SAN JOSE — On May 4th, 2016, British Airways (BA) Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (G-ZBKF • MSN 38622 • LN 392) touched down on Runway 30L at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) from London-Heathrow (LHR) launching the first ever service to the Silicon Valley by an European airline.
Inside SJC’s Terminal B, guests and inaugural flight passengers were treated to live music, Mad Hatter selfie station complete with a Beefeater, and high tea with appropriate accompaniments.
At the launch ceremony, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said, “London is the number one requested destination” for area travelers. The proud mayor joked: BA’s arrival to San Jose was “the biggest British invasion to America since the Beatles!”
The road to London was long time coming for San Jose. It was a culmination of five years of effort between the airport and the airline. It literally “took a village”. The airport in unison with the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley Leadership Group (an association of area CEOs) worked side-by-side with the airline to secure the flight. In fact, more than 93 CEOs signed up in support of the service.
British Airways parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) CEO Willy Walsh traveled to SJC on the inaugural flight from LHR. Mr. Walsh pointed out the Silicon Valley and London’s Silicon Roundabout share many commonalities, which make San Jose “a key destination in our network.” Priya Guha, the British Consul General in San Francisco added, “there are over 900 San Francisco Bay Area companies with affiliates in the UK; conversely, there are over 350 British companies with affiliates in the Bay Area. This creates a tremendous opportunity for everyone.”
Indeed, the unique partnership and the close relationship between the airport, business, and community leaders was the secret sauce that secured the route. Feedback from the airline was overwhelmingly positive. The airline had never seen such a close partnership in launch proposals. Mr. Walsh remarked, “(this route) would not have happened without support from the San Jose business communities…it is great to know that the businesses reached out to welcome us…great to know we are wanted…great to know you will support us.”
SJC Director of Aviation Kim Becker concluded, “we…will continue to work in partnership to make this important route an unqualified success.”
Since the route is expected to be business centric, BA is operating the -9 version of the Dreamliner, which offers an increased premium cabin capacity over the -8 version as well as an eight-seat First Class cabin not found on the -8.
Ultimately, for a route to be successful, business travel is just one of the components required. Potential for leisure and Visit Friends and Relatives markets were also considered. For example, during the proposal process, airport officials toured the Silicon Valley for the airline to show the Silicon Valley is not just companies. Most people that work there actually do live there as well. For travellers going beyond London, connection to the rest of the BA system, especially throughout Europe and India, is easy as ever via the airlines’ Terminal 5 hub at LHR.
Cultivating on the synergy modeled by the airport, three area tourism and convention bureaus are now collaborating to combine the marketing reach in the UK by showcasing the San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Monterey regions together. Rob O’Keefe, Chief Marketing Officer for the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau described the genesis: “the impetus for the tri-destination collaboration was two-fold – first, recognizing how important the San Jose airport has become as a gateway city to very important international markets, and secondly, recognizing how our three destinations really complement each other in terms of delivering the quintessential California experience that international travelers are seeking.”
SJC continues to build on the success of ANA’s launch to Tokyo-Narita in January 2013, also using the 787 Dreamliner. Between fiscal year 2014 and 2015, ANA’s total passenger enplanements at SJC grew almost 10%. 47,560 enplanements in 2015 translated into a very respectable load factor of 77%.
The floodgate seemed to have opened. In addition to new flights to London-Heathrow, Vancouver (flown by Air Canada) came on-line one week later. SJC will add two other international destinations this summer: Frankfurt (Lufthansa) and Shanghai (Air China). SJC’s other international destinations include aforementioned Tokyo-Narita (ANA), Beijing (Hainan Airlines), Guadalajara (Alaska Airlines and Volaris), and Cabo San Lucas (Alaska Airlines). In an industry where the classic chicken-and-the-egg scenario is de rigueur, the balanced has tipped to the airport’s favor.
Airport officials expect continued growth domestically as well, as currently seen with Delta and Alaska increasing service and adding destinations at SJC. However, they admit more domestic transcon service is needed. With American, Delta, United, JetBlue, and San Francisco-favorite Virgin America battling for top spot between San Francisco (SFO) and the New York area, and United locking the market between their SFO and Washington-Dulles hubs, it is difficult to convince airlines to duplicate service 34 miles south at SJC. The airport hopes to build upon the unique city-business community partnership to demonstrate that SJC is its own market and services there can succeed.