easyJet Deal Safeguards Inverness – London Connection

UK carrier easyJet has announced plans to enhance connections between Inverness and London from spring 2014 as part of a new five year deal between the airline and Inverness Airport parent, HIAL.  From spring 2014 easyJet will increase capacity between Inverness and London by almost 30 per cent with the introduction of an early morning departure to Gatwick and an evening arrival from Gatwick. 

The new easyJet services will replace the existing flights of Flybe on the route and will safeguard key business and transfer links from the Scottish Highlands.  Flybe has been serving the Inverness – London Gatwick alongside easyJet but will end its own service on the route in March 2014 after it agreed to sell its slots at the London airport to easyJet as part of its ongoing business restructuring. 

After the news of Flybe’s London Gatwick slot sale were revealed, politicians and local enterprises across Northern Scotland have been working together to maintain this key connectivity to the UK capital.  Having previously lost a hub link to London Heathrow, the removal of the early morning and late evening services from London would have further hindered connectivity and business links.

easyJet says it has listened closely to the needs of the local market in its network plans and held a series of meetings with HIAL, Transport and Veterans Minister Keith Brown MSP, Danny Alexander MP, Inverness Chamber of Commerce, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, The Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to understand their views on the future of services between Inverness and London ahead of this week’s announcement.

“This deal demonstrates easyJet’s commitment to Inverness and the Highlands,” said Hugh Aitken, Head of Scotland, easyJet.  “The new early flight will allow business travellers to reach London in time for meetings while the evening departure from London enables them to travel home on the same day.  The additional seats will also help boost tourism to the Highlands.  In developing our plans for the future we have listened to all the points made by government and business leaders. Their enthusiasm to work with easyJet has been clear from the start and we hope this support will continue throughout the new five year partnership.”

The arrangement will also represent a small capacity growth for the morning and evening flights as easyJet will utilise a 156-seat A319 on the new rotations versus Flybe’s smaller 88-seat Embraer E175s.  At the current time easyJet offers a daily operation on the route in the winter and nine flights per week in the summer with additional peak summer seasonal flights in August providing eleven weekly frequencies.  Flybe offers three flights per day during weekdays and two a day at weekends

easyJet has not yet confirmed its exact schedule for the new flights, which will commence from late March 2014.  If it introduces the two additional rotations on a weekday only basis then weekly capacity from Inverness (based on June flight schedules) could decline from 3,076 to 2,964 seats due to the loss of Flybe’s current midday rotation and weekend flying.  However, if deployed on a daily basis overall weekly capacity could grow by 16.6 per cent with 3,588 weekly seats.

“I am delighted that we have reached agreement with easyJet on a deal which not only secures access between Inverness and London Gatwick, but also provides a platform for future growth at Inverness Airport.  Our priority throughout our discussions with easyJet was to secure early morning and evening flights between Inverness and Gatwick and the agreement we have reached achieves those twin objectives,” said Inglis Lyon, Managing Director, HIAL.  “This announcement is a major vote of confidence in the Highland economy from one of Europe’s largest airlines and we look forward to working with easyJet, local businesses and the tourism sector to ensure the success of these new services.”

According to official statistics from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) 319,283 passengers flew between Inverness and London in 2012.  Alongside the 230,442 recorded on the flights to London Gatwick a further 88,841 were flown to and from London Luton, a route also served by easyJet.  Traffic demand was down 0.9 per cent on the previous year, although it was higher than the levels the two previous years. 

The confirmation of easyJet’s plans at Inverness came just a day before the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, revealed the formation of a new Regional Air Connectivity Fund to support air connections that are crucial to regional economies during his 'Investing in Britain's Future' speech in the House of Commons on the government's infrastructure plan.

Maintaining regional air links to London helps to support regional economies and the Government will permit “devolved and regional bodies” to apply for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) which will support the continued operation of a route between two regions where it is considered “vital for economic development”.  The Government says it will provide £20 million of funding to “improve air links to London where there is a risk that regional connectivity may be lost”.  Where the case for a PSO has been made the Government says it will agree, “subject to periodic review”, the “appropriate level of support” it will provide alongside regional support.

The Inverness - London Gatwick link is currently the longest mainland domestic route in Great Britain at a distance of 755km, and good air connectivity is essential.  Although there has been a general push to replace UK domestic flights with ground transportation links, there is only one direct a train a day between London and Inverness and that is an eight hour journey.  A trip by road from Central London to Inverness would take around ten hours by car, according to The AA, the UK’s leading breakdown service.  In the table below we highlight the ten longest mainland domestic routes in Great Britain.

THE TEN LONGEST MAINLAND SCHEDULED DOMESTIC AIR ROUTES IN GREAT BRITAIN (non-stop departures; June 2013)

Rank

Origin

Destination

Distance (km)

Operators

1

Inverness (INV)

London Gatwick (LGW)

755

easyJet, Flybe

2

Aberdeen (ABZ)

Southampton (SOU)

698

Eastern Airways

3

Bristol (BRS)

Inverness (INV)

687

easyJet

4

Inverness (INV)

London Luton (LTN)

674

easyJet

5=

Aberdeen (ABZ)

London Heathrow (LHR)

649

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic

5=

Aberdeen (ABZ)

Bristol (BRS)

649

bmi regional

5=

Aberdeen (ABZ)

London City

649

BA CityFlyer

8

Edinburgh (EDI)

Newquay (NQY)

623

Flybe

9=

Aberdeen (ABZ)

London Luton (LTN)

605

easyJet

9=

Glasgow (GLA)

Newquay (NQY)

605

Flybe


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