airport lounge ever (better take your swimming suit with you!)

Maybe because it is summer, but, coincidentally, I have recently had the chance to visit several airports that are next to a beach...

If I really enjoyed the pre-flight swim at Bergen, Norway and I also found really interesting the possibility of Barcelona airport opening a beach club next season, this one beats all of them when it comes to spending some time on the beach while waiting your flight...Mahó airport (MAH), in the island of Menorca.

Judge by yourselves:

This beach on the South coast of Menorca is less than 1km from the airport and, despite not being as dramatic as at Queen Juliana airport in the Caribbean island of St.Marteen, it is also right below the flight path, so you can also do some nice planespotting from here!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

More innovation in the executive jet sector: Victor Aviation

It might still be a far cry out for the majority of air travellers (including myself!) but in the past few months I have learned of a number of initiatives that have the potential to make executive jet travel more "democratic"...well, at least, for the upper segment of those that now fly commercial (Ryanair and Easyjet no need to worry for now!).

When it comes to marketing innovation in the executive aviation industry, in this blog we have already documented Blink's approach to executive aviation and Surf Air's flat fees.

The latest I learned about is Victor Aviation. I won't go in much detail here, since there is already this very comprehensive article by Dom Perry, at Flightglobal, that explains everything you need to know about this new way to fly executive.

Basically it aggregates demand to offer competitive prices to fly on executive jets. The novelty is in the transparency it brings to the whole booking process, that it is not unlike that of a normal airline.

I played around with Victor's website and it looked pretty cool too, and it allows you to do things like get alerts when seats become available on a certain route. It also provides plenty of details about the aircraft available.

Victor Aviation is, in a way, a marketplace, for executive jet seats. Although I am not a user of executive jets, this is a project I can somehow relate to, since it is not too different from what we have been doing at, an online marketplace for high quality foods that I co-founded, where small independent food producers can connect with foodies that look for special treats. So I take this opportunity to wish Victor Aviation's founder, Clive Jackson, the best of successes and hopefully one day will be able to experience the service!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Remembering the history of airships...and rethinking their future!

Today's post is a bit different from usual, but I think the detour is worth it, as I just came across this website, that contains a wealth of information about this early form of air travel: the airship.

 Picture: Wikipedia

I must confess Zeppelins are one area of aviation that I know little about, but reading through this website has arisen my interest... This might not be the last post about this topic I write...not least, because, if these entrepreneurial plans end up becoming a reality, the airships might yet come back!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Vueling's CEO outlines some key points about the future of the airline

Mr.Cruz speaking. The event was chaired by renowned historian Paul Preston (foreground)

A few days ago I had the chance to attend a presentation by Vueling's CEO, Alex Cruz, at the London School of Economics (organized by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce of Great Britain and LSE Enterprise). It's been a few days already (traveling and other work have prevented me from posting more often lately!) but I guess most of what he says remains valid.

Here are some of the points he touched:

-Vueling has a really competitive cost structure, at a unit cost per ask of €4.18 it compares favourably to Easyjet's €4.36, and even better with regards to other competitors such as Air Berlin, although still some way off cost-leader Ryanair, at €2.22.

-Vueling is unique among low cost carriers in that it participates in two frequent flier programmes: its own, Punto, and IAG's Avios.

-Mr. Cruz explained how when they set up Clickair, an Iberia subsidiary that later merged with Vueling, they followed the textbook examples (Ryanair) of what a low cost carrier should do and should not do, but after some time in the business they started challenging some of this "established" knowledge and experiment with things such as assigned seats or connecting flights, that have yielded satisfactory results so far.

-Vueling is continuing to pursue its hybridisation strategy, with the aim of attracting business customers (the recently launched Vueling Pass goes in this direction)

-They aim to strengthen cooperation with other carriers within Oneworld, such as BA and LAN, to support its growing, although still small, connecting traffic via its Barcelona base.

-Regarding network, and asked by the audience about the long-haul plans some airlines have announced (for example, Norwegian) Mr. Cruz stated that their intention is to continue flying only to cities that are no more than a 4-hour flight away from Barcelona (they do not like hotel expenses!). He still sees new opportunities within this geography, though, for example in Eastern Europe and Russia, maybe even some destinations in Africa.

-Regarding fleet, the aim is to reach 100 aircraft as quickly as possible, since this would provide the scale required to remain competitive. Vueling is likely to remain a single aircraft-type operator for now, although they have considered different options, including Boeing and Bombardier.

-To conclude, one thing that keeps him awake: the risk of the company growing to the point that it loses its personality, its dynamism and freshness...

Still some way to go, I think....

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Barcelona airport to open a beach club

Customers are expected to benefit from increased market competition, this is evident when it comes to airlines (despite some missing the "golden age" of aviation where hardly anyone could afford to fly), but what about airports?

Airports do compete too and one of the ways to do so is trying to provide the best passenger experience. In this blog I have already expressed my preference for Amsterdam Schiphol (and I have not even tried the amphibious vehicle tour or the virtual butterfly garden), but now another airport I know well is entering the fray: Barcelona airport has just unveiled plans to build a golf course and...a beach club!

The story caught my attention, maybe because  I have just come back from a trip to Bergen, Norway, where, taking advantage of the airport location (see picture below) and of the amazing spell of warm weather (yes, it can be warm and sunny in Norway too!)

 My favourite bathing spot on the far side of the runway!

I managed to have a bath in the sea while awaiting my flight. I must say it was not an easy task to find a spot with open access to the sea since most of the seafront is taken up by private houses with gardens, but, hey! is where I got...(and yes, it feels great to swim a bit before your flight!)

I am sure being able to spend some time on the beach before boarding your flight home at BCN, could prove popular with the millions of tourists that use the airport every year (although the Catalan capital is not a "pure" beach and sand destination, it is not unusual to find people wearing little more than sandals and shorts on flights to BCN during the summer season!)

Sources at the airport confirmed that the idea is to have a private company run both facilities, the golf and beach club, that will be located on airport-owned land next to the terminals, although not physically connected to it (so some sort of shuttle service would need to be set up too) and, both the beach club and the golf club are also going to be open to the general public, not only airport users.

 Making the best out of location!

The beach club might be ready for next year's summer season, while the golf course is expected to be completed by 2014. In a way, it is a sort of "come-back" since there was already a golf club years ago (it was actually the oldest in Catalonia) in the space where now the sea-side airport runway is located.

This is also a perfect example of an airport embracing the idea of treating passengers, not only airlines, as "clients" and making of the airport not just a transit point but an enjoyable part of the whole travel experience.

I can think of some other airports next to the sea...who will be next?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Bye, bye BMI...

I have not flown BMI very often, but I must say every time I did, on its routes from LHR to Moscow and Norway, I had a really great on-board experience. I also liked the look of its aircraft, in their colourful liveries, and was nice to have one more alternative to fly from London...but, unfortunately, a good product is not always synonymous with profitability.

BMI and its employees, however, will avoid the fate of the likes of Spanair and Malev as the airline has been acquired by British Airways, not the worst possible any case, it is time to say:

Bye, bye BMI, you will be missed!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

More on social seating for airlines: Satisfly takes off with airBaltic

Not long ago I wrote about the phenomenon of social seating. Several airlines and start-ups are exploring different ways to develop and implement this type of service.

While it is not clear yet what model is going to prevail, one of the pioneers in this field, Satisfly, led by Sergio Mello, has reached a significant milestone and announced its first airline partnership, with airBaltic.

The Riga, Latvia-based carrier is usually quite keen to implement innovative marketing initiatives, it is a regular on Airlinetrends' rankings of most innovative airlines, so it is not totally unexpected that it has jumped on the social seating band-wagon, with its airBaltic SeatBuddy service.

What I find interesting about Satisfly's system is that it is not airline-specific, like similar airline social seating schemes developed by KLM and Malaysia Airlines, and also that, by partnering with the airlines, it can be put in front of the travelers every time they interact with the airline, during booking or online check-in. The concept might still take some time to take-off, and might not be for everyone, but as social networks become more entangled with everyone's daily activities I think social seating might end up being one more feature (a segment of) passengers will come to expect when they book a flight.