While regional airlines in the U.S. enjoy something of a renaissance as a result of post-9/11 capacity restructuring, Europe’s regionals continue to register unspectacular traffic growth and progressively deteriorating yield performances. The reasons vary, but delegates at last month’s ERA spring conference in Barcelona more often than not pinned the blame on the rise of the discount fare segment.
Aegean Airlines, host carrier at this month’s European Regions Airline Association (ERA) general assembly in Athens, has an eye on opportunities in Eastern European and Middle East markets, according to Aegean COO Antonis Simigdalas, who is also president of ERA. He told AIN that the airline is “geared for such developments, through its fleet plans, traffic-rights applications and economic stability and planning.”
Bombardier Aerospace is responding to demand for bigger regional jets with its 100-seat CRJ1000 and continues to mull a 90-seat stretch of its Q400 turboprop. Regional airlines are thriving, but constant pressure on operating costs means their equipment is getting steadily bigger, the company’s top executives agreed at a pre-show briefing in Belfast last month.
Three years after they merged, Air France and KLM say the combination has paid off. At a press conference to announce the 2006-07 result here in Paris last month, chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta reported strong increases in revenue and income. The joint French/ Dutch operation is profitable, and the share price has risen 70 percent this year. “By every standard, it’s been successful,” added vice chairman Leo Van Wijk.
JetBird, the planned low-cost air charter service, caused quite a stir at the 2006 EBACE exhibition when it ordered 50 of Embraer’s Phenom 100 very light jets and optioned another 50. Speaking exclusively to EBACE Convention News before this year’s show, JetBird managing director Paul Gearney confirmed that the order still stands and that the operator expects to begin flying in April 2009.
New airline industry statistics released last month by the office of DOT inspector general Kenneth Mead revealed that regional jets now account for one-quarter of all departures in the U.S. In absolute terms, RJ frequencies increased 140 percent (from 88,474 to 212,126 departures) since December 2000, when the small jets accounted for just 10 percent of all departures.
In November, when SkyEurope began serving London and Paris from Budapest, Hungarian media mocked the carrier as fapados, meaning wooden bench–the painfully plain, rickety class of travel from communist days. The names never hurt them. So Hungary tossed regulatory stones at the bare-bones regional to break any advantage over its national carrier, Malev.
As the emirate of Dubai helds its biennial international airshow last month, travelers from anywhere but a major city were feeling first hand the pressures against a robust regional-airline industry in the Arab world.
AirAsia has taken a 19-percent stake in GE Engine Services’ engine-overhaul business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and become the first customer for the engine company’s new OnPoint service package. Under a 23-year agreement signed here yesterday, GE will provide maintenance, repair and overhaul for 129 CFM56-5B engines that will power the airline’s Airbus A320-200 fleet.
Details of Irish carrier Ryanair’s latest contract with Boeing illustrate some of the negotiable areas within such agreements. Last month, the low-cost carrier completed its fourth 737-800 order in seven years under aggressive plans that predict fleet growth from 82 such aircraft to 225 by March 31, 2012. By then, Ryanair expects to carry 70 million passengers annually, compared with 34 million in the current year.