Strategic Meetings Summit London, 26 September,
September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
Jim French has been with what is now FlyBe nearly 15 years and is credited with turning the loss making Jersey European Airways into the UK's third largest budget airline and a profitable operation. He began his aviation career in 1970 with the then Caledonian Airways joining Air UK ten years later where he held various director roles, including commercial, planning and marketing. Always outspoken this month's ”On The Soapbox” is typically Jim French.
"I often wonder why I have spent all of my adult life in this industry, why I have inflicted so much pain on myself. In the early days it was physical pain from all of the parties when I was a youngster in Caledonian and nowadays the pain is generated from the stresses and strains from actually running an airline.
Intense competition; political interference and now a major security target. Consumers” rights and environmental pressures will increase in the future. Consumers demanding a deflationary society for as long as they can get away with it. And why not. I do exactly the same when I act as a consumer!
The industry has always been extremely competitive ” I remember opposing domestic deregulation at the CAA. We won the hearing but lost the war!! Thank goodness we did because we have a much healthier industry because of this. Yes there are lots of casualties but that is business.
Air travel is no longer an elite form of transport for the privileged few. It is a commodity, which must ultimately face the economic pressures, which faces every other industry. Winners and losers. Sadly far too many politicians, particularly in Europe, have not woken up to the fact that aviation is now a public transport system which is privately funded and paid for by its users. Our industry is a target for every politician to have a pop at. Some of the legislation emanating from Brussels is designed to disadvantage us compared to other modes of transport (which incidentally are heavily subsidised) and demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the role of aviation in today”s society.
Our industry is also a target for the environmentalists, consumer protection groups and lobbyist from every angle. And there are many politicians wanting to run with them in order to get onto their own soapboxes. As an industry in the UK, we have a great deal to thank the Freedom to Fly Organisation, led by Dame Brenda Dean. The White Paper produced by the Government last year was a brave attempt to deal with the strategic issues facing this country and to recognise the role which aviation could play ” not only in terms of the overall UK but the White Paper acknowledged for the first time, that there is life outside of the South East of England and that the Regions have a role to play. The trouble is that when the White Paper was produced, Freedom to Fly was disbanded believing their job was done.
Well of course, their first job was done and done very well. However a vacuum has been created and whilst this vacuum exists, the pressure groups, who are opposed to our industry, are pushing against open doors!! And as we all know, the pressure from the pressure groups is increasing. As an industry, we need Freedom to Fly, or its successor, if we are going to be assured a fair hearing in political circles. And unless we have such a hearing, we will continue to be disadvantaged.
Let us consider consumer protection. No one is against it but we need common sense. Again the politicians seem to see us as an easy target. We operate in an intensely competitive industry with each of us looking for some niche which makes us more competitive. Yes the industry is going through a period of structural change in the short haul market as a result of the Internet and the rapid increase of low fares airlines. But in the long term, any abuses of the application of common sense market forces by any airline will see customers vote with their feet. We will never compromise the safety of our passengers but the compensation culture is now affecting the airline industry If the weather is below limits, or the aircraft is technical, or the crew have run out of hours, we will cancel or delay flights. It is utter madness that the pressures of damages could force cash strapped airlines to rethink these core principals.
From a commercial perspective, FlyBE has proved that there is no low cost rule book, or should I say, that by breaking all of the supposed rules, we have proved that there are no rules other than: ”Find a niche in the market, maximise your USP, make sure your revenues are higher than your costs and never stand still.”
These are the fundamental rules of commercial life and the quicker we all realise this the better and the quicker politicians realise that we are not a rich punchbag ready to be squeezed, then the better our industry will be.
In summary therefore all we want is ”the Freedom to Fly”. Open up the skies and let BA, Virgin, BMI, Easyjet, FlyBE and every other British airline prove that we can innovate, survive and prosper. Just give us the opportunity.
My prediction for 2005 and beyond.
”Low cost airlines will disappear.”
Sorry that should have read, ”The term, low cost airlines will disappear”. The new generation of low fares airline such as FlyBE will become the norm for point to point traffic across Europe.
Do I regret having been in the industry all my life? No way. I wouldn”t have missed it for the world. I will leave Rod and Richard to plough the long haul furrow. I am very happy concentrating on what I and my colleagues know best, the short haul regional market."