Yesterday, British Airways said goodbye to its last Heathrow 744’s, G-CIVB in the Negus livery, and the one I spent most time on, G-CIVY in the standard “Chatham Dockyard” livery was the last of the pair to go.
The weather was miserable and you could barely see the aircraft in the rain and mist, Heathrow looked largely deserted at peak morning hours (it was 0845BST), and the whole thing said so much about the airline industry and its predicament it could almost have been the end of aviation as we know it. It felt like no aircraft would ever fly from Heathrow again.
As if to emphasise the plight of airlines easyJet was begging for more government money yesterday. Frankly the temerity of the airline is almost beyond belief.
Capitalism has its good moments and its bad ones. Airlines like easyJet were the fundamental disruptors of the period running from around 1997 through to 2015. Since then they’ve just become one more big corporate that seems to think its the job of government to prop it up because it can’t work out how to manage itself.
eayJet’s problem is fear. It’s afraid that it won’t be competitive, its afraid that it will have to down size and do what every family in the world has to do when times are rough – downsize and cut back to match its income. It’s afraid that ist past decisions have led it to a place it can’t work with.
easyJet burned through £700 million (almost US$1 billion) so far this year, flew just 38% of its normal levels and carried 9 million passengers. Maybe for the next few years this is the new normal it needs to adapt to.
Where was easyJet when it started moving all of its aircraft from the UK air register to Austria? Where was easyJet when it was re-registering its pilots in Austria? Where are all those vast profits they paid to Stelios and his familiy, and that he was happy to take, just as the Covid crisis hit?
easyJet has already had a £600m loan from the UK Government, while Virgin Atlantic had to fin its own way forward, and even if it managed its process appallingly, BA didn’t take any, although its former Chairman, Willie Walsh now thinks it might need to.
In the United States, Trump’s administration is desperate to get another airline bailout and as part of a low level of stimulus payments to the population as a whole in an attempt to swing the election, that all the polls are saying he’s going to loose, and loose in his own word, “bigly”.
They’re not really interested in the airlines, and as I have said in the past, airlines shouldn’t be getting any more aid anywhere, unless they are a strategic necessity.
Economies are on a slow, slow climb out of this recession. It could be the worst any of us have ever seen. Airlines grew fat and bloated and made lots of profit. Remember Doug Parker of American basically saying his airline would never make a loss again? Such hubris was almost asking for trouble.
Airlines the world over pretended to act on environmental concerns and did basically, not much at all. Only the cost of fuel and the way it ate into their profitability drove them to do anything about cutting fuel burn and the fact that that in turn, cut pollution per individual aircraft, was merely a coincidence.
While they cut per-aircraft emissions and pollution, they kept buying more and more aircraft, and still managed to raise their emissions levels overall, and looked set to keep doing so into the distant future. And nobody stopped them, they paid lip service to the concept because the money just rolled in.
Lufthansa and AirFrance needed bailouts and their respective governments made them, as a condition of those bailouts adopt greener policies and commit to actually doing something. They made Airbus commit to a different kind of future, a technically challenging one, but doable with the right research, investment and will power. Already lobbyists and vested interests are trying to stand its way.
I am absolutely committed to the need for aviation and an aviation industry, its essential that airlines exist and that we all fly, I am personally invested in the future of flight and need to fly in order to conduct my life when times return to a degree of normalcy.
Airlines however have to face realities, so do those who work for them. The world has changed, they must change. And they must learn to stand on their own, not suck governments dry for bailouts.
Few industries ever qualify for such support. The steel mills in Wales because they produce a unique high quality grade of steel we need for our nuclear submarines and warships that cannot be made anywhere else is one. Industries that are strategically vital to the nation, certainly. But easyJet is not. Because if it was, so was Flybe – and that for many remote parts of the UK was strategically vital, but it was let go in the blink of an eye, and easyJet and BA weren’t crying over that, indeed they pretty much campaigned for it to be let go.
If Virgin Atlantic can find its way to stay solvent, so must easyJet.
In the US, airlines must face their own futures head on. If there is a market, it will grow back organically. Artificially supporting unviable routes, unviable jobs, in a desperate hope it will just suddenly be all right is not what the world needs.
And talking of things we don’t need. Boom revealed the first commercial supersonic airline prototype, the XB-1. Eventually its supposed to turn into the Overture supersonic low seater. They think this is a big deal. They should look back at Concorde. Marvel as it was, its orders from airlines evaporated, it was crushed by recession and oil prices and during its heyday, was a polluting nightmare that only the extremely wealthy could afford, the very epitome of social division. It ended up being little more than a merry go round for tourist excursions, which is what the disastrous crash was doing when it happened.
Boom may think they have market, but which airline is going to actually buy it now? Virgin signed letters of intent, they did the same with the A380 and were first on board with that. How many did they take? Zero. Never mind ANA and JAl and all these others. They all signed for Concorde but in the end just 21 were built and only BA and AirFrance ever flew them. Is there really a market for a socially and economically divisive, polluting high speed aircraft in the mid to late 2020’s?
Boom would be better off developing sustainable flight, not carting the super rich around in supersonic biz-jets.