Hong Kong Airlines (HKA) has become the latest carrier to bring an all-business class service to the market, launching flights onboard a dual-class configured Airbus A330-200 between London Gatwick and Hong Kong.
After a flurry of activity which saw several embryonic all-premium carriers start and fail on transatlantic routes around 2007/08, dedicated scheduled all-business flights have largely been restricted to services like British Airways-owned Openskies and Singapore Airlines' all-business operations to New York Newark and Los Angeles.
Now HKA has launched a daily all-business class connection linking London Gatwick and Hong Kong. While the likes of British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic already connect London with Hong Kong, HKA is the only one operating on the Gatwick route.
The airline will ultimately deploy three A330-200s on the route seating 34 in its Club Premier cabin and 82 in Club Classic. This compares to the typical 253 seats for an A330-200 in a conventional three-class configuration.
"Club Premier we feel will appeal to the top-level corporate market with a premium service and the privacy and exclusive feel we are working hard to offer," explains HKA's UK general manager Gerard Clarke. The 1-2-1 abreast layout cabin offers seat lie-flat seats, interactive IFE using the Thales Top Series i5000 A/VOD system with 15.4inch monitors and mobile connectivity through the OnAir service.
The Club Classic product is pitched as a business class service and features a cradle-seat in a 2-2-2 seating layout with a 51 inch seat pitch, together with 10.4inch screens.
The HKA service is pitched at four different market segments. Top-end corporate travellers are the primary market for the Club Premium product, while small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), premium leisure and the Chinese ethnic market from London are the target market for Club Classic.
HKA is pitching its premium service at First and Business class travellers, but at lower fares than existing operators on London-Hong-Kong service.
"The research we have conducted told us pretty clearly the SME is looking for a business class experience, but if you look at the price-point are inclined [today] to take an indirect carrier," says Clarke. "We believe very strongly the Club Classic product offers people the chance to go direct to Hong Kong."
Neither is the airline deterred by the difficult economic conditions in Europe. "We see this as a really good opportunity. The timing I believe works in our favour because we are offering a good value for money product," says Clarke. "We also know, because of the economic conditions here [in London], that the SME market is looking particularly at growing markets overseas. And China is top of everyone's list."
Here the airline hopes to tap into HKA's connections into China from Hong Kong, a network which is expanding as the airline rapidly grows. The airline, which is backed by China's HNA Group, began taking delivery of 30 new Airbus A320s earlier this year.
London is the carrier's only European service after it dropped its Moscow routing. "We are evaluating adding markets in Europe, but not for the Club Class product," says Clarke, citing Paris as one route under consideration. But London, with its strong established traffic flows to Hong Kong, seems likely to be its only all-business class route for the foreseeable future. "The dynamics of that market are unique."