Q&A: Area of Opportunity

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British Airways has long been an international aviation giant, but Business Traveller Africa is more interested in its take on Africa and the road ahead, particularly as the airline recently celebrated 80 years of flying to South Africa and acquired British Midland International (BMI). Senior executive, Daniel Bainbridge joined BTA for a chat.

 Q: Where does Africa fit into BA’s overall worldwide strategy?

A: Africa is key to our plans. Economic growth in most traditional northern hemisphere markets is slow or non-existent, whereas many African markets are growing and represent an area of opportunity. We operate to 14 African countries and with the integration of BMI, this has increased to 16. We’ve already increased frequencies to Marrakech and we’re taking over the BMI route to Agadir. There are likely to be more announcements as the integration continues. In South Africa, we’re operating three more frequencies to Johannesburg and have announced that we’ll be flying double-daily overnight services to Cape Town this South African summer, using our largest aircraft.

Q: What does BA consider its most important routes in Africa?

A: We tend to characterise them as developing routes and those where we have well-established operations. South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya would be good examples of the latter. Zambia, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda are examples of the former.

Q: Are you seeing any new hot spots in Africa?

A: The purchase of BMI has afforded us some new opportunities. The recent announcement about the flights to Morocco is an example of this, and as the integration continues we’ll be making more.

Q: What is the percentage split – roughly – between business and leisure traffic on your London-Johannesburg route?

A: We don’t ask our customers if they’re travelling on business or leisure and it’s hard to take a guess, given that some of the customers travelling in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus are flying on business, while some of those in Club and even First may be on holiday. Demand for our First and Business Class cabins continues to be very strong on the Johannesburg route.

Q: What are your thoughts on SAA recently dropping its Heathrow-Cape Town direct route?

A: I can’t comment on SAA’s strategy or its reasons for the decision. We’ve long regarded Cape Town as an important route and fought long and hard to get the frequencies we wanted. So far, anecdotal feedback and booking data indicates that the double-daily direct non-stop overnight services we’ll operate this summer will be popular.

Q: What are your thoughts on the state of commercial aviation in Africa, compared with the likes of Europe, Asia and the US?

A: The relative economic growth in Africa means there are more opportunities. The challenge is to ensure that there’s the infrastructure, enabling regulatory environment and free-and-fair competition, to enable airlines to capitalise on these.

Q: What steps can be taken to improve the perception of African aviation, in the eyes of the rest of the world?

A: There’s no silver bullet, but some of the points mentioned above would go some way towards achieving this.

Q: Does BA have any new Business Class products coming out in the near future?

A: We’ve invested £100 million in our First Class and most of our long-haul aircraft are now embodied with the new product. We have recently made changes to the Onbusiness loyalty programme for small and medium-size enterprises (SME’s), to include the opportunity to earn and burn Onbusiness points on both BA and Comair, which significantly improves the appeal for South African SME customers.

Q: What are your thoughts on the impending launch of budget airline FastJet in East Africa? Do you think there’s an opportunity for a budget airline like that to make an impact in Africa?

A: There’s certainly a place for budget airlines, but this is not a market in which we operate. We provide a full service experience and multiple connections via Heathrow Terminal 5 in London, which we believe provides good value.

Q: What are the international aviation themes or talking points of 2012?

A: Flagging northern hemisphere economies mean there will be more consolidation in the aviation industry. Fortunately, our merger with Iberia to form IAG means we are now part of a bigger, stronger business and are better able to survive difficult economic times and invest in our customers. An ongoing concern is that aviation is overtaxed and we continue to make representations to the UK government to encourage economic growth and stop stifling job creation, investment and tourism, by continuing to raise Airline Passenger Duty.

 

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