The head of bmibaby, Julian Carr, recently agreed to answer questions posed to him on this blog and via Twitter.
Julian’s answers are below (for the passenger experience crowd, note Julian’s final answers).
Q. Being from BHX myself, what plans are there to expand youralready decent sized operation there? #4Julian
A. We have three aircraft based at Birmingham Airportduring the summer months, and two during the winter. This works well for us atthe moment, although we do believe BHX is a very good airport with a large localpopulation. Further evaluation of growth in the region is always ongoing. bmibabywill remain at current aircraft numbers in 2011, although there could be growthin 2012 subject to finding the right route opportunities.
Q. If flybmi were to start a sister subsidiary would they callit BMI Toddler? #4Julian
A. bmibaby is 8 years old now, so we’ve already passed thetoddler stage!
Q. What is the timeframe for starting fleet renewal, and willthis be linked with other airlines in LH group?
A. The B737 classic works well for us, though obviously willneed to be replaced in the future. I can’t see this happening in the next fewyears, as they are still relatively young compared to the expected lifespan ofa modern day aircraft. However, longer term we shall be having suchconversations, and being part of the Lufthansa group it makes sense that wedevelop such work in conjunction with the wider group.
Q. Does BMI Baby intend to ever explore the use of @FlyBMI’sfreq. flyer program? I see the lack of it as a detractor #4Julian
A. We are currently part of the bmi Diamond Club frequent flyerprogram. Passengers can earn and use Diamond Club miles on our services. Thisis a global program with miles redeemable across the Star Alliance network, sowe’re rather happy with it!
Q. Are there any planes in BMI Baby’s future to convert the 737fleet to A320s for fleet commonality with @FlyBMI? #4Julian
A. Mostly answered in question 3 already, though whether wewould specifically switch to Airbus operations would be a decision for a fewyears time. No current plans for this.
Q. As @FlyBMI is ‘absorbed’ into the @Lufthansa_de way of doingthings, will this impact how BMI Baby operates? #4Julian
A. The main benefit for us is the ability to tap into a hugeamount of good industry experience. LH has been around for years and isrenowned for being a very good operator. Being part of this family now presentsus with the opportunity to develop synergies where appropriate and work withthem strategically. However on a day to day basis we are very much our ownbusiness, operate under our own Air Operator Certificate (AOC), and make ourown decisions. So while part of a bigger group, we retain the quick and easydynamics of a small business. We have the best of both worlds!
Q. Previously BMI Baby used to fly some routes that competedwith ‘mainline’ carriers, will the #airline return to this? #4Julian
A. That depends on the route – ultimately the low cost offeringis very attractive to the travelling public nowadays, and should we see anopportunity for a route that is suited to our model, then we would considercompeting if we believed it was right for us. However, our focus will remainonflying from the UK regions / midlands, as it is unlikely that we would want toventure into competing on trunk routes from the London market (if that is whatyou were implying!).
Q. To follow up my last question on BMI Baby’s routes…I trulymiss flying BMI Baby on the @HeathrowAirport – CDG route! #4Julian
A. See answer to question 7! You should fly on our EastMidlands to Paris service instead (EMA is 90mins by train from central London!)
Q. Are there plans for fleet renewal & any expansion@cardiffairport??
A. I’ve pretty much addressed the fleet renewal question, sosee above for this. With respect to Cardiff,it is an airport and region that is very much part of our leisure routes focus.Most routes from Cardiffare to “The Sun” and this is what seems to be most demanded by our customers. Ibelieve there are more opportunities at Cardiffthough, and would very much like to expand from there. While this may nothappen in 2011, like our evaluations of BHX noted above, we shall of courseseek to follow up opportunities for growth if we see the market interest.
Q. In light of therecent #SMairlines conference, how will @bmibaby_com work to increase sales& presence through social media? #4Julian
A. We totally believe in the value of Social Media. As you knowwe have our company twitter feed, my personal feed (which is 100% done by justme – which is why it might not be that frequent!!), and also now our Facebook page. We’ll continue to develop thesechannels and have lots of aspirations to do more in this space. Keep watching!
Q. While its impossible4 @bmibaby_com 2 compete with easyJet & Ryanair, what kind of niche doesbmibaby have that makes it different? #4Julian
A. Our strategy is quite simple: Be good at what we do, and bemore than just another low cost airline. While we need to operate an ‘a-la-carte’pricing philosophy (pay for what you use, don’t pay for what you don’t use -which genuinely is the backbone to being able to offer low fares), we areputting serious effort into developing our service offering. I want us to be anairline that people actually enjoy flying with, and come back again and again.We are working hard to enhance our sales process to ensure we are moretransparent and therefore easier to select the options you want. We are alsorecruiting currently for a new Head of Cabin Services, who will be instantlytasked with enhancing our in-flight service proposition. We are a smallairline, with a very good crew, and a new management team that genuinely caresabout offering a good product. We won’t always get it right, but we are doingour utmost to create a good airline for you. “Putting the fun back into flying,baby!” (…just to keep the marketing team happy!)
Q. Are we likely to see investment at Cardiff? I’m sure it is time to bring lostpassengers back over the severn bridge?
A. Pretty much answered in question 9, although I do agree toomany people go across that pesky bridge! In time we want to grow our networkfrom Cardiff tooffer a wider range of routes. However for 2011 we will focus on our currentnetwork, and do our best to entice people to fly from their local airport.
Q. Is @bmibaby_com goingto build bases out of UKor will they focus on building up services from the current hubs/bases?#4Julian
A. The short term plan will be to focus on the current bases.However that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t consider another UK base in thefuture, if the right opportunity presented itself.
Q. Will @bmibaby_comcompete with its parent, @flybmi on any routes or will they take overunprofitable routes including bmi Regional? #4Julian
A. It makes no sense for us to compete with bmi or bmiregional. However as a group we need to ensure the most suited airline to theroute is the one that operates. Such group collaboration and development ofsynergies will feature moving forward.
Q. When are we likely to receive some positive news for the Cardiff base? We haveseen many promises and neglect and after a reduction in based units from 3-2aircraft ti was believed that this winter was looking promising. However it nowturns out that many flights have now been cancelled for W10. What is being doneto bring passengers back over the SevernBridge from Easyjet and Ryanair at Bristol?
A. I’ve pretty much covered this in earlier questions, though Ido agree that we are losing too many people to Bristol. Cardiff is a great local airport and is quickand easy to use. We do find that most demand from the airport is for ‘sunshine’routes, and as such our flights are orientated in this way. Because these sunroutes are our main focus, it does mean there is less flying in the winter,although we will retain our core program during the winter months. I would liketo grow from Cardiffin the future, and assuming we can find the right opportunities this couldoccur in 2012.
Q. Any plans for starting a connection from EMA-FRA or MUC? As a customer from Lincoln I currently have to drive two hours to get a flight from MAN or BHX.
A. EMA-MUC (Munich)started on 17th September. We are starting EMA-CGN (Cologne) on 31st October. Frankfurtis not currently in the plans although that’s not to say we wouldn’t in thefuture if we felt the demand was there, and it fitted into our network well.
Q. Julian, there are suggestions that bmibaby is looking atdeveloping charter operations to support independent tour operators in th UK. Is this isserious consideration or is it pure conjecture?
A. We currently work with a number of smaller (and larger) touroperators, where some seats are sold on our scheduled services to thesepartners. We are very much open to offering a full charter service (where thewhole aircraft is sold to tour operators), and have done so in the past – forexample we flew to Brescia in Italy all winter last year for a tour operator.We have good relations with the travel trade and intend to continue such. Ifyou have some capacity needs then let’s talk!
Q. Is bmibaby every going to make CWL a viable option to BRS?Although it is hard to compete with the likes of easyjet and Ryanair, themarket for CWL definately exists! There are a number of routes currently notserved from CWL which are multiple daily services from BRS. Passengers want totravel from CWL, however the options are just not there and never really havebeen. To make CWL a viable option and change customer’s perception of theairport will certainly need a great deal of investment, so are you prepared tocommit?
A. We are very muchcommitted to Cardiff,and it’s fair to say that we would like to be bigger in CWL than we alreadyare. I do expect and intend that growth in Cardiff can and will occur over time. We havehad to be prudent in our approach last year and this year, and had to contractslightly in CWL due to some fleet consolidation that we undertook. However thisis not a sign of lack of desire for the Cardiff market, and at the moment weare focusing on flying the best network we can from Cardiff with the twoaircraft we have there.
Q. How is bmibaby working to improve the passenger experience(from check-in until baggage claim)?
A. I spoke above about being focused on developing our customerservice experience. This is a key priority of the new management team. We areimproving our online sales steps to make it easier and simpler to book. We areworking with our airport service teams to understand how we can improve theexperience pre-flight. We are about to employ a new Head of Cabin services whowill be tasked with developing our in-flight service offering. We have alsoincreased the amount of time we dedicate to training our front line staff incustomer service from this winter. Also, myself and the management team work onthe shop floor on a routine basis to ensure we are seeing and experiencingfirst hand the service we offer. In all, we want to be an airline that ourcustomers enjoy flying with. We are also very much focused on providing a goodlevel of on time performance and reliability, which is one of the mostimportant elements of the experience to the customer – in 2009 we were the UK’smost punctual low cost carrier, something we will always strive to achieve.
Q. Does Julian envision offering in-flight entertainment and/orconnectivity, and if so, what types are under study?
A. If we are talking about in-flight movies etc, then no.Ultimately such an offering is expensive to provide, and we need to keep ourcosts as low as possible to keep the fares low. I do not see much demand for thissort of offering on short European routes – our passengers prefer low fares. Wedo offer ‘enterplanement’ on occasion though, which is where we invite anartist / special guest to ‘entertain’ our customers – we have had in-flightmassages, opera singers and comedians so far!
(Picture above from garland canon’s Flickr photo stream)