26 FEBRUARY 2018

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Article from BTNews 26 FEBRUARY 2018

COMMENT: The shape of things to come

Soothsayers seeking guidance on what sort of year 2018 is likely to be for our cherished industry need look no further than the week just past. Even by the normal standards of what is traditionally a frenetic arena, it has been a torrid few days, some good, some bad, but all lively. And all pointing to a helter-skelter year in the offing.

The tone has been set by the sight of the Stobart Group circling Flybe, apparently with a takeover, whether partial or full, in mind. Blame (or credit) mounting media speculation for that one – Stobart was apparently moved to say something by nagging questions of the sort that tend to scupper such bids to the detriment of the parties involved. The danger of a premature leak is too great, particularly with share prices out there for all to see. The implications for UK aviation of Flybe under new management could be significant.

The simmering battle over Heathrow expansion seems on the verge of breaking out again after the airport released record results for 2017 but coupled their release with a plea from CEO John Holland-Kaye for ministers to get a move on. Warning of increasing competition from overseas competitors, he added: “For Britain to thrive post-Brexit, the government needs to crack on with Heathrow expansion as quickly as possible.” Red rag to the anti-airports brigade? Quite possible – not to mention the anti-Brexit movement.

Noise campaigners are similarly likely to have been put on the alert by news from Stansted, which is seeking to raise restrictions on annual passenger numbers from 35m to 43m to meet demand over the next ten years. The airport has laid the ground carefully, at pains to point out the move is “a commitment to delivering growth within approved flight and environmental restrictions following extensive consultation with the local community”.

Stansted also points out that unlocking further capacity will create more choice and competition for consumers and support 5,000 new jobs at the airport. Whether that cuts any ice with those opposed to such development remains to be seen.

In Europe, meanwhile, trouble is brewing over the role of Lufthansa following recent events including the complications surrounding the bankruptcy of Air Berlin. Observers have sounded the alarm over “Big Daddy” Lufthansa gaining more and more absolute control over the aviation industry on the continent, with the parent group now incorporating Austrian Airlines, Swiss International, Brussels Airlines and Eurowings, which also encompasses Germanwings, as well as several other aviation-related companies.

The latest manifestation of concern is upheaval at Brussels Airlines that has culminated in the announcement that CEO Bernard Gustin and CFO Jan De Raeymaeker are both leaving the carrier on 31 March. Critics fear the company is being robbed of its Belgian identity and are complaining accordingly.

Gustin, who has been CEO since 2008, although in a shared position from 2008-2012, is being replaced by current chief commercial officer Christina Foerster, who has been with the airline for 18 months, though she has an extensive background with the Lufthansa Group, including roles as vice-president network and fleet development and senior vice-president network, group and alliance development. The discussion is rumbling on, promising more reaction to come.

As we said, a busy and controversial week. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Watch this space.

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