British Airways (BA) CEO, Willie Walsh, is refuting claims that the carrier will launch business class only services next year.
The dedicated sector has seen a burst of activity of late, with several carriers either announcing plans or making noises about dedicated premium transatlantic services, but BA says it will not be one of them, although it will launch New York-Europe services.
Speaking exclusively to ABTN today (24 September) at the Routes Leaders Forum in Stockholm, Walsh said: ”There may have been speculation that we would have an all premium configuration, but we don”t see a market for business-only from the US to Europe. We will have a significant Club World cabin with flat beds.”
The UK flag carrier intends to base aircraft out of New York to Europe following the evolution of the Open Skies deal between the European Union (EU) and the US next year, using two aircraft from its 13-strong Boeing 757 fleet that currently operate short-haul routes.
With London being twice the size of the business market from Paris for example, Walsh saw no need to have a European-based operation ” unlike arch-rival Virgin that has previously said it intends to operate a premium-only product from Europe to the US.
”It”s an exciting opportunity for us and we expect to be flying next summer although we have not finalized the European destinations yet,” said Walsh,
adding: ”We will probably decide by mid-November."
Walsh”s comments come at a particularly crucial time for the carrier, as it prepares to ink one of its most important ever long-haul aircraft orders in a matter of days. ”I said that we would announce (the deal) from two weeks last Wednesday (19 September) and we are within that time frame,” he said,
adding: ”We are getting very close to finalising it.”
Part of the reason BA is so confident about putting pen to paper is that the industrial landscape looks relatively benign, after a volatile period that has seen potential conflict with its unions avoided.
The pension fund deficit issue, put at ”2.1bn, has now apparently been put to bed, allowing the carrier to concentrate on its vital fleet renewal plans. ”The resolution of the pensions deficit was a major move,” said Walsh, adding: ”It was a trigger event to allow us to go forward.”
The BA boss also confirmed that he would like to operate US domestic routes, particularly east to west coast services, but that ”we can”t do it under the existing regulatory environment."
”We continue to have restrictions and (although) we are facilitating the global economy, we are prevented from looking at global consolidation. The regulations have outlived their usefulness ” it”s time to move on.”
Walsh clearly has the issue of ownership governed by tradition close to his heart and made a plea for accepted border concepts to change in terms of European airspace control.
”Single Sky is critical but we don”t see real progress towards it,” he said, adding: ”In terms of efficiency, we could see a 12% fuel burn reduction ” that”s a big prize."
”There is still the sense of national (ATC) ownership and I would like to think that we have moved on ” the technology is there.”