A BATTLE for Anglo-Scottish business air passengers is looming as CityJet prepares to announce new flights and consolidate operations in Edinburgh.
The Air France-KLM-owned airline is expected to unveil extra services between the Scottish capital and London City airport, which has become a favourite among business travellers.
A new route from Aberdeen to the Docklands airport is also in the offing, along with more flights from Dundee. Aberdeen was chosen because several oil firms have Docklands offices, and flights to Heathrow are expected to be reduced if BA takes over BMI.
CityJet chief executive Christine Ourmieres told Scotland on Sunday that the new base at Edinburgh Airport, with 42 staff, signalled the start of a new battle to win passengers from rival British Airways. The base will also serve Air France’s feeder route between Edinburgh and its Paris hub.
The moves will further increase the presence of the airline group – Europe’s third-biggest after Lufthansa and Ryanair – in Scotland.
KLM already claims to be the country’s favourite long-haul carrier, flying more passengers via its Amsterdam hub than BA through Heathrow.
However, BA carries some two-thirds of passengers on the Edinburgh-London City route, on which ScotAirways – CityJet’s predecessor – was once pre-eminent. BA operates six return flights a day, compared with CityJet’s three.
However, aviation experts said Dublin-based CityJet faced a tough task because BA operated larger and more efficient aircraft on the route.
Ourmieres said: “The new base shows our commitment for the future – it is the next step of our development in Scotland. We will try our best against BA and are confident of winning market share.
“We are working with airport authorities and finalising our plans, which include improving the frequency of flights.”
Ourmieres said she was optimistic about passenger growth. “We do not see the economy coming back in a huge way in 2012, but we expect some improvement and more business travellers,” she said.
“Even when restructuring, businesses will still need to travel, and hopefully the worst is now past.”
Despite stressing that London City would remain a “niche business airport”, she also saw scope in attracting more Scottish passengers, such as second-home owners, to transfer there to the airline’s 15 mainland Europe routes. A route to Brest has just been added.
She said CityJet expects to have broken even last year after losses were more than halved from ¤51 million to ¤23m in 2010.
Ourmieres attributed this to increased aircraft flying hours and crew productivity, while staff numbers have been cut by 6 per cent to fewer than 1,000 since she joined in 2010.
Aviation analyst John Strickland, of JLS Consulting, said CityJet could benefit from passengers keen for a choice of airline, especially with BA’s impending takeover of rival BMI on the Scotland- Heathrow routes.
However, he said their less fuel-efficient aircraft put them at a disadvantage, and it was too early to tell whether business confidence would improve.
Laurie Price, director of aviation strategy at consultancy Mott MacDonald, said: “It’s going to be quite a challenge for CityJet. BA has the right aircraft and are really focused on the premium market at London City.”