01 April 2007

Heathrow Slot Action - Comment

The recent spate of activity at LHR indicates a further rush to gain access to the arguably most important airport in the world.

Certainly access is some of the most expensive. As noted earlier - this is the most fun in years.

However did Sir Michael Bishop sell the slots too cheap? Is there something else about this deal we don’t know about? The deal sounds pretty darn good. BMED had 73 slots, BMI sold 51 slots. That leaves 22 slots (enough for 3 daily RTs and then the odd RT to a funky destination). You can be damn sure it’s not going to use all of those slots if it can make money out of them elsewhere.

The BMED slots (the only real assets acquired by BMI) and some funky route authority it operated on behalf of BA under Franchise agreement still smacks of something that is missing here. Agreed BMI picked them up for a song right under the nose of BA who was then forced to pay GBP 30 million for something that is not actually supposed to be traded and was possibly theirs to start off with. Perhaps this is part of the new BA which is striving for the sort of domination in its home markets as AF/KLM (in AMS and CDG) and LH (in FRA and MUC) have. Lets consider the following:

BA sold BA connect (the old Brymon and co regional services) to Flybe but in return granted Flybe some pretty good code sharing deals. Since BMED is under contract to BA for Franchise services to Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East you can be sure that there will be a follow on agreement between BA and BMI for code sharing and co-servicing at LHR. And these routes wont all go away. So where will BMI move the routes to? If there are no slots at LHR and LGW is pretty constrained those services could be combined into multi-hop flights in the region with larger aircraft. For example running a A321 to Damascus and Lebanon on a triangle would save a slot even without any 5th or 6th Freedom rights.

This creates a new order in the UK. With BA once again reaching a dominance unheard of since it acquired BCAL. With only Virgin on the Long Haul as the indiginous challenger BA is starting to look positively imperial again. But it needs to do that to fend off the challenge of the American Carriers.

So lets consider now the whole picture. BMI is no stranger to code-sharing and being everybody’s "Ho". At one time there was a BD morning flight LHR-LBA with no less than 23 code shares on it... ON A DC9!!! BMI continues to be all things to all people (imagine a flight with both Star and BA passengers on it!) BA gets market coverage additional and market carve up. Can anyone say the word monopoly???

But still this is but a mere raindrop compared to the whopping market shares that AFKL and LH have in their home markets.

All in all its starting to look like fun. My long time dream of One Terminal at LHR for each of the Alliances is starting to look very realistic. Too bad LHR will continue to be a 3rd world airport for the next few years even after T5 opens. Darn it but I do so hate changing planes there.



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