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The best cabin interior launches of premium airlines and hybrid LCCs in 2013

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

Passenger expectations continue to be raised by the cabin interior upgrade programs launched by airlines around the world, which sees them introducing more innovative or luxurious products and services, be it private suites in First Class, full-flat beds in Business, or the latest in in-flight entertainment and connectivity. Initially the upgraded product (and/or service) differentiates the airline from its competitors (as airline upgrade programs are out of sync with eachother), who then over the course of several years start matching – and often leapfrogging – the new standard, thereby initiating another ‘creative destruction’ cycle.

Shorter product cycles
Meanwhile, just like in other industries, these product cycles have become shorter. Witness the ‘fast fashion’ revolution created by H&M and Zara in the clothing industry. As Air New Zealand’s general manager international Ed Sims observed when the airline introduced its redesigned cabins a few years ago: “There was a time when airlines in our position could imagine six to seven years between product refurbishments, these days customers are so impatient for new developments that we think, realistically, that product cycles should be closer to three to fours years.”

New materials
At the same time, airlines have more ways than ever to differentiate their cabins as the cabin interior industry has made huge advances in the development of materials that look stunning and pass all regulations, although there still is a more formidable task left though of convincing top management to bring more ‘wow’ into the cabin.

Cabin interior launches in 2013
Written by the experts at TheDesignair, we have selected three of the best examples of how premium airlines have continued to raise the bar this year, with the likes of Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates setting new standards in Business and First. At the same time, (hybrid) low-cost carriers are launching their own ‘smart’ Business Class cabins as part of their efforts to target the lucrative business traveller segment.

LUXURY AIRLINES RAISING THE BAR

1. Singapore Airlines further upgrades its cabins

Investing nearly USD150 million in a cross-cabin refresh, Singapore Airlines has unveiled its new First, Business and Economy class seats, as well as Panasonic latest eX3 IFE system. The new design in September made its debut on the airline’s new B777-300ERs flying the competitive Singapore-London route, and will also be rolled out on Singapore Airlines’ upcoming A350s. Read article »

2. Cathay Pacific revamps First Class with some nice touches

Cathay Pacific is ensuring its cabin products stay at the forefront of people’s minds. As the airline’s First Class suite wasn’t in need of a full redesign, the airline partnered with Foster + Partners, the same architectural company that designed Cathay’s ‘The Wing‘ lounge, to look at the suite and see how it could be refreshed. Read article »

3. Emirates new ‘Executive A319’ features private jet lounge and First Class suites

For travellers seeking a step up from First Class, Emirates’ new private jet service aims to raise the bar. Dubbed ‘Emirates Executive‘, the airline has transformed an Airbus A319 into a private jet that features a lounge with chairs, sofa and a table, 10 private First Class suites, and a shower – once only available on its A380s. Read article »

LOW-COST CARRIERS UPGRADING

4. JetBlue unveils new ‘transcontinental’ A321 interior featuring private suites

JetBlue in 2014 will launch a new transcontinental service between New York JFK, LA and San Francisco, featuring the airline’s new ‘Mint’ Business Class, which is described as “a stylish service minus all of the stuffiness often associated with the traditional front-of-the-cabin experience.” Read article »

5. Japan’s Skymark goes Premium Economy-only on new A330s

Hybrid low-cost carrier Skymark, Japan’s third largest airline, aims to differentiate itself in the high yield domestic market from full service airlines ANA and JAL and LCCs such as Jetstar Japan and Peach with a Premium Economy-only A330 featuring 271 seats with legrests and a 38 inch pitch. Read article »

6. Low-cost carrier FlyDubai goes chic with new Business Class cabin

Dubai-based ‘no-frills chic’ carrier FlyDubai has added a separate Business Class with wider seats and more legroom to its cabin. The airline’s fleet of 737-800s already features Boeing’s new Sky Interior and a high-definition inflight entertainment system. Read article »

Japan’s Skymark goes Premium Economy-only on new A330s

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By Jonny Clark, TheDesignAir

Hybrid low-cost carrier Skymark - Japan’s third largest airline – turned heads in early 2011 when it announced an order for six A380 superjumbo’s which will feature only 394 seats in a premium two-class configuration: 114 angled lie-flat Business seatss on the upper deck and 280 ‘shell-style’ Premium Economy seats on the lower deck. Skymark will take delivery of its first A380 in August 2014 and plans to fly between Tokyo and New York as the first destination, possibly followed by London and Frankfurt.

Premium Economy-only A330
As part of Skymark’s ambitious expansion plan, the Tokyo Haneda-based airline also executed leases for seven A330-300 aircraft in July 2012, with delivery scheduled from early 2014 through 2015.

Skymark’s new A330s are outfitted in a 271-seat single-class Premium Economyy configuration with a 38-inch seat pitch and 19.3-inch seat width, called ‘Green Seats’ (after the more spacious seats offered in the ‘Green Car’ on Japan’s high-speed rail), which are comparable to the domestic ‘Class J’ product of Japan Airlines.

Skymark will deploy its Premium Economy-only A330 widebodies on key domestic trunk routes from Tokyo to Fukuoka and Sapporo to win market share among business travellers. The first route is due to be Tokyo Haneda-Fukuoka at the end of March 2014, which is Skymark’s busiest route based on available seats, and Japan’s second and the world’s third busiest air route.

Cabin interior
In mid-December, Skymark reveiled its new A330-300 interior at Airbus in Toulouse and we caught up with Daniel Baron, founder of  Tokyo-based design agency LIFT Strategic Design who have been responsible for cabin styling and seat trim and finish, consulting on layout, seats and galleys. LIFT Design is also working with Skymark on the A380 cabin and seat design.

Skymark’s all-Premium Economy product features a 2 x 3 x 2 seating arrangement (compared with a regular 2 x 4 x 2 configuration for Economy on the A330). Each seat has 38 inches of legroom, which is long-haul standard for premium economy, and the 271 seats also feature leg rests – not just the front row like Cathay Pacific offers – meaning passenger’s legs are supported for the few hours they are onboard. There will be no inflight entertainment, but the airline says it is looking into inflight connectivity.

The cabin has been designed to represent a “casual urban cafe with the embracing freshness of a forest in Spring”. Whilst we can’t fully understand what that is supposed to impart, the finished product is airy, refreshing and light. A light fresh green is predominant here, matched with neutral putty finishes, providing a calm and serene environment. We like the trims of birch wooden veneer, found on the on the seat tables and golden walnut veneer in the lavatory flooring.
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JetBlue’s new transcontinental A321s to feature private suites and a ‘snack station’

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By Jonny Clark, TheDesignAir

In order to attract premium yields from business travelers, competition on transcontinental routes between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco is fierce with all major national carriers on the route trying to find their point of difference and fight for the heavy traffic between the three hubs.

New York-based JetBlue is also joining this transcontinental ‘arms race’ with dedicated sub-fleet of 11 brand new A321s. After a sneak peek of the airline’s new A321 cabin a few weeks back when they launched a first video, the airline has shared more details of its new transcontinental premium product, called Mint.

Starting at a mind-bending USD499 one way, JetBlue has managed to surpass our expectations yet again with the fare being yet another reason to fly with the airline. Said JetBlue Chief Executive Dave Barger in a statement: “Mint is stylish service minus all of the stuffiness often associated with the traditional front-of-the-cabin experience. JetBlue is truly all about serving the underserved, the customer who wants to enjoy first-rate service at an exceptional and affordable fare.”

The Mint seat
JetBlue has invested in both Business and Economy, with the coach section featuring slim-line seats, larger touch-screen TVs, as well as an extra legroom section. The big showpiece though is the ‘Mint’ Business Class product, a first for what is fundamentally a low-cost carrier. The Mint cabin features 16 fully lie-flat beds up to 6′ 8″ (203cm) long with rows 1 and 3 featuring a 2 x 2 seating and rows 2 and 4 having a more private 1 x 1 seating configuration with closing doors.

The private sliding door idea is a nice little touch, especially on the single solitary seats as it makes the 2nd and 4th rows much more appealing and sort after as a solitary traveller, although we feel the sliding doors are more a sales gimmick that practical elements a traveller really actually requires on a 5-6 hour flight.
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Low-cost carrier FlyDubai goes chic with new Business Class cabin

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By Jonny Clark, TheDesignAir

FlyDubai, the up and coming short and mid-haul carrier from Dubai, has recently given their competitors a run for their money. From early October on, the low-cost airline will be rolling out Business Class seating across their fleet with 3 rows of 2×2 seating to form the front of their planes.  The new ‘soft Italian leather’ seats, similar in offerings to most American First Class seats, will boast a 12.1 inch high-definition touch-screen TV, in seat power and a seat pitch of 42″, perfect for relaxing and browsing the 900 hours of entertainment options.

This isn’t just about the seat, as the pseudo-low-cost carrier will also offer all the traditional benefits, including priority check in, lounges and full 3-course meals on flights over 90 minutes. They also announced that later this year, passengers will be able to relax in FlyDubai’s Business Class lounge ahead of their flight and will have access to priority baggage collection upon arrival at their destination.

Commenting on the launch of the airline’s Business Class services, Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO of FlyDubai, stated, “We are very pleased to announce the evolution of our passenger offering as we continue to meet the travel needs of our customers. The introduction of Business Class will provide greater choice for our passengers, who will have access to faster check-in services, comfortable and spacious seating and can enjoy a variety of internationally -inspired menus during their journey.”

The airline has just received its first Business Class equipped aircraft and the first route where FlyDubai will deploy its new Business Class will be between Dubai and Kiev on October 8, followed by Male, Istanbul, Mineralyne Vody and Bucharest later this year.
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Norwegian’s long-haul low-cost Dreamliner features geotainment and in-seat ordering of food & beverages

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

Similar to Finnair’s ‘Via Helsinki’ hub strategy, Norwegian – Europe’s third largest low-cost carrier – aims to take advantage of the Nordic region’s favourable geographic location as the shortest route between Europe, North America and Asia. The airline sees an opportunity to capitalize on its extensive short-haul network and the limited number of direct long-haul flights from Oslo and Stockholm.

Short-haul network
Voted Europe’s best low-cost carrier in the 2013 SkyTrax World Airline Awards, Norwegian was the first (and still only) airline in Europe to offer high-speed broadband on short-haul flights. The airline’s full fleet of 75 Boeing 737-800 aircraft have WiFi on board, provided by Row44, and unusually for an LCC, the service is free of charge. Passengers can also rent movies via the wireless inflight portal and have access to a range of content via their smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Long-haul low-cost
At the end of May 2013, Norwegian launched its long-haul low-cost service to New York from Oslo and Stockholm – followed by Oslo to Bangkok in early June and from Stockholm to Bangkok at the end of June – with leased A340 aircraft. Both routes are operated by the airline’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliners since August 30th.

Android-based IFE
Whereas long-haul low-cost carriers such as AirAsia X, Scoot and Air Canada Rouge have opted for wireless IFE systems – and Jetstar rents out iPads to passengers – in order to cut costs, Norwegian has chosen to install an Android-based in-seat IFE system. The reason for this is that Boeing requires its 787s to have an in-seat IFE system (for now).

Norwegian’s 787 Dreamliners, which seat 291 passengers – 32 in Premium Class and 259 in Economy –are the first aircraft to feature Panasonic’s new Android powered in-seat in-flight entertainment system, the result of an 18-month joint development between Norwegian and Panasonic Avionics.

Says Paul Margis, CEO for Panasonic Avionics, “This open platform architecture facilitates faster, easier, application development, integration, and deployment, enabling Norwegian to engage passengers in an even more amazing entertainment experience while creating new revenue streams.”
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JetBlue unveils new ‘transcontinental’ A321 interior featuring private suites

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By Jonny Clark, TheDesignAir

JetBlue, New York’s ‘homegrown airline’ has released on their video channel a sneak peek of what we can expect on their new fleet of A321′s coming out in 2014, which will be flying the transcontinental East Coast – West Coast flights, competing with the likes of American, United, Delta and Virgin America who have all lifted the quality of product for the 5 to 6 hour trek.

The airline has invested in both business and economy, featuring slim-line seats, with larger touch-screen TVs, and still maintaining their extra legroom seating. Whilst this is just an artists impression (more images here), the detail seems fairly accurate, and we can see the headrests will be fairly slim too. Perhaps lowering the comfort of their seats, they can up-sell their amenity packages of pillows and blankets.

The big showpiece here though is the new Business Class product. A first for what is fundamentally a low-cost carrier. 16 private suites in 4 rows, rows 1 and 3 featuring a 2 x 2 seating and rows 2 and 4 having a more private 1 x 1 seating configuration. The Thomson Vantage full flat seats are a similar product to that seen on international carriers such as Delta and Brussels Airlines.

The private sliding door idea is a nice little touch, especially on the single solitary seats, however, on the dual seats, you lose out on this feature. Making the 2nd and 4th rows much more appealing and sort after as a solitary traveller. We feel the sliding doors are more a sales gimmick that practical elements a traveller really actually requires on a 5-6 hour flight. The inconsistency of the product in business class may also work against the carrier, as someone who flies in the private suite and then is only offered a regular business class seat may decide to decline the purchase and move to a differing carrier. Only time will tell…

Air Canada’s new LCC – rouge – teams with Disney for customer service training

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For more on the latest trends in airline hospitality, see our recent presentation at the 2013 Hamburg AIX Passenger Experience Conference.

By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

The idea behind Air Canada’s new low-cost subsidiary Rouge is to offer a lower-cost alternative for several international leisure destinations to which Air Canada’s current cost structure makes it prohibitive to fly. Air Canada is hoping with lower wages and benefits along with a higher-density configuration of its planes, Rouge’s unit costs will be lower than the main line’s by about 25 percent or more.

The airline will offer 13 leisure destinations in Europe and the Caribbean from Toronto and Montreal: Edinburgh, Venice, Athens; and a host of vacation choices in Cuba, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Destinations will be added in the coming months as the fleet grows, expected to reach 50 aircraft in the next three to five years.

Rouge will launch service with four planes on July 1st and will start its inaugural flights that day from Toronto to Kingston, Jamaica, and from Montreal to Athens in Europe.

Casual style
As Rouge will be more leisure-focused compared with Air Canada, this means a change in style and attitude for their service staff. The airline says it aims  to deliver a relaxed, casual onboard experience and just reveiled its new flight attendant uniforms, which are much more casual, with relatively-basic burgundy tops and grey pants, and  shoes from Canadian designer John Fluevog.

The outfits came together in just four months, by taking pieces that already exist on the market and having certain elements customized to suit the brand. “You can move quite quickly when you don’t invent anything new,” says Renee Smith-Valade VP customer experience of Rouge.

L’Oreal has created “the look” for Air Canada rouge flight attendants, using products from its brands Maybelline New York and Redken Fifth Avenue. The crew will be equipped with a starter kit of the product, and will be trained on on how to use them.

Service training
Rouge has also partnered with The Walt Disney Co – who has trained the likes of United Airlines and Alaska Airlines – to help with the training of its flight attendants to aid in the transformation. In addition to five weeks of safety and other training, Air Canada Rouge first 150 flight attendants will spend a week at the Disney Institute in Orlando to learn the ins and outs of its customer service model. They will also hone their skills and techniques at Disney World parks in Orlando.
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Indonesion low-cost carrier Lion Air launches full-service airline

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By Jonny Clark, TheDesignAir

At a time that Asia’s full-service carriers are busy launching low-cost affiliates, the region’s second-largest budget carrier, Indonesia’s Lion Air, is moving in the opposite direction by launching full-service airline Batik Air. Now that Batik Air has been flying for a few weeks, we thought it best to take some time to take a look at this new carrier and what you can expect.

The inside
Firstly, let’s talk interiors. The whole premise of the airline is to fly passengers around the Asia region with a full service offering and even a Business Class cabin with reclining regional ‘First Class’ style seats.

First impressions of the 737-900 cabin are great, neutral colours with a few bright splashes in the form of curtains help provide a smart and contemporary look. The neutral grey patterned carpets are a great choice, hiding a multitude of sins as they get worn in. The leather seating looks great in these images, but time will tell if they start to stretch and buckle with their use. The patterns on the bulkheads and dividers are great too.

This is a big jump from a low-cost’s roots and what you expect to see from a full service carrier. Where bright bold and strong colours are used to stimulate their passengers, therefore keeping them more awake, and in need of beverages, food and entertainment. This helps generate sales. Whereas premium carriers naturally use softer more relaxing colours to try and calm and relax passengers, where they don’t require so much attention, therefore drinking and eating less, thus increasing profits.

The airline offers touchscreen IFE in every seat, Economy class features 32″ seat pitch and the Business class seats offer 45″. The Sky Interior option for Boeing as well will help the cabin seem more spacious and modern. Being a full service carrier all food and drink is included  in the price.
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Long-haul low-cost carrier AirAsia X to offer kids-free ‘Quiet Zone’ onboard

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

Two recent surveys conducted by TripAdvisor found that 40 percent of U.S. travellers said they would pay extra to sit in a designated quiet section of the plane, while nearly 80 percent of Britons agreed there should be child-free zones on board, and a third of of respondents would pay more for their flight if there were no children on board.

Quiet Zone
Following a controversial decision by Malaysia Airlines to introduce a ‘child-free cabin’ on the upper deck of its new A380 superjumbo (Business and Economy), Malaysia-based long-haul low-cost carrier AirAsia X has announced it will be launching a so-called ‘Quiet Zone’ on its fleet of Airbus A330s.

Starting in February 2013, the airline will create a “Quiet Zone” in the front section of its widebody aircraft, located between the airline’s Premium Class section and the front galley. Children younger than 12 years old will not be able to book seats in the Quiet Zone, and passengers opting for the zone will be asked to keep noise to a minimum, while there will also be special ambient lighting in the cabin. Passenger will also be among the first to disembark.

The dedicated zone will consist of the first eight rows of the Economy section (rows 7 to 14), and  as the front area already houses the airline’s Premium Class, turning this part of the aircraft into a Quiet Zone will also be appreciated by AirAsia X’s premium passengers.
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After wave of new low-cost carriers, booming Asia sees launch of premium business carriers

GDP growth, increased trade flows, the rise of a new middle class, and market liberalization are the main drivers behind the rapidly growing demand for air travel in Asia Pacific over the coming decade. Airbus, for example, projects that by 2030 the region will account for 33 percent of worldwide revenue passenger kilometres, up from 28 percent today.

The growth in the region’s aviation market is resulting in a large number of new airline launches. In the past year, full-service airlines such as ANA (Peach, AirAsia Japan) and JAL (Jetstar Japan) have announced their own low-cost initiatives in order to take advantage of market deregulation in Japan, while the region’s largest LCC’s – AirAsia, Jetstar and Lion Air – continued their expansion. Singapore Airlines, meanwhile, has launched a low-cost long-haul subsidiary, called Scoot.

At the other end of the spectrum, the region’s booming economies and the resulting growth in business travel have led ‘challenger airlines’ such as Skymark from Japan (low-density A380) and Hong Kong Airlines (Hong Kong – London ‘Club’ service) to announce all-premium long-haul flights, while in Southeast Asia, Qantas, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes have all revealed plans to set up their own regional premium carrier.

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Qantas ‘Red Q’
Because of intense competition from Gulf-based and Asian carriers, Qantas’ international market share in Australia has fallen from 39 to 14 per cent over the past decade. The airline’s cost base for its international operations is said to be 20 per cent higher than that of its competitors. With its dominance at home eroded, Qantas in August 2011 announced a plan to establish an Asian hub, which is is expected to reduce its operating costs with tens of millions of dollars.

Says Qantas CEO Alan Joyce: “Our aim is to position ourselves in the Southeast Asian marketplace in advance of planned aviation liberalisation. In five years we plan to have a hub in the world’s fastest growing aviation region, feeding traffic into both our Qantas and Jetstar networks. This is how we will end the disadvantage of being an end-of-the-line carrier.”
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Qatar Airways expands via niche markets, opening 24 new routes in 2 years time

By Vivek Mayasandra, Take Flight Project

With an enviable outlook ahead of them, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways are some of the world’s fastest-growing airlines. A recent report released by the Boston Consulting Group illustrates that the three carriers will collectively triple their capacity over the next 20 years. But while these so-called ‘Gulf Gullivers’ have a number of similarities – they have placed multi billion-dollar aircraft orders, large investments in their premium services,  and expanded their airports in order to turn the Gulf region into the world’s 24/7 aviation hub – they have taken on different growth strategies.

We have highlighted before how Emirates, which will become the world’s largest operator of widebody aircraft by 2015, is combining its global Dubai hub with localized services on board. This time we are taking a look at Qatar Airways, who has been taken a slightly different expansion approach by seeking out markets that have yet been unexplored by fellow Gulf carriers.

Airline of the year
The national carrier of Qatar has experienced a rapid ascent to become one of the top airline brands in the sky. Earlier this year, 5-star rated Qatar Airways was named “Airline of the Year 2011” by Skytrax – which cited its roomy economy class cabin and the Business and First Class experience (including the Premium Terminal at its Doha hub) as key drivers for the ranking.

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Qatar Airways currently operates a fleet of 102 aircraft to 109 destinations, and by 2013 plans to serve 120 destinations with a fleet of 120 aircraft. Receiving a new aircraft every 18 days, the airline is targetting an annual growth of 35 percent in the coming years, and has ordered more than 200 aircraft, including 10 a380s and 80 a350s, worth over USD 40 billion. Additionally, Qatar Airways is a key stakeholder in the construction of Doha’s brand new international airport, scheduled to open in 2012.

Niche Markets
While Qatar Airways is likely to remain smaller in total size than its near neighbour Emirates for the foreseeable future, the Doha-based carrier seems keen to overtake its Dubai-based rival in the number of destinations served (109 versus 116 routes at the moment). Speaking at the recent Dubai Air Show, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said that the airline’s mission “…has been to operate to key business and leisure destinations around the world, but also to underserved markets where others dare not venture into. We take bold decisions to serve certain markets because we believe it makes strong business sense.”
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‘No-frills chic’ carrier IndiGo becomes India’s second largest domestic airline in just five years

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By Vivek Mayasandra, Take Flight Project

There’s no doubt that the low-cost carrier business model has boomed in the past decade. Focusing on innovation and enhanced experiences on top of the traditional low-cost model, ‘no frills chic’ airlines such as Jetblue and Virgin America have created a loyal following. In recent years, this concept has been spreading around the globe, albeit slowly, with start-up carriers such as Virgin Australia, Azul from Brazil and Japan’s Starflyer focusing on the passenger experience in order to differentiate themselves from established players.

IndiGo
In India, a very competitive market that is growing at the world’s second fastest rates, IndiGo has become the second largest domestic carrier by securing nearly 19 percent of the local market in just five years. According to IndiGo President Aditya Ghosh, the airline’s philosophy is “to make travel as hassle-free as possible — low-cost but high quality — and that’s why we are popular both with budget travellers and high-level corporations”.

Since its launch in 2006, IndiGo has been the fastest growing low-cost carrier in the world, while posting profits over the last three years. In the 12 months ending March 2011, the airline achieved a 25 percent profit margin on its operations, generating a profit of USD132 million. Traffic in the 2010-11 fiscal year grew with 39 percent, with average load factors above 80 percent. IndiGo ordered no less than 100 A320 aircraft when it started operations and in 2011 pushed for an additional 150 A320neos (for delivery between 2016 and 2025), as well as 30 more A320s, which besides for domestic growth are intended for international expansion.

Branding the passenger experience
IndiGo’s media campaign has focused more on customer service and less on pricing where it is hard to be competitive, and the airline’s avant-garde branding has been a major differentiator. Collaborating with branding agency Wieden + Kennedy, IndiGo has come out with campaigns focused around the no-frills chic concept. Cheeky print ads promoted IndiGo’s same-day return flights from major Indian cities, extra seat pitch (2 inches more than India’s industry standard) and new aircraft. IndiGo’s check-in counters feature banners saying “India’s Coolest Airline” and check-in queues have “Cut The Red Tape” signs. Read full article »

Virgin America goes ‘hybrid’, adds wireless IFE into its RED entertainment system

Besides the growing number of airlines that are rolling out (or about to roll out) broadband Internet on their aircraft (e.g, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, SAS, Norwegian, Virgin Atlantic), these days the buzz in in-flight entertainment is all about bringing media tablets such as the iPad into the cabin (e.g, Jetstar) and/or installing wireless IFE systems (e.g, American Airlines and Gol).

Further upping the ante, Virgin America – probably the most tech-embracing airline in the world – has announced it will roll out what it calls a “hybrid IFE&C platform.” Besides offering entertainment via embedded, seat-centric screens, the airline will also offer passengers wi-fi connectivity through their seatback system and their own personal devices, as well as offer wireless access to content stored on an onboard server.

Multitasking
Virgin America has selected Lufthansa Systems’ new BoardConnect platform for the next iteration of its Red in-flight entertainment and communications (IFE&C) platform. The new Red system, slated for a late 2012 release, includes larger, high-definition touchscreen seatback monitors, full wi-fi connectivity and four times more entertainment content. It will also allow passengers to connect their own electronic devices to the system pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight. “For example, if a passenger did not finish watching a film or TV show in-flight, they could save and download to their iPod and finish at their hotel,” said Abby Lunardini, VP of corporate communications for Virgin America.

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Virgin America’s CEO David Cush said the system will allow the airline to offer passengers “the best of both worlds.” “Just offering a larger wi-fi pipe with no seatback entertainment as some of our competitors are doing is limiting given wi-fi bandwidth,” Cush said. “We want to give our travelers more options instead of fewer, including the ability to multitask across platforms – just as they do in their lives on the ground.” […] “Our focus on innovation is a core part of our business model and guest offering, and BoardConnect will allow us to […] pace the larger consumer trends in mobile technology.” Adds Virgin America’s Lunardini “This is a significant investment for us. “We want to stay ahead of the path … a lot of people fly with us because it. We’re an entertainment-driven brand.”
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Azul takes Jetblue’s ‘no-frills chic’ approach to gain a foothold in Brazil

Air travel in Brazil is booming as a result of the rapid expansion of the middle class in the country, about 100 million strong. According to a recently released IATA study, the Brazilian domestic aviation market has grown 19 percent in terms of revenues in the first six months of 2011, the world’s fastest growth. As a comparison, the domestic market in China and India expanded with nearly 8 percent, while the U.S. recorded a 2.5 percent growth.

Azul Linhas Aéreas
Started by Jetblue founder and former CEO David Neeleman, Azul (Blue in Portuguese) in December 2008 entered the market as a Latin version of the New York-based airline. Just like Jetblue, Azul operates a ‘No-Frills Chic’ concept – where the low cost idea meets a dash of innovation – in order to differentiate itself in a market dominated by TAM and GOL.

The airline was named Azul after a crowdsourced naming contest, which created an instant buzz around the airline. In its first year of operation, Azul also offered an ‘all-you-can-jet’ promotion when launching new routes. The PassaporteAzul allowed purchasers to travel on as many Azul flights as they wanted for a one-month period for R$499 (USD306, EUR215). According to Azul, 80 percent of the purchasers on those passes had never flown on the airline before. As a result, Azul boarded more than 2 million customers in 2009, its first year of operation, the first airline in the world to achieve this. Azul was recently also named Brazil’s most innovative company by Fast Company magazine.

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Ônibus Azul
Azul has, by choice, avoided the major airline hubs and connection centers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, choosing to focus on cities less well served by established airlines. For example, its main hub is Campinas Airport, which is located an hour’s drive from São Paulo. To make it attractive for consumers to travel via Campinas, Azul provides free bus transportation for thousands of its passengers daily from Brazil’s business capital as well as from several other cities it serves. The airport transfer buses offer live satellite TV and free Wi-Fi onboard.
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Asia’s full-service airlines go low-cost

The market share (in terms of seats) of low-cost carriers within Asia is expected  to reach nearly 20 percent by the end of 2011. However, LCC penetration in the region is still behind that of the USA and Europe, while the middle class across Asia is growing rapidly, creating new demand for affordable air travel. Furthermore, the upcoming ‘open skies’ policy amongst the ASEAN countries, as well as increasing liberalization in Japan and South Korea will further boost air travel in the region. 

These new market opportunities, plus strong competition from the likes of AirAsia, Cebu Pacific, Lion Air, IndiGo, Spring and Skymark, has led several full-service airlines in the region, such as Qantas (Jetstar), Singapore Airlines (Tiger), Malaysian Airlines (Firefly) and Korean Air (JinAir) to set up their own low-cost subsidiaries in recent years. Joining these airlines in the next year will be Thai Airways and All Nippon Airways, while Singapore Airlines just announced plans to establish a long-haul low-cost subsidiary. 

Singapore Airlines: Long-haul low-cost
Singapore Airlines (SIA) new budget airline will start operating within a year and be based in Singapore. Although fully owned by Singapore Airlines and likely to operate some of SIA’s older model B777s, the new carrier will operate independently. Initial routes of the long-haul budget airline are expected to be to East Asia (China, Japan, South Korea), Australia and India. Other details, such as its name and just how ‘no frills’ the low-cost subsidiary will be, have not yet be announced. 

According to analysts, SIA has little choice but to start a low-cost long-haul subsidiary because its mainline operation is not growing. In 2010, the airline carried 16.6 million passengers, compared with 19 million in 2007/8. In the same period, Singapore’s Changi Airport saw its passenger traffic growing from 36 million to 44 million. Given the more open air regulations in Singapore vis-à-vis other Asian locations, SIA faces more competitive pressures than some of its peers. For examaple, according to Nomura Investments, LCCs have a market share of 27 percent in Singapore compared with ess than 5 percent in Hong Kong. 

With its new long-haul low-cost subsidiary, Singapore Airlines is aiming at Qantas’ Jetstar Asia and Malaysia’s AirAsia X as well as Gulf carriers such as Emirates, which have picked up the bulk of new long-haul traffic from Singapore.
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