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With an 88% load factor last year on its London - Sao Paulo route, one of the highest on its long haul network, British Airways (BA) is rethinking its South American operation. Nothing is likely to happen until summer 2009 when the airline takes delivery of four Boeing 777-200ERs, capable of flying Heathrow - Buenos Aires non-stop.
BA used to fly direct to the Argentinean capital but withdrew the service in 2002, opting for the present operation via Sao Paulo, four times per week. The airline also serves Rio de Janeiro via Sao Paulo, three times weekly.
Following staff comments in British Airways News that Lufthansa plans to resume five times per week a non-stop service to Buenos Aires from its hub in Frankfurt, network development manager, Robert Moran responded: ”Demand for travel between the UK and South America has been strong recently, and last winter we added three extra services per week to Sao Paulo (making ten in total) which is the largest market for us in that part of the world.”
Moran pointed out that the problem for British Airways was a lack of spare capacity and suitable very long range aircraft for a non-stop operation to Buenos Aires, a flight time of around 14 hours. With the arrival of the extra aircraft in 2009, and the publication of the airline”s long haul fleet plans, said to be in September, it is possible that direct flights could be introduced in two years” time.
In the meantime, Argentinean interests continue to lobby for direct services from London, the incoming British market being very strong from both a business and leisure point of view, travellers routing via Madrid, Paris and various US airports; Lufthansa via Frankfurt should also prove attractive.
With regards to Brazil, Virgin Atlantic Airways is known to be seriously looking at Rio for the future, assuming aircraft availability, and newcomer TAM flies daily between Heathrow and Sao Paulo. Varig, now owned by GOL, is said to be considering a London operation, but must take up its Heathrow slots during the winter season, or they will be lost, the UK - Brazil bi-lateral not withstanding.