Air France has published schedules for its five new routes from London City (LCY) (see Online News, February 21). Flights to Belfast Harbour (the closest airport to downtown Belfast) start on March 25 with the other four destinations (Geneva, Madrid, Nice and Zurich) following on April 10. At the time of writing Air France hasn't decided whether or not to go ahead with plans to serve Milan Linate.
The flights are good news, but LCY is getting full up and as a result Air France says it has found it difficult to secure attractive timings in the morning peak.
"There's a particular problem first thing in the morning [with slots]," Richard Gooding, the airport's MD told Business Traveller, "so we've applied for permission to add a further five parking stands which are expected to be ready by March next year. These will alleviate the congestion on the apron [and free up early landing slots]."
Matters are especially tricky on Air France's Swiss and Spanish routes from LCY. The first flight out of LCY to Zurich does not arrive until mid-afternoon. The inbound timings are better, though, which suggests that Air France (a Skyteam alliance member) is targeting the Swiss market for its business customers: a tough market to break, with Star (because of Swiss and Lufthansa membership) being the most dominant airline alliance in Switzerland. In addition, Air France's three times a day service is up against the eight daily flights operated by Swiss and the four flown by British Airways.
The Geneva timings also suit Swiss rather than London-originating passengers. Air France's first flight from LCY doesn't land in Geneva until 1215 although the timings on the way back (at 0755, 1315 and 1715) are better.
In the case of Madrid (served twice daily) the first flight at 0910 gets you to the Spanish capital at 1300. But the final flight of the day from LCY is at 1430. Not ideal for either UK or Spanish business people. The service to Nice is aimed at the leisure passenger and operates only once a day. Air France's last flight of the day from Madrid departs at 1910 which is fine. But its first flight of the day from Madrid isn't until 1350 in the afternoon, no use for a London-bound day tripper.
Timings to Belfast are equally targeted at the Northern Ireland market. So whereas the first flight ex-LCY arrives in Belfast at 1120, the early service from Belfast at 0750 reaches LCY at a more useful 0920.
British Airways passengers using LCY can get round inconvenient timings by mixing and matching flights. They might depart from City but return to Heathrow or vice versa.
This isn't so easy to accomplish with Air France as none of these new destinations are served directly from Heathrow. Air France will doubtless be hoping for more slots to become available.
For more information go to airfrance.co.uk.
Report by Alex McWhirter