International Airlines Group's acquisition of BMI hands subsidiary carrier British Airways a lucrative opportunity to push into emerging growth markets in Asia when deliveries of its new fleet of Boeing 787 twinjets begin next year, says IAG chief executive Willie Walsh.
Speaking earlier today at an event to mark the 787's visit to London Heathrow Airport as part of the twinjet's global "Dream Tour", Walsh said the 787 was "perfect for opening new markets in Asia. Asia is the growth market that we're targeting."
IAG is securing an average of 42 additional daily slot pairs at congested Heathrow through its takeover of formerly Lufthansa-owned BMI, many of which will be used to enable BA to serve new long-haul destinations.
"The big issue for us is filling the gap that exists in growth at London Heathrow, and growth for the UK," says Walsh. "This gives us the opportunity to fulfil our ambition in terms of growth into Asia."
Walsh says "a lot of work needs to be done to restructure" BMI, and reiterates that the carrier's low-fare and regional units BMIbaby and BMI Regional, respectively, are "not part of our plans. We're focused on the sale of both of these airlines, and we'll continue to talk to interested parties."
Walsh warns that he is "not confident" that buyers will be found as "these are airlines that Lufthansa has struggled to sell".
Meanwhile BA's director of flight operations, Captain Stephen Riley, says the UK flag-carrier will initially establish the 787 as a stand-alone fleet for crewing purposes, but is looking at eventually cross-qualifying pilots to also fly the larger 777.
"As we gather information from crew and training we will assess whether we will fly it as a combined fleet with the 777," he says.
BA has eight 787-8s and 16 stretched 787-9s on firm order, to be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.