British Airways will launch Austin-Bergstrom International into the sphere of intercontinental airports when it begins a new service to the Texas capital from London in March 2014.
The decision, which is both Austin’s first route across an ocean as well as BA’s first new route for its Boeing 787s, was not made lightly. Representatives of the airport, their advisers Campbell-Hill Aviation Group and the UK flag carrier discussed the possibility of service for at least five years prior to the announcement in September, says Dean Hill, president of Campbell-Hill.
He says that discussions began at conferences like World Routes and got serious about three years ago. While he would not go into detail about these talks, he did say that when selling a new city to an airline: “You take what you’ve and make it sound like it's written in the stars.”
Austin benefits from a strong and growing technology cluster, which includes global heavyweights like Dell and Motorola, a large cultural and music scene dominated by the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, and the only US stop on the annual Formula One race circuit.
“It’s not what you think of when you think of Dallas, Houston or even San Antonio,” says Kevin Schorr, a vice-president at Campbell-Hill, commenting on the city. “It’s different.”
Austin-Bergstrom benefits from the strong local economy. Traffic was up nearly 6% to 5.78 million during the first seven months of the year compared to 2012 and this comes after a nearly 4% annual increase last year, airport data shows. In addition, it boasts one of the fastest growing routes during the past year, as capacity to San Francisco is running 83% higher in October compared to a year ago.
All of these factors combined – the strong local economy and rising traffic – helped influence BA to launch the service. “We know that London is among the top destinations for international travel from Austin and equally, Austin is home to some of the most important global cultural events,” said Sean Doyle, executive vice-president for the Americas at the British carrier. He also cites the city’s strong technology sector.
For Austin, the 787 was only added “pizzazz”, says Hill. He says that the city’s focus was on the strength of the route and not what aircraft BA decided to fly, adding that it could have launched the flights with one of its Boeing 777s.