Route consolidation strikes hard at Birmingham – more airlines slash cities

Birmingham International (BHX) is the UK’s 7th biggest airport by passenger volume, but its location (Britain’s third largest city) and reputation give it a much higher profile.

While not the home of Monarch before its demise, their disappearance as a major operator there hasn’t made it easier for the others, in many ways it’s made it worse as they all re-evaluate, with ever greater scrutiny, their route networks and profitability. What is happening at BHX is typical of what is starting to happen across Europe, it’s often the leading edge of trends that will spring up all over the EU.

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Norwegian has announced it is terminating all of its Spanish destinations from the airport. It will no longer serve Malaga, Tenerife and Barcelona. Three other airlines still serve the first two and RyanAir and Vueling serve Barcelona, where the latter are based.

Back in January, American Airlines ended its ridiculous 18 month should never have happened flights to New York, on a route that couldn’t possibly justify two daily services. In July, after 21 years, United announced it would end its service to New York on October 5th. That was almost certainly hastened by the announcement that Primera Air would begin low-cost flights to the city in June next year from BHX.

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Another previously busy route – and one I used to use quite often was the BHX to Toulouse flights. Flybe has terminated these all year round daily flights and will now only resuscitate them for peak season May-September. They only started being a daily service in October 2016.

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Wizz has also cut its flight to Sofia in Bulgaria and Vueling to Paris Orly.

Emirates has also cut its daily flights from three to two, one A380 and one 773ER rather than two. However at least for the busy winter season, when many people go to Australia and New Zealand for the southern summer, Emirates will run two A380’s per day.

It hasn’t helped that many people have experienced BHX, frankly mishandling their daily flight schedules to squeeze more people through in an effort to keep airlines happy. Mornings are often pandemonium before 8am  – too many people swamp the limited windowless catering and shopping hub outbound, and certain areas of the terminal are a sea of people while others are totally deserted.

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Birmingham Airport spent millions on an extended runway, widened taxiways, and an A380 gate and reinforced stand and equipment to host one A380 a day.

Arrivals can end up swamped by A380 or 777’s passengers from Emirates and a 788 from Qatar arriving almost simultaneously, on top of the morning rush from scheduled services from Europe, and the holiday charters, and scheduled jet2, Thomson and Thomas Cooks, all gets a bit much for the airport to deal with.

Mid-day peaks in summer time are intense – less so without Monarch it has to be said – but everything seems to arrive at once, and again in the evenings. The gaps between can be devoid of aircraft movements for 20 minutes or more. Evenings can be pounded by Pakistan, Emirates, Air India, all arriving with services from Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Dublin, on top of the UK domestic services and all the charters. On top of that you’ve got streams of RyanAir and other flights from dozens of destinations – many of them the same ones. It gets fraught, immigration overloaded and luggage confused, and pick up and drop off is a nightmare.

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Similar stories come from other regional airports in Europe. Demand for peak times never ends, while big lulls leave facilities empty. AirBerlin’s demise on regional German routes has already narrowed the spread of departures and arrivals at several airports as it ceases operations on the 28th October, many have already ended.

Airlines – especially low-cost airlines, are beginning to be far harsher about the longevity of routes. The speed with which they are axed is faster, their long-term reliability uncertain from the day they commence. What may appear to be a full flight every day to you as a passenger, to an airline could be subsidised travel if they haven’t been able to charge enough for the seat, and they’re loosing money.

Even now, Malaga from Birmingham has still got four airlines – TUI, Thomas Cook, Ryan Air and Jet2, all competing for the same passengers, Alicante is over-served, as is Tenerife, Faro, and half a dozen or more others at different points in the year. Amsterdam and Paris are served by  Flybe and Air France/KLM as code share (Paris) and as competitors.

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Duplication is everywhere and it simply cannot be sustained. Weaker airlines like Flybe will have to tread carefully and pick routes wisely if they are to survive. Despite jet2.com’s bravado and apparent success, they’re not a big player and just as easily could fall prey to competition as Monarch did.

You can travel around Europe and find a couple of dozen airports where this kind of process is being duplicated. Sooner or later, more of the smaller airlines will have to go as the bigger, more predatory competitors push them out. Is it a good thing? Of course not. Is it inevitable? Absolutely.

 

 

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