Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Scottish agents back Virgin's bid for BA slots

Scottish travel agents believe a single airline should be awarded the slots British Airways has been forced to give up following its takeover of bmi in order to provide strong competition on key Scottish routes to London.

A survey by the Scottish Passenger Agents' Association found that 97% of agents felt this would be "the best deal" for Scottish air passengers.

This new research published today finds overwhelming support for a single airline to compete with British Airways on routes between Aberdeen and Edinburgh to Heathrow.

The survey of travel agents follows a recent EU decision forcing BA to relinquish 12 of its 'slot-pairs' (daily return flights) as part of its acquisition of bmi earlier this year. Seven of these slot-pairs are reserved for the flights between Aberdeen and Edinburgh to Heathrow.

Airlines interested in operating these available slot-pairs have submitted business applications to the EU and Scottish passengers will find out in early December which airline(s) has been awarded the routes. So far, only Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus are believed to have submitted bids.

The survey also found that an overwhelming majority (93%) of respondents would be "very concerned" that fares could rise if no airline was selected to operate the 'slot-pairs' on either route.

80% of travel agents said that airlines that cannot demonstrate the "ability to offer convenient connecting flights from Heathrow to popular long-haul destinations" should not be offered the slot-pairs. The survey is based on responses from over 30 Scottish travel agent companies polled in October.

SPAA president Kevin Thom said ''Of course, as leisure and business travel providers we work closely with British Airways and other existing Anglo Scottish carriers, but we also recognise that Scotland and its travellers really need this additional capacity.

"We are confident that Virgin Atlantic's plans are well-conceived and their commitment long-term and we support their view that the slot-pairs must be allocated en bloc - to make the services both viable and sustainable. Above all, we firmly believe Virgin Atlantic's presence on the Anglo-Scottish routes would strengthen, stimulate and expand the market for all airlines operating here and encourage Scots to travel more and further.

"Virgin Atlantic has already lodged a bid to take over the daily slot-pairs at Heathrow. The SPAA is very supportive of this bid by Virgin Atlantic to operate services between Heathrow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, which would result in it having the ability to target both point-to-point UK domestic passengers, as well as connecting opportunities to key global destinations."

Today's new research follows the publication of a letter signed by five MSPs, sent earlier this month to EU decision-makers, highlighting their own concerns about the decision. In the letter, organised by Brian Adam, the MSPs say that "in a worst-case-scenario, close to 2m passengers each year on the Edinburgh and Aberdeen - Heathrow routes would be left with absolutely no passenger choice."

In the letter to Commissioner JoaquĆ­n Almunia the MSPs added that the decision, which rests with the EU, should "offer Scottish passengers a strong alternative to British Airways" on the Aberdeen and Edinburgh to Heathrow routes, which currently carry 1.8m passengers each year. They say just one airline should be awarded the available slots to ensure robust competition to BA - "we'd counsel ... a single airline that will operate services across both the Edinburgh and Aberdeen - Heathrow routes, enabling it to build a competitive pan-Scotland air network."

From April 2013 BA will retain eight daily return flights between Aberdeen-Heathrow and 12 between Edinburgh-Heathrow. So even if one airline is awarded all 12 slot-pairs and then splits them, say, 50/50 between the Aberdeen and Edinburgh routes they will still face a significant competitive disadvantage. "This would then be further exacerbated if the available slot pairs were split between a number of new entrants" according to the MSPs.

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