1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Aviation remains one of the most crucial sectors of business travel around the world - which airline executives will be making the most impact this year?
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Alex CruzCEO and chairman, Vueling
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh has been full of praise for Cruz, both before and after British Airways’ owner took full control of the Barcelona-based no-frills airline earlier this year. Vueling, under Cruz’s leadership, could be set to become Easyjet’s biggest rival across Europe, with its pitch as a “premium low-cost” carrier, which includes offering services that Easyjet currently doesn’t – such as lounge access through its Vueling Pass and a recent deal to provide onboard wifi.
The carrier has already announced plans for a base at Brussels, with hints of more airports to come in the near future with the aim of “building strong leadership positions at key European airports”. Vueling is also set to grow its fleet by at least 40 per cent in the next two years, from 70 this year to more than 100 in 2015.
But none of these developments are likely to distract Cruz from his mission of keeping costs down – it’s his favourite subject when he appears at industry conferences and events.
So while most focus will remain on BA and the restructuring at Iberia, Vueling is set to be the IAG brand to watch.
Doug ParkerCEO, American Airlines
Former US Airways’ CEO Doug Parker has now taken the helm of a new, expanded American Airlines, following the US$17 billion merger of the two carriers. American is now the biggest airline in the world – as measured by the number of seats flown – with 6,700 daily flights to 336 cities in 56 countries.
For the UK travel buyer, the enlarged American Airlines will ultimately make the joint business with British Airways across the Atlantic even more attractive, with the addition of US Airways’ former hubs at Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix. It will also strengthen the Oneworld alliance at the expense of Skyteam, with the disappearance of US Airways as a brand.
The American/US Airways merger follows similar tie-ups between Delta and Northwest, and United and Continental over the last few years.
Will these mega-mergers lead to a lack of competition (and higher airfares) on transatlantic routes, which continue to be the most lucrative premium travel services in the world? IATA figures show that the north Atlantic market accounts for 17.3 per cent of all global premium airline traffic and 21.7 per cent of revenue.
Carolyn McCallCEO, Easyjet
The no-frills icon is now a true darling of the financial world, with a 51 per cent rise in profits to £478 million during 2013 – this compares to two profit warnings from rival Ryanair in the last few months.
A major part of Easyjet’s success has been its long-term commitment to providing a better service for business travellers, from the introduction of allocated seating and business-orientated fares, to its deals with all the major GDSs to make it easier for TMCs to sell Easyjet flights.
Chief executive Carolyn McCall gets a huge amount of the credit for the airline’s success, while the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ executive director Greeley Koch also praises sales director Toby Joseph for his work behind the scenes, which includes signing more than 200 deals with TMCs and corporate clients.
Expect Easyjet’s push into business travel to continue strongly in 2014 and beyond. The airline has even dismissed Ryanair as a true competitor and has its sights set on eating into the legacy carriers’ markets around Europe. The only thing that might be beyond Easyjet is keeping founder and biggest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, happy – but some people are never satisfied (even with a dividend payment of more than £110 million).
James HoganPresident and CEO, Etihad Airways
Hogan has been busy building up Etihad’s “equity alliance” in other carriers this year – the Abu Dhabi-based airline, which only launched in 2003, now has minority stakes in Air Berlin, Virgin Australia, Aer Lingus, Air Seychelles and Jet Airways.
Hogan’s latest deal – the acquisition of a 49 per cent stake in Air Serbia – was due to be completed this January. He is also planning to create the airline’s own regional branded operation, to be known as Etihad Regional, following a deal with Swiss carrier Darwin Airline. This brand will target passengers from “secondary European markets” when it launches in the first quarter of this year.
The bullish, straight-talking Australian, who was previously at BMI and Bahrain-based Gulf Air, is building up a sort of unofficial alliance which could challenge the traditional thinking for carriers within Oneworld, Skyteam and the Star Alliance.
“Our equity alliance is a new business model for the airline industry,” as Hogan himself said, citing benefits such as cost reduction, the sharing of resources and joint procurement processes
Richard AndersonCEO, Delta Air Lines and chairman of IATA
Anderson will have plenty on his plate in 2014, with his role as International Air Transport Association chairman overseeing the development of New Distribution Capability (NDC), as well as Delta’s move into the UK market through its joint venture with Virgin Atlantic.
Delta and Virgin will be operating a combined schedule from Heathrow starting on March 30, which is specifically aimed at business travellers and will throw down the gauntlet to the existing transatlantic joint business run by British Airways and American Airlines.
But any buyers expecting to benefit from a transatlantic price war on the prized London-New York route may be disappointed – at least if you believe the comments of Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA’s parent IAG.
Despite BA’s long-running enmity with Virgin, and particularly with founder Sir Richard Branson, Walsh has been effusive in his praise of Anderson lately – mainly because the Delta CEO has been using “rational language” when it comes to airfares.
Walsh has even described the Virgin-Delta JV as a “positive development for us and the industry”. But will such bonhomie endure from April onwards?
Zhang XiuzhiCEO, Spring Airlines
Zhang is the boss and co-founder of Shanghai-based Spring Airlines, which has pioneered the low-cost model in China since it began operating in 2005.
Spring has been growing rapidly in recent years – initially as a domestic carrier, before becoming the first private Chinese airline to be granted a licence to fly internationally in 2010. As well as Hong Kong and Macau, it now flies to destinations including Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
China has been seen as a difficult market for the low-cost sector to crack, due to its lack of spare airport capacity and dominance of the state-owned carriers, but Spring has bucked this trend.
The airline has a fleet of 39 Airbus A320s and made a profit of US$111 million in its last financial year. It has also harnessed social media effectively with more than 3.5 million followers on Weibo (China’s version of Twitter).
Zhang will be explaining how Spring has succeeded where other Chinese no-frills airlines have failed at the World Low-Cost Airlines Conference in Singapore in February.