12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
Bmi Regional is the only part of Bmi to survive the takeover by British Airways. Chief executive Cathal O’Connell talks about the airline’s plans as a small independent carrier
Bmi Regional became fully independent of the old Bmi two months ago – how did that transition go?The transition process finished at the end of October with the change to the winter schedule. We had to put together a totally new IT infrastructure before we became independent. We managed to migrate everything over in 12 weeks which normally would be a much longer process. It was a challenge and a fairly significant achievement – we knew had to do it by October 28.
Bmi Regional is only part of the Bmi brand to survive – what’s your view on the future of the Bmi name?Our brand is Bmi Regional – however we will take ownership of the Bmi brand from April 2013 when we can, if we wish, rebrand as Bmi. That decision will be taken at a later point in the future. Bmi Regional has a lot of value built into it – it has a customer base that has always flown Bmi Regional, even though it was part of the Bmi brand. It also has a different kind of network from what Bmi mainline and Bmibaby operated. We have also moved over from the old BD code to BM for our flights at the start of the winter schedule. We looked at the option of retaining the BD code but it was too complex.
What kind of fleet does Bmi Regional have at its disposal and how do you plan to use those aircraft?Our fleet is 18 Embraer aircraft - the Embraer 145 has 49 seats and Embraer 135 has 37 seats. Historically a number of those aircraft were wet leased to Bmi and they were operating primarily Heathrow services on behalf of Bmi. We had five aircraft with Bmi/BA at the end of those leases which came to an end in October as did two aircraft leased to Brussels Airlines. These seven aircraft have now returned to us. We also have another two aircraft on a long-term corporate contract.
What have you done with your schedule for winter 2012/13?We have already put two of the aircraft, which were on wet leases, on to new routes from Bristol to Aberdeen and Manchester to Antwerp. The remainder of the aircraft in the schedule are pretty much where they were before we became independent. With the remaining five aircraft, we have significantly increased our presence in the ad-hoc charter market and have availability for further charter shuttle contracts. We have been used by corporates and sports teams – we’ve carried several Premier League teams this year.
What plans do you have for your summer 2013 schedule?We are now reviewing our summer 2013 schedule – we’re in the planning stage for that. We’ve had discussions with numerous airports and we have identified a number of new routes which we will be announcing soon. We’re now more confident that we can launch a greater number of new routes, although we will do it very prudently. These routes will be from UK regional airports to European destinations, and they will be primarily business travel destinations.
What’s the thinking behind your schedules and route network?We operate a multi-frequency schedule with at least a double-daily frequency on most routes. The Embraer is well suited to these routes because of its speed. We make sure we fly at the right time when the market wants to fly. Primarily we fly into major cities in Europe – we also have a number of specialist routes such as Aberdeen to Esbjerg and Groningen which are obviously related to the energy industry. We have four domestic routes and the remainder are UK to Europe. We expect to see the number of European routes increasing at a greater rate than the number of domestic routes. Our longest sector is from Edinburgh to Zurich which is about two and a quarter hours.
What kind of service do you offer to your customers – do you see yourself as a full-service airline?We still consider ourselves full-service in the sense of the onboard service we offer. We don’t have baggage fees – we have 20 kilo luggage allowance included in the price and all of the onboard catering is complimentary. We also see significant value in the travel agency distribution channel because our customers typically use that channel. We don’t see ourselves going all web or direct sale. The aircraft have just one cabin although we have a business-type product which gives additional flexibility on the ticket as well as enhanced onboard food, airport lounge access and fast-track.
How important is the business travel market for Bmi Regional?The business travel market is one of the most significant elements of our overall business, given that our schedules are designed for business. We try to ensure that our product fits with their requirements – we are distributed through all of the GDSs, we work with TMCs and also directly with corporates. The majority of corporate clients had direct agreements with Bmi Regional which we have transferred across. We are also signing up new corporate clients as well.
What are the main differences that travel buyers will have notice with the change in ownership?We now have complete freedom with our independent status to target our own markets. Our sales team is actively looking at all of the corporate travel market. Their primary focus is to ensure that there’s an awareness of our product because there are lot of people who still believe that Bmi has finished flying. We were a small part of Bmi and all the media messages said that Bmi has ceased flying. After that, it’s about making sure there’s awareness of the route network and making sure we know who our customers are for each of our routes and establish relationships with them.
What are the advantages of becoming an independent company and how will that help travel buyers?Because we are now a much smaller organiser, we can be more flexible and make our decisions a lot more quickly. We now have the ability to tailor a relationship with particular clients to suit both of our mutual needs. We can be more attentive to what drives our markets and the needs of the corporates. Our advertising campaign over the last few months uses the tagline “Streamlined for Business”. It’s our objective to be as flexible as possible – we have the capability to do things differently now. We are starting with a white sheet of paper. We need to work as closely as we can with travel buyers and TMCs to make sure we understand their needs and put products in place that satisfy those needs.
Will you be developing partnerships with other airlines such as interline deals and codeshares?We exited Star Alliance upon purchase of the group by IAG – that meant that the codeshare agreements that we had in place with Star Alliance partners ended in October. We are in discussions with a number of former partners to re-establish those codeshare links which are at advanced stages. We already have a number of interline agreements with several former partners which we are using to connect passengers. We see codeshares as being an important part of our strategy of feeding into major European hubs such as Brussels or Frankfurt so we can provide worldwide connectivity from airports such as East Midlands and Leeds-Bradford.
How big is the company now and where are you based?We have our commercial, finance and IT functions at East Midlands airport, while at Aberdeen we still have operations and engineering. We have approximately 400 employees – there are 50 people at East Midlands with about 40 of those being new positions.
What about introducing a loyalty programme?We are looking at how we reflect loyalty – both in terms of recognition and rewards. We are assessing how we can ensure that regular customers have an affinity with us. We have a framework in place for a loyalty programme and we hope to announce our plans early in the new year.