3 MAY 2010


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Article from BTNews 3 MAY 2010

COMMENT: Air travel is a mess

Where to start? 

At least here in the UK we will shortly have a change of Prime Minister, and hopefully one that is more sympathetic to commercial aviation and its importance to the UK economy.

The views of the Cabinet are supposed to be collective.  Let us hope that the current members can speak up during the summer recess until the new government is created on 5 September. We are moving that way. Grant Shapps, Transport Minister, yesterday set out protections for passengers with a new aviation charter. (See in this this week's BTN Transport Secretary's statement.)

The citizens of Uxbridge might even have a new Member of Parliament in the not-too-distant future, one who is appreciative of the largest employer in area.  Sad to say as Mayor of London Boris Johnson (and his appointee, now Lord Moylan) did his upmost to stifle London City Airport (LCY).  Even his predecessor, the more pragmatic Ken Livingstone supported LCY with the introduction of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).  Some of Livingstone’s views were nauseating, stupidly self-defeating with his bid for a third term as Mayor.

As we stand today battle has commenced between the airlines, airports and politicians. Yes, Putin is to blame.  But even without the war air transport was heading towards Armageddon.

And who will be the winners and losers?

There is only one result.  

The travelling public will lose.

The words of a former British Prime Minister come to mind.  Harold Macmillan said in July 1957 “They have never had it so good”.

Could it be that the days of cheap air fares are over?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the average round trip domestic ticket in 1980 cost $592.55.  Today it is $399.  According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) 600m passengers flew that year.  For 2019 it was 4.6bn worldwide.

The latest data from the global flight airline analysis firm Cirium shows that airlines have cancelled 25,378 flights from their August schedules, of which 15,788 are in Europe. Lufthansa plans to cut an additional 2,000 flights until the end of August, bringing the airline’s total number to almost 6,000. Turkish Airlines has dropped 4,408 flights, followed by British Airways with 3,600,  easyJet 2,045, and Wizz Air 1,256.

The meeting of Sir Tim Clark and John Holland-Kaye (as reported in this week’s BTN Emirates v Heathrow) does show the seriousness of the airport problem but in a sense both appear to be losers.  By reducing numbers Heathrow misses out on passenger handling fees and the Government Air Passenger Duty (APD) and likewise business for its tenants and service providers.  The airlines will fail to meet their revenue projections.  This can only be dealt with by an increase in fares.

Is there a solution?  It’s hard to see.  The plane makers predict 40,00 new aircraft over the next 20 years, the fuel-thirsty four-engined giants now mostly gone and production ended.  New planes are evolving all the time.  Virgin typically taking delivery of brand new ecologically healthy Airbus A330s replacing older models (as reported in this week’s BTN Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class).  It is hard to appreciate the first of the series flew in 1992 and the Boeing 777 two years later.

The meeting of Clark and Holland-Kaye is not only an indication of the industry leaders’ concern for the future, but a pragmatic way forward.  

What lies ahead we are not sure. Air travel is a mess.


This is a letter published in The Times Friday 15 July


Sir, It is wrong to suggest that airlines have only themselves to blame for recent airport disruption (leading article, Jul 12). UK airlines were grounded for nearly two years due to the most onerous and longest running travel restrictions in Europe, losing more than £6 billion despite furlough support, which covered only a fraction of costs. 

Airlines worked hard to minimise redundancies and protect jobs but make no mistake, it has been a fight for survival. The government was clear that no support would be forthcoming for companies that did not reduce costs, and airlines had little choice but to take action. 

The industry is once again flying millions of customers and the vast majority of flights — 97 per cent last month — departed as scheduled. 

Taking our customers on long-awaited holidays and building resilient summer schedules is our number one priority and something the whole industry is focused on.

Tim Alderslade - CEO, Airlines UK



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