British Airways was once the darling of the UK skies, flying from around the UK to domestic, European and International destinations. Deregulation happened, and the low cost airlines eroded the market for the flag carrier at regional airports retreating to London, and specifically its home hub at London Heathrow.
After years of decline, routes at Gatwick were also restructured, firstly offloading franchise operator GB Airways to easyJet, who did a lot of leisure flying for British Airways, and then outsourcing ground operations to reduce cost to compete with the likes of easyJet who are dominant at Gatwick.
Slowly rebuilding British Airways at Gatwick now has a very leisure orientated route network flying to destinations such as the Canary Islands, Italy, Greece, the Algarve, Southern Spain along with short business and domestic routes such as Jersey, Dublin, Amsterdam and Scotland.
One of British Airways’s challengers at Gatwick is Monarch, who also have a leisure focus programme. Facing another restructure, Monarch has been loosing money for a number of years and new management has been brought in to turn the former holiday airline into a European low cost airline. Of late, Monarch has been an airline that has lost direction, with having a charter operation, long haul arm as well as having the now dominant scheduled business.
Things are changing though for Monarch, and with the prospect that more funding will not be forthcoming hopes rest on turning things around with a new portfolio of routes, and dropping bases such as East Midlands with a fewer number of aircraft. A new aircraft order for 30 737 MAX 8 aircraft will kickstart the change for the carrier, changing from a near all Airbus fleet. Fail, and the predators will be circling.
Ok, so how could the two be couple together? Many have speculated that IAG owned Vueling would make a good substitute to British Airways mainline at Gatwick in a effort to save cost. That hasn’t happened and in fact the airlines actually compete on the London Gatwick to Barcelona route head –to – head.
Both British Airways and Monarch have a similar route portfolio at Gatwick, both operating to Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Faro, Malaga, Alicante, Ibiza, Palma, Nice, Barcelona, Venice, Verona, Dubrovnik, Larnaca, Paphos, next year you can add Dalaman and Heraklion to that list. With such a cross over, the slots would be a very lucrative win for British Airways, fighting back against easyJet, now the dominant airline at Gatwick.
The slots could then be used to counter the fight posed by easyJet, launching new routes currently flown by Monarch like Funchal, Sharm El Sheikh and Antalya, strengthening current schedules and new destinations.
These could also be snapped up by other airlines, including easyJet who would have an even more safe number one position at Gatwick, or Norwegian who’s footprint is growing in the UK market along with its long haul operation.
I would suggest the big plan should be different though, the boldest since British Airways set up GO, their low cost airline and acquire Monarch Airlines.
Gatwick has a different market to Heathrow, British Airways are clearly targeting the leisure traveller, and have been pioneers in cost reducing initiatives such as charging for bags and seat reservation charges. As these have worked at Gatwick, they have infiltrated the route network at Heathrow bringing the same benefits to the consumer.
But what if Gatwick was different, and was set out on it’s own plan, on a similar way GO was 15 years ago. Firstly the British Airways name would disappear from short haul from Gatwick, although British Airways would remain the brand for the long haul, but still leisure routes.
Using the heritage of the airline, I would suggest Speedbird as the name, a nod to years gone past, with a new branding featuring the old BOAC emblem. You could keep the British AIrways uniform, along with the new interior which will be featured in the refurbished aircraft coming to the airline at the end of the year.
A stronger airline at Gatwick would help their fight against easyJet and Norwegian, and put the airline on an equal footing to its rivals. A new route portfolio, including the leisure routes featured now, along with new routes that have both a business and leisure focus like Lisbon, Munich, Prague along with seasonal routes such as Mykonos, Santorini, Kefalonia, Bastia, Olbia.
I’m surprised that the British Airways brand has survived so long at Gatwick, and not morphed into the low cost airline it should be.