In a bid to reduce losses, Bmi (British Midland International) is poised to make a significant reduction in capacity on the London Heathrow to Manchester route.
From the start of the summer schedule on March 28, Bmi will cut the number of weekday flights on this key route from six to four. At the same time it will downsize the number of seats it offers by operating smaller planes.
As things stand at present, Bmi operates four of its six daily flights with 50-seater Embraer 145 jets. The remaining two services are flown by 150-seater Airbus A319/A320 aircraft.
But from March 28, all four flights will be operated by the Embraer jets with the two Airbuses transferred to international services.
As a result the total number of London-Manchester one-way seats being made available by Bmi will be cut from 500 to 200 a day. This in turn is likely to spell higher fares for Bmi customers.
London-Manchester is a key route for both end-to-end passengers but also, crucially, for the many Mancunians who fly to and from Heathrow in order to make international connections.
Having fewer seats will prompt Bmi to give preference to lucrative full fare travellers and those who are making connections on to fellow Star Alliance member carriers at Heathrow.
When ABTN this morning checked midweek departures in early April using flybmi.com we found that cheap seat availability had all but disappeared even though the request for a booking was being made almost three months ahead.
In another development, it is believed that Bmi is considering dropping its loss-making London to Glasgow route. No decision has yet been made.
Bmi is currently struggling with declining passenger numbers and losses of £198 million in the last financial year.
Bmi believes that next April’s higher fees to use Heathrow (departing passengers will have to pay £23.60, a price hike of £10) will make domestic flying less popular which in turn will put further pressure on its domestic network.
But any reduction in capacity by Bmi, no matter how unavoidable, will strengthen both rival British Airways and its fellow Oneworld members at Heathrow.
Report by Alex McWhirter