British Airways has pushed back the launch its London City-New York JFK service until October,but expects to begin ticket sales for the new Airbus A318-operated route by the end of next month.

BA unveiled plans early last year to acquire two A318s and configure the aircraft in an all-business class configurationfor operation on transatlantic service from London City. The carrier later indicated it would launch two flights per weekday from London City to JFK around September 2009, but it has yet to set an exact launch date or begun ticket sales.

The carrier's executive VP for the Americas, Simon Talling-Smith, says BA is now aiming to launch the service in October and begin ticket sales by the end of June.

"It's going to be most likely in October," he told ATI yesterday following an analyst and media luncheon in New York. "We have to confirm the aircraft delivery dates."

He adds BA aims to "announce a launch date within a month" and at the same time begin ticket sales.

Talling-Smith says it has taken BA 16 monthsto set a launch date because the operation is so unique. For example, it will be the first time any airline has used A318s to fly across the Atlantic.

A fuel stop on the westbound leg is required because the short runway at London City cannot accommodate an A318 with full fuel. BA selected Shannon last August as the fuel stop because US customs and immigration has a pre-clearance facility at the airport, which will allow the passengers to exit without passing through customs or immigration when arriving at JFK. On the eastbound leg, the flight will operate non-stop.

"We have to be absolutely sure of the delivery date and absolutely sure we have all the operational things [in place prior to the launch]," Talling-Smith explains. "We've never done Shannon pre-clearance. We've never flown a small Airbus. We've never landed at domestic arrivals at Kennedy."

The new London City-JFK service is designed to give BA's premium passengers another option in addition to its London Heathrow-JFK and London Gatwick-JFK services. London City, which is located in east London near Canary Wharf, is much closer to the heart of London's financial district and easier to use than Heathrow.

London City is already the airport of choice for business passengers from the financial sector heading between London and financial centres on the European continent. BA currently caters to this market through its CityFlyer regional unit but the new JFK service will be operated by BA mainline.

"It's a unique product offering that will go down very well with our London City base," BA chief executive Willie Walsh told analysts at yesterday's luncheon.

Walsh adds with the new London City-JFK link being launched BA will likely adjust some of its capacity between London Heathrow and JFK. "What we do have is an opportunity to replace some capacity out of Heathrow with London City capacity," he says.

This summer BA is operating on most days seven flights to JFK with six from Heathrow and one from Gatwick. This is already down from an average of nine flights last summer, when it operated eight from Heathrow and one from Manchester. Gatwick replaced the Manchester route last October.

Walsh says BA is now looking at further cuts in its multiple-frequency US markets as part of a plan to cut system-wide capacity by 4% this winter.

"What we're mainly looking at is taking frequency out," Walsh says. "We're not planning to suspend any routes."

While BA is cutting capacity by 4% system-wide Walsh says the cut will be less than 4% on the transatlantic, in part because BA is launching in October a daily service from Heathrow to Las Vegas. "Capacity is coming out across network but capacity reduction won't be even across network," he explains.

BA's OpenSkies division also operates two daily flights to JFK, including one from Paris Orly and one from Amsterdam using all-premium Boeing 757s. But these 757s are configured with both premium economy and business class while the A318s will only have 32 business class seats.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news