MIAMI — Earlier today, oneworld Alliance member British Airways announced that it would be launching nonstop service between its largest hub at London Heathrow Airport and Austin Bergstrom International Airport, beginning with five flights per week from March 3rd, 2014 utilizing British Airways’ Boeing 787-8 aircraft seating 214 passengers in a 3-class configuration (35J / 25Y+ / 154Y), in time for passengers flying to the popular South by Southwest music festival held in Austin each March. The flight will be upgraded to daily from May 5th, 2014 with flight schedules as follow:
BA 191 ~ LHR-AUS ~ D: 1155 A: 1600 ~ 788 ~ Daily (from 5th May)
BA 190 ~ AUS-LHR ~ D: 1855 A: 1000+1 ~ 788 ~ Daily (from 5th May)
Austin becomes British Airways’ 172nd destination worldwide (currently 169 but Chengdu and and Gran Canaria come online before Austin does) and 21st in the United States (22nd including joint venture partner American Airlines, and 23rd assuming that US Airways joins oneworld and the trans-Atlantic joint venture there). The news was broken by Flightglobal’s David Kaminski Morrow, and it comes after months of efforts from Austin’s business and political leaders to get a nonstop flight to Europe.
Announced the day after the 787 completed its first entered long-haul round-trip service between LHR and YYZ, this is the first entirely new route announced by British Airways to launch with the 787 and that takes advantage of the type’s special niche of long-haul secondary city service.
The route is designed in part to tap into origin and destination (O&D) demand between Austin and London, which is large and growing. Austin – London nonstop demand last year totalled nearly 55 passengers per day each way (more than 20,000 per annum), and this is before the stimulation provided by the introduction of a nonstop flight (which often reaches 50%).
The primary driver behind the flight, will of course be connections to and from Europe, a market to which Austin has demand of more than 240 PDEW (around 87,000 passengers per annum). British Airways has steadily grown connectivity through its hub at Heathrow, and having connected through Terminal 5 earlier this year, connections to and from Europe are relatively painless today.
But an underrated factor in the launch of the route is traffic to and from secondary Indian destinations (namely Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad), for which British Airways will now have by far the fastest connections (any other routing requires a double connection and the addition of at least 3 hours).
In particular, this is important to Bangalore, which has major business links with Austin through the Information Technology (IT) industry. These links drive 8-10 daily business class passengers to fly between the two cities, and British Airways will now offer the only one-stop service between Austin and Bangalore, as well as the fastest flights (saving more than three hours versus every other double-connection). This could bode well for premium demand on the Heathrow flight.
Austin is certainly one of the smallest cities in the US to see trans-Atlantic service, with a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) population of 1.8 million making it the 33rd largest MSA in the US as per data from the Census Bureau. However, it is still bigger than Salt Lake City (1 million but home to a Delta Air Lines hub with sporadic service only to Paris) and Raleigh-Durham with service to London by American (1.2 million), which see trans-Atlantic service today, as well as Memphis and Hartford which have had nonstop flights to Amsterdam within the past decade.
Moreover, Austin is the fourth largest tech business center in the US after the Bay Area (Silicon Valley), Seattle, and Boston, which means it has an outsized share of high-yield business traffic traveling internationally. More than 40% of Austin’s long haul international traffic is business-related, one of the highest such shares in the country. Traffic volumes may also be helped by passengers driving up from the San Antonio MSA of 2.2 million. It takes just 80 minutes to drive from San Antonio’s city center to Bergstrom Airport, and this could boost traffic figures as well.
The combination of all these factors bodes well for British Airways’ new service. The new service also illustrates the disruptive potential of the Boeing 787 in making possible so-called long and thin routes through lower operating costs and increased fuel efficiency. Hopefully this route will stick around for years to come.