UK’s Newcastle and Cardiff airports seek long haul flights

Once it was short haul services that were in demand from UK’s regional airports, now it seems that the desire to avoid travelling via a hub has spread to the mid to long haul arena, as difficult as it may be to justify some of the proposed services. The latest airports to investigate the level of demand for long haul flights are Newcastle and Cardiff.

At Newcastle Jet2.com will launch a direct service to New York’s Newark airport on 02-Dec-2010 to run over two weekends, the first ever flight to that city. It is not a scheduled service as such. Tickets will be available from around GBP360 return, supplemented by three day packages that are unashamedly aimed at Christmas shoppers, and which will cost approximately GBP600. Good for the airport; perhaps not so good for Tyneside’s retail community.

Neither Jet2.com nor Newcastle Airport has hinted that the flights may be testing the waters for a scheduled service to follow but that may be the case. Jet2.com offered a similar deal out of its Leeds Bradford home base in Dec-2008 and is repeating it this year. The schedule is the same as for Newcastle, hinting the service may be ‘doubled up’ if it fails to attract sufficient demand.

Jet2.com is regarded as being more adventurous than most European LCCs, its long range B757-200 models being able comfortably to encompass Turkey, North Africa and Israel in the schedule as well as these transatlantic services. See the CAPA Profile on Jet2.com for more information.

Cardiff negotiating with Emirates

Meanwhile Cardiff Airport is reportedly negotiating with Emirates – a key target for some time - to launch direct service to the airport, due to increasing demand for flights from Wales to the Middle East. The management acknowledges it would need some ‘assistance’ from the Welsh Assembly to get such as service under way, presumably in the form of route support. Noting Emirates’ recent increase in routes, Steve Hodgetts, the airport’s Business Development Director, stated “we know that eventually Emirates will go on the expansion trail.”

Emirates has one of the most comprehensive networks of any non-UK carrier into and out of Britain with services to London Heathrow and Gatwick, as well as Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Newcastle. The A380 is in use for Heathrow flights and will commence on the Manchester route in Sep-2010. By comparison, Etihad services are limited to London and Manchester (though it does now operate to Dublin) and Qatar Airways also to London and Manchester. There are no flights by any of the three leading Gulf carriers at Bristol Airport so that Cardiff Airport’s Business Plan for Emirates would undoubtedly include that catchment area.

Other carriers have had mixed success with UK ‘regional’ services

After the London airports, Manchester still has by far the greatest number of transatlantic services, operated by American, Delta, Continental, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic though they have reduced considerably with the loss of BA and bmi services, and indirectly – sixth freedom – by Aer Lingus, Icelandair and others.

Direct transatlantic services at other UK regional airports are provided almost exclusively by Continental Airlines, which operates from Newark to Birmingham, Bristol, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh (the latter two cities being only 40 miles apart by road). Some of these services are under review. The Bristol service will be withdrawn in Nov-2010.

American Airlines planned to operate at Newcastle Airport (a New York service) but changed its mind before it got under way.

Singapore Airlines remains the only leading Asia Pacific passenger airline to operate at a British regional airport – Manchester - though with a reduced schedule. AirAsia X considered Manchester (some say the management there preferred not to cannibalise SIA’s traffic) but opted instead for Stansted. Manchester has lost the services of Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines (also South African Airways) along the way and awaits anticipated but delayed new services from Thai Airways, Japan Airlines and China Southern – none of which may now ever operate.

Air India has operated at Birmingham Airport but does not do so presently, while Kingfisher appears to have dismissed the claims of Birmingham to host a scissor network hub there, in favour of Dublin Airport. Another factor might be the established sixth freedom offer to and from south Asia by existing airlines at Birmingham such as Emirates, PIA, Mahan Air (Iran) and Turkmenistan Airlines.

Connecting traffic is essential

The key to successful UK regional long haul operation is connecting/onward traffic as few routes support point-to-point operations alone and yield is typically less than on London routes. Some routes are able to find and sustain it while others do not. One of the most successful ones is American’s daily; occasionally double daily, Chicago-Manchester flight, which has operated consistently since 1986.
The same airline has found it difficult to sustain services at London’s ‘low cost’ Stansted Airport, as has Continental in the past, also PIA at Stansted and Manchester.

As for British Airways, it no longer flies out of any UK regional airport, having retrenched to London Heathrow, Gatwick and City airports, except for connecting flights from Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh to Heathrow and an obscure codeshare agreement with Flybe at Manchester. In the past it has operated Manchester to New York and Toronto (direct or via Glasgow Prestwick) and ManchesterIslamabad.

To reinforce the point about the need for connecting traffic (which Emirates does admirably at Dubai but Jet2.com doesn’t do at all) two of the most memorable failures of recent years were direct services from Liverpool to New York (2007) and Manchester to Cape Town (2006/7) by the now defunct Flyglobespan. The Liverpool services lasted six months and the Cape Town flight not much longer. Loads were very low in both cases and there was no interlining at each end. Flyglobespan also experimented with flights connecting Manchester and Doncaster Sheffield airports with Hamilton Airport, Ontario, Canada but again with little success.

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