British Airways (BA) has been flying to Cape Town for 27 years and regards it as one of its strongest markets, according to Gavin Halliday, its new area general manager for Europe and Africa.
Because of this and the fact that TripAdvisor, an influential online travel website, has named this city the world’s top holiday destination, the airline will put on 14 flights a week this summer instead of its usual seasonal increase to 13 a week and will use a larger Boeing 747 instead of a Boeing 777 Extended Range.
This will mean that it can provide a first class in summer, as well as a higher number of seats. That’s probably a shrewd move because, as Emirates has also discovered, some very senior business people – who travel all year round – live in Cape Town. And, as Halliday mentioned, the city also has leisure travellers wealthy enough to travel first class on holiday.
That helps the rest of us by encouraging more flights. Cape Town has a reputation among airlines as a holiday destination with most passengers travelling economy, but those in business and first class are by far the most profitable and, therefore, the most wanted.
Halliday said he had been urged by Ian Petrie, now the regional manager for Africa – who was, years ago, BA’s Cape Town manager – to increase the summer service. But Halliday also knows Cape Town well. Some of his family lived here when he was growing up and he visited the city frequently, so he is almost a Capetonian himself and probably realises how much business airlines flying only to Johannesburg lose because of our reluctance to change planes there.
Part of his reason for coming here this week was to explain how the merger of BA with Spanish airline Iberia will affect us. The merger, to form the International Airlines Group (IAG), took place earlier this year with each airline retaining its different characteristics.
From the beginning of next month their sales teams in South Africa will be combined to facilitate “mix and match” bookings for travellers who choose routes that can involve travel with both airlines and, possibly, their US partner American Airlines.
He pointed out that together BA and Iberia fly to more than 200 destinations and operate 400 aircraft from two of the biggest and most modern hub airports in Europe. Combined with the American Airlines network they can offer more than 500 destinations, earning loyalty programmes when flying to any of them.
Halliday said the merger made IAG “a bigger, stronger business”, with a reduced cost base, better able to survive in difficult conditions. As a result, BA is investing more in new aircraft and upgrading its first class, economy and premium economy cabins. It has bought three more extended-range Boeing 777-300s and ordered three more for delivery in the next two years, It has also ordered 24 of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the first of which is due to be delivered early next year, and 12 of the giant Airbus A380, with the first to be delivered in 2013. It has options for seven more.
When IAG was formed I was told that one of the reasons such a bland name was chosen is that the partners hope to persuade other successful airlines to join. It will be interesting to see which, if any, they attract and whether the first will be a fellow member of the One World Alliance, to which BA, Iberia and American Airlines all belong, or whether they can persuade a member of one of the other two alliances, Star Alliance or Sky Team, to merge with them. I believe they are hoping for one in the Asia-Pacific area, expected to become the best performing part of the world. But there is increasing business and tourism interest in Africa.
US aircraft manufacturer Boeing, once the only significant supplier of aircraft to Africa, still has most of the airlines on the continent among its customers. Comair is buying its new more modern fuel-saving fleet from Boeing and Gidon Novick, its joint chief executive, told me it was considering acquiring a Boeing aircraft for its venture into the inter-continental market by starting three flights a week between Durban and London/Gatwick next year.
Low-cost airline 1Time, which intends to replace its McDonnell Douglas aircraft (McDonnell Douglas is now owned by Boeing), in order to acquire more modern, fuel-saving aircraft, is talking to both manufacturers. But SAA’s long-haul fleet is now exclusively from Airbus and it is replacing its leased Boeing 737-800s used on domestic and regiional routes with Airbus planes.
However, SAA is also talking to both manufacturers and Rex Gallard, Boeing’s vice-president for sales in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, told me he hoped it would acquire Boeing 777 extended range for long-haul routes and, later, the Boeing Dreamliner. Airbus is, of course, also hoping to sell or lease its new fuel-efficient long range aircraft to our national carrier. An increasing number of giant Airbus A380s are flying into Johannesburg, or will soon do so. - Weekend Argus