British Airways Subsidiary Takes Off
"OpenSkies" is a reality. Not just the joint international
trans-Atlantic airline agreement between the United States and the
European Union, but also the airline (somewhat grudgingly) created
by British Airways to take advantage of that very deal.
Bloomberg reports the first OpenSkies Boeing 757 flight took off
from Paris-Orly at 10:49 am in Paris, and arrived at New York's JFK
International just before 1:30 local time.
The timing of the launch of an all-business-class airline
strikes some as strange... given that a number of similar airlines,
including MAXJet Eos Airlines and SilverJet, have folded their
wings over the past few months in the wake of surging fuel prices.
But British Airways CEO Willie Walsh says its subsidiary will be
able to operate more cheaply than independently-branded carriers
were able to manage.
"While the economic climate has worsened in recent months, we
believe that OpenSkies can compete effectively," Walsh said earlier
this week. "It has a low cost base and support from British Airways
in key areas such as sales and marketing. This differentiates it
from some new airlines that have failed recently which were
operating in isolation."
As ANN has reported, British Airways was
opposed to any kind of Open Skies agreement between the US and EU,
as such a deal promised to reduce the airline's control over
London's Heathrow Airport -- seen by many as the gateway between
the United States and Europe. The deal passed anyway... and earlier
this year, BA announced the creation of OpenSkies to attract
well-monied business-class fliers away from newly-unrestricted US
British Airways is taking a
decidedly cautious approach with its newest subsidiary. Using a
single 757 pulled from BA's mainline fleet, OpenSkies will
initially operate only between Orly and JFK. More planes, and
routes, will be added as the concept proves itself.
If all goes well, OpenSkies will have six planes in its fleet by
the end of 2009. Possible future routes include New York to
Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Milan.
"The timing's unfortunate but BA probably have one of the better
brands in the US," said Davy Stockbrokers analyst Stephen Furlong.
"But ultimately they'll still have to generate a return."
To set OpenSkies apart from other airlines, the 757s are
outfitted with 24 business-class berths, another 28 premium economy
seats, and 30 in economy. Even passengers in the "cheap" seats
benefit from added room befitting any aircraft, normally configured
to carry over 200 passengers with fewer than 100 onboard.
"OpenSkies is a defensive move by British Airways," said
Furlong. "It seems to be a case of 'you came into my market, so
I'll come into yours.'"