Long-haul, low-cost flights will become a “significant part of IAG”, with budget flights from Barcelona just the start of the airline group’s ambitions, its chief executive Willie Walsh says.
Speaking at the Airlines for Europe (A4E) conference in Brussels on 8 February, he said that “without question, in due course” IAG would seek to roll out long-haul, low-cost operations at other locations in Europe. “You’ve got to start somewhere and we think Barcelona is the right place to start," he says.
IAG late last year disclosed plans to establish a new airline linked to the low-cost carrier Vueling at Barcelona El Prat to open long-haul operations in June, potentially serving destinations in North and South America as well as Asia.
Walsh says tickets for the low-cost, long-haul service will go on sale “very soon”, but the airline group is yet to decide whether it will start a brand new airline to operate them or use an existing member of IAG.
But he indicates Vueling will not operate the service. “Vueling will feed the operation at Barcelona but my view is that it’s not appropriate for Vueling to do that [long-haul] operation," he says. "They do what they do very well and we want them to continue focusing on that”.
While not ruling out Aer Lingus as a potential candidate, Walsh says though it has a very strong brand in the USA and Ireland, "it wouldn’t necessarily work in Barcelona at the moment".
Walsh confirms that new Airbus A330s will be used for the service. “We had options, these are aircraft that were available to us through the deals we have with Airbus and we are just taking them earlier than we had planned," he says.
Asked whether it is a coincidence that Norwegian is also planning to start long-haul flights from Barcelona this year, he says IAG has previously disclosed that “we would respond in a competitive way to what Norwegian has done”.