Sunday, 30 September 2012

The weekly airline business recap

While many in the airline industry will be enjoying the warm weather at Abu Dhabi for #Routes, I thought about putting together some of the airline stories that caught my attention this week...

Starting with Thai Airways. getting its first Airbus A380 (the first of 6 ordered by thailand's flag carrier). I had the chance to attend the delivery ceremony in Toulouse and will certainly be publishing a longer blog post about this event shortly, but in the meantime you can check out what Flightglobal wrote about it.

By the way, Thai's A380 fleet will be growing soon, aircraft number 2 and 3 are already in Hamburg to  get all the necessary fittings, while number 4 is already out of the assembly line, you can see it here, next to two Malaysian A380s (there was also a China Southern A380 next to them).

More A380s ready to head East, where growth is

And the "low-costization" of European short haul continues with Lufthansa's announcement that it is going to launch a low cost airline of its own, integrating Germanwings operation along the way. While the new brand will be, for a start, restricted to Germany's non-hub airports, will see if it ends up like Iberia Express, taking also a sizeable share of the flag carrier's mainline operations.

By the way, Airbus marketing VP Bob Lange reaffirmed to a group of journalists attending Thai Airways' A380 delivery ceremony that the European consortium is sticking to its sales goals for the year, that is, of selling 30 more A380s. This was hours before Emirates Tim Clark expressed interest in acquiring another 30 to 40 A380s in the near future...coincidence?

In any case, with more A380s or not, the story of growth in the United Arab Emirates airline industry is simply amazing, as this report confirms, from 18 million in 2001 to over 70 million in 2011 and I guess it would look even more spectacular if we went 20 years back in time.

Oh! and I almost forgot...I got to fly BA's "Dove"!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Airships are back in fashion!

I don't know why, but last summer airships caught my attention. I already recognized on this post that I do not know much about this very peculiar type fo aircraft, but later on, airship sightings during the London Olympics led me to write a couple more posts about this topic (see them here 1 & 2).

So, no wonder today I read with interest this piece published on the BBC about a British firm, Hybrid Air Vehicles Limited, that is working on an airship project that might end up having multiple applications, both civilian and military (the project was originally commissioned by the US Army).

I can see a  market niche for airship commercial air travel. Do you?

Monday, 10 September 2012

IAG's Spanish problem, Iberia Express and Vueling

The future does not look bright for Iberia. IAG latest financial results showed that the Spanish flag carrier has become a drag on the the group's financial performance. IAG's CEO, Willie Walsh has already warned that tough measures must be taken...

And what now seems inevitable is that Iberia's short and medium haul network will be progressively taken over by Iberia Express, the vehicle that IAG has chosen to get rid of the existing labour relations framework at Iberia. For Iberia's customers the change to Iberia Express should not be a big change...for now...because, Iberia Express might have been helpful in taming some structural cost issues within the company (Iberia Express is already profitable), however, it can do little against the huge exogenous pressures currently affecting the Spanish air travel market, like the deep economic crisis and the strong competition from other low cost carriers (among the major European markets, is possibly the one where LCCs enjoy a larger marjet share).

So it is not unlikely that, while keeping some network carrier features, most important of all, feeding Iberia's long-haul network, or what's left of it, Iberia Express, and the rest of the airline, might have to undergo a process of "low-costization".

Curiosly enough Iberia is the major shareholder of another Spanish low cost, and one that is profitable: Vueling. The Barcelona-based carrier is actually on an opposite path: whereas Iberia might end up trading-down, Vueling is trading-up and offering more and more extras to its passengers, in a drive to attract business customers.

Will Vueling and Iberia (Express) end up occupying the same market space?

If this happens, will the two brands be kept? In theory, there is no need to, despite its shareholding Vueling is an independent company and it has its hub at Barcelona, whereas Iberia Express is based at Madrid. However, it is not unthinkable that Vueling becomes more operationally entangled with Oneworld's operations in Spain as it starts to codeshare more and more, take on feeding operations, etc. Will there be a temptation to consolidate Vueling and what's left of Iberia in a big low cost operation? Who would then have the strongest brand? and right structure and "mind-set" to operate as a low cost?  an strengthened Vueling or a "downgraded" Iberia?

Of course, the most likely outcome is that nothing of this might actually end up happening, but "what if" scenarios are always entertaining...

Friday, 7 September 2012

A list of really cool sites for frequent fliers

From time to time I like to share some aviation-related sites or apps I have come across...and, while the jury is still out as to the success of social seating apps that some airlines hve been launching recently, other startups are focusing on sorting other types of problems, such as refining flight search results...

Yes, I know this is hardly new, there are tons of flight searching engines out there, however most search result pages remain incredibly dull...

Hipmunk has devised a very visual flight search results page and has also included the concept of "agony search" to the mix, that means that their algortithms take into account the inconvenience caused by stopovers and total travel time and has wrapped this up in a fresh, visually-appealing interface.

With this system you can get the equivalent of a flight options "visual map" and even hide or display several flight combinations from the same airline. I must say, I have not tested whether the effectiveness of Hipmunk's system when it comes to finding the best prices, I really hope it matches its user-friendliness!

A snapshot of Hipmunk's visual flight search, here showing results for a London to Melbourne flight

Not all flights are equal and often it is the small details that make all the difference, but flight search engines do not provide much in depth information about the sort of amenities you can expect in a flight. This is precisely what Routehappy is aiming to fix. This startup, whose site is currently in beta, gives you flight options based on a rating of passenger experience. It not only integrates reviews from fellow passengers but it also provides information about amenities such as in-flight wi-fi or meals, an information that I am sure many passengers would find useful when comparing between different flight options.

Last but not least, another cool airline-related site that I have discovered and that I am sure many frequent fliers and aviation enthusiasts (I am counting myself in!) will enjoy. The idea of having a flight log where you keep track of all your flying is not exactly new, but what I really liked of Flightdiary is its cool, map-based interface that integrates all sort of statistics about your travel activity. Great design that makes of Flightdiary an extremely user-friendly and enjoyable site.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Unhappy Ryanair passenger becomes social media rockstar...but does it matter? (post with a bonus: a video of Air India's first Boeing 787!)

If there is an airline with a seemingly infinite capacity to produce headlines, this is Ryanair. I mentioned some of its past stunts in this blog, however at some point I lost my interest in this sort of stories...everyone has a personal Ryanair horror story!... I went, myself, from being a loyal and happy customer to not flying with them anymore after I had a bitter "disagreement" with one of their ground staff about the best way to re-pack hand-luggage items, she might have got her commission, they lost me as a client, but this is a story for another post...)

This time the "hero" of Ryanair's critics is Suzy McLeod, a Ryanair passenger from Alicante to Bristol, who was charged €300 for not having printed her family's boarding passes beforehand. Suzy went to Ryanair unofficial page on Facebook and posted the following comment:  

“I had previously checked in online but because I hadn't printed out the boarding passes, Ryanair charged me €60 per person! Meaning I had to pay €300 for them to print out a piece of paper! Please ‘like’ if you think that's unfair.” 

The response was huge: nearly 400,000 likes and over 18,000 comments for a single post. Quite a feat!

And an even a greater feat to draw the attention of Michael O'Leary himself, that did not miss the chance to express his thoughts about her and this whole affair... in his own syle, of course!

But does this matter? Despite many airlines making a genuine effort to get into social media (in this blog I sometimes highlighted some of the social media stars of the airline industry) the answer is far from straightforward. Or at least, it might not matter if you are Ryanair...the Irish airline has consistently outperformed its industry peers, despite having no social media activity, a horrible (sometimes buggy) website in terms of usability and tons of bad PR every day. Social media might actually be less important for the success of an airline than, we, hyper-connected people tend to think...or this is what this analysis points out.

(oh! I forgot to say: there is now a Ryanair iPhone and iPad app, you need to pay for it, of course!)

Enough of Ryanair for now...on another totally separate note, Boeing continues with its stream of Dreamliner deliveries, and has set up this cool-looking website so that you can track all the deliveries. Today it has has been the turn of Air India, and to celebrate the occasion, Boeing has put together this interesting video about the making of Air India's first 787. Enjoy!