South America has always been a relatively weak destination for British Airways.
The relative lack of business, cultural and tourist links between the UK and South America, together with the more recent scarcity of slots at Heathrow, has meant that British Airways has largely ignored the region.
This situation was further compounded by the 2011 merger between British Airways & Spain’s Iberia Airlines to form IAG. Unlike the UK, Spain has very close ties to almost all of South America and, as a result, Iberia’s long-haul route network is dominated by flights to the continent. Following the merger of the 2 airlines, it was therefore agreed that British Airways would largely leave South America to Iberia and re-route any UK traffic from Heathrow via Madrid.
As a result of the above, British Airways currently flies to just 2 countries within South America (Brazil & Argentina) and only 3 cities (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo & Buenos Aires).
In the past however, British Airways has flown to Santiago de Chile, Bogota & Caracas and there are those who believe that the time has come for the airline to make its presence felt again. There are several reasons for this.
Increasing trade & wealth – Despite a recent slowdown, the South American economy has seen several years of strong growth which has resulted in increased trade and living standards, both precursors to increased air travel.
Increased tourism – Although South America’s share of the UK’s outbound tourism market is still relatively low, it has grown strongly and consistently since the turn of the century and, with more direct flights, would probably grow still further and faster.
Additional Heathrow slots – Scarcity of slots at Heathrow is still a problem for British Airways although the 2012 takeover of bmi in 2012 has seen the airline increase its share of Heathrow slots from just over 40% to just under 50%.
New aircraft – Any potential direct flights between the UK & South America would, in aviation terms, be defined as long and thin, ie it’s a long way to go and numbers would still be relatively small. The advent of new generation aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, will allow airlines to fly ultra long haul routes, non-stop, using far less fuel than current models.
Difficulties at Iberia – The much publicised difficulties at Iberia, hugely loss making, embroiled in disputes with staff and flying old, uncomfortable aircraft, may convince IAG boss Willie Walsh that it is better for Iberia to lose traffic to British Airways than to competitors such as Air France & Lufthansa.
Lack of competition – Although the South American economy has grown strongly over the years, its airline industry is still relatively immature and standards relatively low. The other big advantage of British Airways flying south-west is that it doesn’t face any direct competition from the Gulf & South East Asian carriers that have made flying east so incredibly competitive.
LATAM – British Airways was a founder member of the oneworld airline alliance. With the merger last year of Chile’s LAN and Brazil’s TAM, and their subsequent announcement that the new group, LATAM, would also be part of the oneworld alliance, British Airways now has South America’s strongest airline group with which it can co-ordinate schedules as well as benefiting from local feeder traffic.
So where in South America might British Airways fly to? Check in tomorrow and I’ll share my thoughts…….