BA plans major transatlantic push at London City Airport

6.9.2010 (Evening Standard)

by Lucy Tobin

British Airways is preparing to expand its transatlantic flight routes from London
City airport as part of a host of big investments planned by boss Willie Walsh
to capitalise on the airline’s recovery from recession.

The news could lead to a jobs boost at the capital’s smallest major airport after
Walsh said BA’s direct route from London City to New York – which launched last
September – had been “hugely successful” and revealed that the flag carrier is
looking at ordering more Airbus A318 planes, which have to be specially modified
to cater for the short runway.

When BA first launched its business class-only service from London City to New
York at the height of the recession in autumn last year, critics said it would
be a failure. Some likened it to Silverjet, the business class airline that went
bust in May 2008. But Walsh said the London-New York route had been “even better than we’d expected“. He added: “It’s a word of mouth success. London City is a convenient airport
for business, and we can put more flights on at peak times which we couldn’t do
at Heathrow because of capacity

“Now we’re looking at either increasing capacity or the network, potentially
to Boston, Washington or Chicago.”

Walsh said that the new planes could be ordered within weeks. With a lead-in
time of nine months the new City routes could be flying before the end of next
year. Walsh revealed the plans after BA flew the inaugural flight of its new Boeing
777-300ER to Mumbai, the airline’s first major investment since the downturn.
After a difficult year during which BA faced a damaging 22 days of staff strikes
costing £250million and being hit by a recession-fuelled plunge in demand, Walsh
is now planning to capitalise on economic recovery.

He said BA’s current “healthy-looking” passenger and cargo numbers were a “barometer
of confidence”. “Our long-haul premium volumes and yields have recovered faster
than we had anticipated,” he said. “As an airline, we’re not seeing anything suggestive
of an economic downturn. So far recovery is going a little faster than I’d expected.”

Walsh also outlined ambitious expansion plans for the new International Airlines
Group, the company that is to be formed through BA’s merger with Iberia, including
a shopping list of 12 rival airlines he wants to take over.
    “The ambition is to consolidate further,” Walsh said. “I sat down with colleagues
at Iberia and identified 40 airlines that would be attractive to join IAG. Now
we’ve narrowed it down to 12. That’s why we didn’t call the new company BA-Iberia.

“We specifically chose a name that would not restrict us.”

Cabin crew union Unite is today holding a meeting to discuss plans for another
possible burst of strikes over Christmas, but Walsh said: “I’m not worried at
all. We’ve shown them that we can deal with strikes. If we face industrial action
then we’ll fly 100% of our long-haul programme.”