Moves to consolidate the operations of KLM Cityhopper and VLM on the London City-Amsterdam route mark the first integration under the acquisition of VLM through Air France-KLM Irish subsidiary CityJet. 

Air France-KLM first agreed terms to buy the Belgian regional operator on Christmas Eve last year, planning to develop VLM’s London City operations with those of CityJet. The deal was sealed two months later, but any implementation of the deal was put on hold after a UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) probe into the acquisition.

The OFT concerns centred around competition on the London City-Amsterdam route and the acquisition was only formally approved in October after Air France-KLM gave up slots to enable a new entrant – UK regional Eastern Airways – to launch on the route.

Speaking at a press conference in Amsterdam to unveil the changes on Amsterdam- London City, CityJet chief executive Geoffrey O’Byrne White explained the OFT process dictated the carriers’ starting their co-operation by restructuring these routes.

“If you were going to plan it, it’s not the first place you would start. That was a huge mouthful to start with,” he says.

 VLM managing director Johan Vanneste adds: “We had very specific instructions from the OFT…on what we could not be doing or discussing. The only thing we could do was visit to get to know each other, but we could not make any commercial plans [until the deal was approved].”

 Under the changes CityJet will from 5 January operate two-class 95-seat Avro RJ85s eight times daily on the Amsterdam-Schiphol route. This compares to the combined 17 daily frequencies using 50-seat Fokker 50 turboprops currently offered today by KLM Cityhopper and VLM.

 “It’s more or less the same capacity,” says Air France-KLM senior VP area manager Benelux, Bram Graber. “In effect we increased the number of seats in the peak of the day.”  Some of the released slots have been given to Eastern Airways as part of the OFT remedies – the latter will begin shortly begin its own eight flights a day service on the route.

 VLM will in turn replace CityJet in operating twice-daily flights between the Dutch city of Eindhoven and London City. CityJet is currently operating the flights using 30-seat Dornier 328 capacity from Scot Airways. “Eindhoven is a market that is ideal for the Fokker 50s,” notes Vanneste.

 “It is a case of one plus one is three. There is no overlapping, the networks are perfectly complementary,” he says of the two operations.

 “Everything we have, they don’t have. That’s the best combination you can have,” adds O’Byrne White. “They have turboprops, we don’t. We have jets, they don’t have, they have their own sales distribution, we don’t. We’ve been operating at London City in recent years, it’s been using the Air France KLM sales distribution. We have to have a new approach as we are putting the two networks together.

 “At the moment we are dealing with the operational stuff. I think the next phase will be to apply a more innovative approach going forward,” says O’Byrne White. This is likely to include the future branding of the London City flights

 But O’Byrne White stresses: “The service and culture still needs to be small airlines and dedicated to the London City market.”

 And both point to the level of independence the carriers maintain within the Air France-KLM group.

 “Within Air France-KLM there is a lot respect for keeping the regionals semi-autonomous,” says Vanesta. “They leave room for the regionals to have their own activities. From what I have seen so far, I must say I like the philosophy.”

Source: Airline Business