Airbus and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Al Saud made quite the splash at the 2007 Dubai Air show, announcing that the Prince would purchase an A380 for his personal use. He was the first to purchase the type as a private jet. The Prince was to take delivery of the $300mm+ plane eventually and theoretically use it for his regular travels. Turns out that won’t actually be happening. While the assembly of the plane is complete according to Airbus officials the interiors were never fitted. And, with his latest move, it is clear that Prince Alwaleed will not be taking delivery at all.
The Prince has sold the airplane to an undisclosed buyer for an undisclosed sum. The proceeds will be used to "expand his investments in Saudi Arabia and the greater Middle East." Apparently the $29bn net worth wasn’t quite liquid enough to make his desired moves.
Oh, and the plane will still need the interior fitted before it flies.
The fact that a few United Airlines Airbus A319 aircraft have the Panasonic in-flight internet kit installed is not much of a secret. The carrier has been reasonably open about the fact that the type is getting the gear installed these days. But there haven’t been any more details released. No word on exactly when the carrier expects to formally launch the service. No word on pricing. Basically no word.
A member on FlyerTalk has indicated that a flight today indicated that they were posting on the site while in-flight on one of the A319s. Based on the time of the post and the route listed it would appear that the service actually is live on ship 4002 a/k/a N802UA. There were apparently two advertised prices for the quick 3 hour flight from Houston to Washington, DC, $6.99 or $9.99 with different speeds offered as well, though not much on details there either.
The United website doesn’t indicate that this frame has in-flight connectivity yet. And I haven’t found the STC approval in the FAA database yet. But at least one person was able to use it. That’s a great step forward.
UPDATE: FlightAware shows the aircraft on the ground in O’Hare for 20 days at the end of November. That seems like when the install happened.
Singapore Airlines announced this morning an order for 25 new widebody aircraft from Airbus with delivery expected starting in 2017. That’s not huge news, really, but there is a part of the transaction which makes it such: Airbus will be buying back five A340-500 planes from Singapore Air as part of the deal. Those five planes happen to be the aircraft configured in an all business class operation to serve the world’s two longest routes. By the end of 2013 the carrier will no longer operate the nonstop flights to Los Angeles or Newark.
Singapore Airlines’ CEO Goh Choon Phong noted as part of the announcement, “Although disappointing that we will be halting these services, we remain very committed to the US market. Over the past two years we have increased capacity to both Los Angeles and New York by deploying A380 superjumbos on flights via Tokyo and Frankfurt. We will also continue to explore additional options to enhance our US services.”
These ultra-long-haul flights have teetered on the edge of profitable in recent years due to the significant fuel requirements to operate and the increases in fuel costs airlines have faced. The carrier has shifted between all business class service and a mix of business and premium economy seats in an effort to make the route work financially. This latest move will allow the carrier to keep their fleet young, something the carrier focuses heavily on historically (their last 747-400 was removed from passenger service earlier this year), while also removing the operating cost issues associated with these flights and aircraft.
I was fortunate enough to get a seat on the Newark – Singapore flight as an award trip back in March. I saved at least a few hours going with the non-stop flight rather than one of the many connecting options. Still, it was a very, very long time in the air. Almost too long. The carrier has since added in-flight internet connectivity to the planes so that would probably help pass the time a bit more easily, but it is still a 19 hour flight.
At the end of the day, this is a slightly sad change in that the legend of these flights is pretty significant. That said, they are rarely available for award travel and it is a very limited number of seats flying each day. On horribly inefficient aircraft which burn a ton of fuel to make the trip. I cannot actually say I’m sad that they’re going away.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
That seems to be the approach Qantas is taking with Emirates, a carrier they’ve seen heated competition with in recent years. Emirates has been very aggressive in attacking pretty much everyone in the "Kangaroo Run" market, making it increasingly difficult for other carriers to compete profitably. With this move Qantas will be terminating its partnership with British Airways and shifting its Kangaroo traffic to Dubai, Emirates’ hub, as of April 2013. Between the two carriers there will be 98 weekly flights between Dubai and Australia, many of them on the Airbus A380.
The deal will allow for integrated network collaboration, coordinated pricing, sales and scheduling between the two carriers. Similar to other major ATI agreements this effectively means that the two will operate as a single business when it comes to operations in the covered markets. And the covered markets are significant; there are 70 destinations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East served by Emirates with a single connection. Qantas will become the only carrier other than Emirates to operate into Dubai’s Terminal 3. The deal will also see an alignment of frequent flyer program earning, redemption and other benefits. Lounge access and elite recognition reciprocity will be part of the deal.
At first blush, this move appears to be good for Qantas customers in just about every way. They’ll have access to many more destinations with just a single connection and connecting in Dubai isn’t all that bad a situation. Additionally, according to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, the move will allow several of the SE Asia flights to be re-timed to allow for better timing of the flights for passengers actually in those markets rather than the folks continuing on to Europe. And, with the most significant price competition now in a joint marketing and profit-sharing agreement, it would seem that Qantas will be able to stem some of the losses they’ve been seeing in their long-haul operations. Actually, this last one might not be so great for the customers but it is always good when the airline can avoid going out of business.
Then again, Emirates has historically been somewhat predatory in their pricing and other tactics. This could be a situation where joining forces doesn’t actually make things better for both parties. And it seems likely that Qantas would be the one to lose were that the case.
The move also raises a couple interesting questions around the future marketing plans for Qantas. Currently the carrier serves as a cornerstone of the oneworld alliance. That made connectivity with British Airways, Cathay Pacific and JAL in Asia quite reasonable. And connectivity with American Airlines in North America was similarly useful. Rumors have Qatar trying to edge in on oneworld, however, and Etihad has also just signed a similar deal with Virgin Australia. These developments within the Middle East – Australia market certainly will make things interesting. For the Americas market it certainly makes sense for Qantas to remain in oneworld. For the African, European and Asian markets the benefits aren’t quite so clear anymore, though having partners for local traffic in those regions will still be valuable and there aren’t many independents left.
Interesting potential for change, indeed.
More coverage here on the new Qantas/Emirate partnership from Australian Business Traveler.
Having lost partner bmi to British Airways, UK carrier Virgin Atlantic is looking to recover some the domestic feed it uses to fill long-haul flights. Starting in March 2013 the carrier will operate thrice-daily service between London‘s Heathrow airport and Manchester using leased Airbus A319 planes. British Airways currently operates 13 daily flights on the same route.
Virgin Atlantic is hoping to secure some of the coveted take-off and landing slots at Heathrow which British Airways must divest as part of the bmi merger. In the mean time, however, they will use some of their existing slots to handle the scheduled service. This means other routes may be trimmed; the affected flights have not been detailed at this time.
There are approximately 1800 daily passengers in the London – Manchester market and 60% of those continue on to long-haul flights according to Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway. With bmi no longer able to help feed traffic into the Virgin Atlantic network it is necessary for the carrier to find another way to get some of those passengers into their long-haul routes. Running their own planes seems to be the way to get it done.
Given the frequent "fun" competition between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic it will be interesting to see what happens in the market as this service is launched. Things could get interesting.
Singapore Airlines, the launch customer of the A380, is holding a contest to give away seats on the delivery flight of their 19th A380 in September. Delivery flights are definitely different than regular operations. Part party and part technical acceptance testing, it is an opportunity that very few get to experience. As the airline states:
Being on a delivery flight is a unique experience usually restricted to a small number of cabin and technical crew, as well as a handful of other SIA staff involved in accepting the aircraft. The operational nature of the flight means service is limited, but its exclusive nature offers a sneak peek into the real workings of the airline industry.
The contest covers a flight from any Singapore Airlines gateway to Toulouse, two nights in town, a tour of the factory and the city and the flight from Toulouse to Singapore. And they’ll fly you back to the gateway when the trip is over. Naturally I’ll be choosing Newark as my gateway should I win in hopes that they don’t mind putting me on the A345.
The contest is open through August 28, 2012, and only requires that you create an account on their SIAJourneys.com website. Go here, fill in the form, and good luck!
If you want a hint of what the A380 factory tour is like, check out these bits from my visit back in 2009.
Bloomberg is reporting that United Airlines and Boeing will announce a 100-aircraft order later this week in Chicago. The deal, which reportedly will also include an additional 100 options, will be the basis of a refresh for the company’s narrow-body fleet. United currently operates more than 80 757s in a domestic configuration, many of which are 20 years old and nearly all of which likely will be by the time the replacement aircraft are delivered. There are also a number of Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft which could be replaced as part of this refresh, some of which are also approaching the 20 year mark in service.
Both companies are remaining quiet on the issue for now; we’ll see if the July 12th announcement in Chicago really happens as Bloomberg suggests it will.
JetBlue continues to grow its interline partnership portfolio, adding Air China to the list today. Air China and JetBlue will offer interline service at both Los Angeles and New York City‘s JFK airports, two of the gateways where Air China serves the United States. The agreement does not apply to the San Francisco gateway. Interline ticketing should be available starting later this summer. In addition to the interline agreement Air China will, pending government approval, enter into a code sharing agreement with JetBlue. This will allow them to add their CA code designator on certain routes operated by the New York City-based airline.
Additionally, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger indicated during the annual IATA conference in Beijing that, somewhere around 2015, JetBlue will look to add wide-body aircraft to its fleet. The two models mentioned were the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350. Conveniently the suggested timing of the wide-body aircraft entering the fleet meshes nicely with the forthcoming expansion of T5 at JFK and the addition of a dedicated FIS facility in the terminal to handle international service and larger aircraft. The aircraft are expected to bolster the carrier’s LatAm presence initially.
Two moves – one bigger than the other – for JetBlue as it continue to grow.
The smell was the most surprising. Coming off the AirTrain, heading down the escalators into Terminal 5 at JFK, a trip I’d made dozens of times, was different this time. It was the smell. That’s probably surprising to folks who know me well, as my ability to smell is notoriously impaired. Maybe that’s why it was so surprising to me to be overwhelmed: JFK actually smelled good.
It was the flowers. Hundreds of leis were being handed out throughout the terminal. Ticket agents, customer service personnel and passengers were all enjoying the aloha spirit with the flowers. Seeing guys in reflective safety vests wearing leis was definitely a first for me, but there they were, working out on the tarmac, getting the Airbus A330 ready for her inaugural flight from JFK to Hawaii.
The check-in area for Hawaiian Airlines is at the far end of the terminal from the AirTrain. Nearly everyone I passed in the hall was excited for the new service, smiling and chatting with customers. And wearing leis. The check-in area had a group of hula dancers entertaining the folks in line, as well as plenty of staff to handle the crowds. The self-service check-in kiosks worked for me to get a boarding pass and I was soon through security and headed to gate 14 to check out the pre-flight festivities. I got waylaid in the center atrium area with another bad performing for the inaugural, but I knew the party was at the gate so I didn’t dally.
Speeches were made by representatives from the Port Authority and Hawaiian.
We were also treated to more hula dancing, leis and snacks.
A priest from Hawai’i flew in special for the inaugural as well. He offered a few words of prayer, traditional in the Hawaiian culture, focusing on partnership, trust and friendship.
Then the ceremonial opening of the gate was effected by the CEO of Hawaiian Airlines.
Barely audible above the din of the celebrations, an announcement was made for passengers to start boarding the flight. It was a bit crazed with the total number of passengers trying to get out of the gate area, the celebrations, the hula dancing and everything else. Still, somehow, the folks actually flying to Honolulu found their way through the crowds and started to thin, taking their seats on the wide-body and getting ready for the 11ish hour flight to the islands.
There was one more surprise in store for passengers. Another HA executive joined the aircraft just a few moments before the cabin door was closed and made a most exciting announcement: One lucky passenger was about to be upgraded to celebrate the inaugural route.
It turns out that the winner was actually one of a couple traveling together, moving back to Hawai’i today. Fortunately the company anticipated that such might be the case and had two seats available. The happy couple made their way forward from the back of the cabin into their new seats and then we were ready to fly.
As is traditional, the local fire department offered up a water canon salute to the aircraft and then we made the quick taxi out to runway 31L and the takeoff roll had us airborne shortly thereafter.
Quite a party and a great reason for a celebration.
Maybe we’ve all become too complacent thinking about aircraft interior configurations. Rows of identical seats are fine, I suppose, but they lack a certain sense of imagination or inspiration. What fun is that?
Some folks in Germany are looking to change the experience, and the changes would be quite significant if the concept they’ve put into their promo video ever becomes reality. Think double-decker seating on a narrow-body plane (they use the Airbus A320 as a base). With automated baggage storage bins. And all sorts of other crazy stuff.
I’m not sure how checked baggage and other W&B issues would work in such a configuration, among a host of other potential issues. But it is definitely a cool concept. And absolutely crazy.