- Passenger numbers: 5.2 million, +0.3% year-on-year;
- Cargo volume: 106,425 tonnes, -5.3%;
- Aircraft movements: 36,872, -5.6%.
London Heathrow Airport pax numbers stable in Jan-2013, cargo down 5%
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Chinese long haul secondary city air routes: BA's Chengdu exit does not reflect the broader market
The fastest long haul airline growth is not occurring with Gulf airlines but rather, with services to and from secondary Chinese cities. It is not a secret that local incentives and subsidies, generally common in any market, are especially large in price and duration for secondary Chinese cities. An airline might expect over a third of revenues to be subsidised. This drastically alters the business case in a low-margin industry, hence the proliferation of secondary city services. This extreme dependence on subsidies raises the question of how long governments are willing to issue generous subsidies, and how many routes can be sustainable without them.
British Airways' decision to exit its only secondary Chinese route to Chengdu, in Jan-2017, might suggest the music is ending and the secondary long haul bubble is popping. There is added colour given the recent UK-China air service agreement expansion, and Brexit/British pound depreciation overhangs.
BA's exit does confirm market fundamentals: secondary city yields are low, and some routes are ahead of their time. Yet a number of factors unique to British Airways suggest caution in concluding that BA's Chengdu exit could foreshadow other withdrawals.
All-premium UK-US airlines. BA cuts LCY frequency; La Compagnie quits LTN; Odyssey to launch in 2017
There have been two notable recent developments in the market for all-business class services on the North Atlantic: British Airways is to reduce its London City-JFK A318 frequencies and France's La Compagnie is to withdraw from Luton-Newark to concentrate its 74-seat Boeing 757 operations on Paris-Newark (its only other route).
BA's 32-seat London City operation has been suffering from significant load factor declines, particularly on the outbound flights. These flights make a refuelling stop in Shannon, where passengers can pre-clear US customs, but this may not be a sufficient incentive for some passengers to take an indirect flight. La Compagnie expressed concerns about uncertainties in the UK post-Brexit, but its route economics must anyway have been struggling, due to Luton's lack of suitability as a premium market and its lack of feed.
So far there has been no reaction to these developments from the new-start Odyssey Airlines, which plans to launch an all-business class London City-New York service in 2017. It will no doubt be attempting to find a balance between relief that its level of competition has reduced, and some anxiety that its launch may coincide with a softening of market demand.