Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
Some 500-plus delegates, including senior representatives from 50 of the smaller airlines, gathered in Salzburg last week for three days for the European Regions Airline Association”s annual meeting and General Assembly. Among the agenda items were tackling industry costs, including those related to insurance and security, and reaction to EC policies which show no sympathy for air transport.
A new topic this year was how members are responding to competition from the so-called no frills carriers. On this, inevitably, airlines and airports are divided. Host Salzburg, for example, has witnessed a phenomenal growth as a result of Ryanair”s twice-daily services from London. Hahn Airport is on the map, thanks to the Stansted based carrier. Nevertheless, ERA believes that both sectors can work together. While acknowledging the industry has undergone a massive sea change, most of its airlines will stay focused on thin, point to point routes, too small for the high volume the budget boys require. But while ERA airlines” growth rate for the first six months to June 2002 (6.3%) is a much better result than the stagnant majors who suffered a serious fall off in long haul traffic post 9/11, in contrast, the no frills/low costs are growing at a rate of 25-30% per annum. And now, even more low cost models are entering the fray, challenging both regionals and majors.
Whilst Dave Barger of JetBlue Airways stole the show a panel discussion brought together some of the most outspoken airline bosses. FlyBE said it was British Airways and BMi ”tugging at its underpants” that prompted its evolution from British European, with permanently low fares and passenger friendly reservations policies. This new generation of airline sits in the middle ground between budget and traditional airlines. Other regionals will settle there too, believes managing director Jim French. Eurowings” offensive is new daughter company, Germanwings, which from the end of this month will fly from Cologne/Bonn to some 20 European destinations, including the Mecca for low costs, London Stansted. It will operate Airbus A319/A320s from charter arm Eurowings Flug and with fares of Euros 29, Eurowings Chief Executive Friedrich Wilhelm-Weitholz is convinced Germanwings will appeal to people who may not have flown before, rather than steal traffic from Lufthansa. Weitholz strongly believes that the industry will segment, noting that Eurowings will continue to provide regional services. This view was shared by SN Brussels executive chairman Rob Kuijpers. ”There are low fare versions of everything in every industry, why should the airline industry be any different?” he opined. Summing up, CEO of Skyways Express, Jan Palmer, suggested maybe ERA should change its name to the Low Cost Airline Association. Members” fares after all, are in many cases just as attractive as the no frills” offerings. Absolutely not, retorted French, pointing out that ERA”s strongest testament is that its member airlines collectively carry 74m passengers a year.
The ERA General Assembly used to serve as an important showcase for manufacturers to present their brand new aircraft. But now in 2002, the airlines are facing a shortage of types with the closure of the Fairchild/Dornier programmes and Avro RJX. Interestingly 20 years after they first came to market, ERA2002 highlighted that 30-seat turboprops continue to fulfil an important role. The Saab 340 particularly is having a resurgence of interest - by smaller airlines such as Skyways Regional and Varmlandsflyg in Sweden who are picking up routes that have been dropped by bigger regionals. New airlines such as Hahn Air of Germany are also shopping for 30-seaters. Conversely, bigger regionals are taking over or starting new routes from their majors - SAS Commuter taking over routes from SAS with its Q400s, because they deliver good economics on former short jet routes.
The Embraer 170, which many ERA airlines are appraising (Lufthansa/Lufthansa CityLine, Air France/Regional, British Airways/CitiExpress, Aegean, SAS/SAS Commuter, Portugalia and Aegean), did not come to Salzburg. Minor technicalities and delays involving avionics software and the need to make up time in the flight-test programme kept it in Brazil. Boeing, however, flew in a B717, delivered a good technical briefing to the media and invited interested airlines, as well as some media, on demo flight. Bombardier, an ERA stalwart, was busy promoting its new CRJ190 and used the event to announce delivery the first of 27 Bombardier CRJ700* regional jets ordered by Delta Connection carrier Comair of Cincinnati, Ohio. Delta Connection carriers have placed firm orders for 58 of the 70-seat aircraft.
In its bid to sell the 717 to regional carriers, Boeing is responding to the fact that the majority of the regionals are major-owned, they are flying longer distances, and that new orders will be bulk orders. The fact that there are so few independents left in the business is a situation which saddens ERA founding father and honorary president Moritz Suter who views the regional industry once again as ”being dominated by monopolies.” It was noteworthy in Salzburg that regional airline ”statesmen” - Olaf Dlugi (ex Augsburg Airways), Piet Wauters (ex VLM); Fritz Feitl (ex Tyrolean) and Kjell Fredheim (ex SAS/Air Baltic) were all at ERA in consultancy roles. Xavier Leclercq (ex Brit Air) has retired, Brad Burgess (ex CityFlyer) is chairing new charter airline Astraeus and Ian Woodley (ex Business Air) is running an in-flight catering organisation. Terry Liddiard (ex Manx and BRAL) was at ERA2002, supporting Eastern Airways, and so was Jean Paul Dubreuil who now runs Air Caraibes.
The ERA Airline of the Year 2002/2003 title went to Iberia regional Air Nostrum. Silver went to Wideroe, an SAS partner and bronze to Air Dolomiti, a Lufthansa affiliate airline. All three were worthy winners, but only 12 airlines from ERA”s 76 member airlines submitted an entry for the international panel of journalists to judge. Director general Mike Ambrose accepted that response to invitations for entries has been poor and it will be addressing the format for 2003 to encourage more members to participate. Airport of the Year, determined by airline votes, was Munich International (runners up were London City and Southampton). A new award, the Hank McGonagle Award for Journalistic Excellence, was collected by Oliver Sutton of Interavia for an informative and topical feature article on scope clauses. The next ERA General Assembly will be in Dublin 17-19 September 2003.
ERA General Assembly News, the three news dailies published by Emerald Media, can be accessed online at
http://www.eraa.org ” General Assembly/ Media/News.