On May 15 Stansted will gain its first direct flights to Athens, when Aegean Airlines debuts in the UK with a twice-daily service to the Greek capital. The carrier will ply the route using new A321 aircraft configured in two classes, with the Athens-bound legs departing at 1020 and 2000, and the return flights leaving for the UK at 0730 and 1710.
The new aircraft serving this route are part of an order of 27 Airbuses which Aegean is phasing in to replace its Boeing 737 fleet, as vice-chairman Eftichios Vassilakis explains:
“We are taking delivery of 20 Airbus aircraft between November 2007 and April 2009, by which time the average age of our fleet will be two years. We needed a 200-seater plane to fly the London-Athens route, and we also needed to fly it with a new plane. By starting flying to London at the same time as our re-fleeting process it also gives out a good sign to our domestic market that Aegean Airlines is changing.”
Indeed the whole of the Greek airline market has changed dramatically since its deregulation in 1999, with several carriers launching and subsequently folding or consolidating, to leave the two Greek international airlines we see today – Aegean and its main rival, the state-owned Olympic Airlines.
Aside from Olympic (which serves Athens from both Gatwick and Heathrow), Aegean will compete with British Airways (from Heathrow) and Easyjet (from Gatwick and Luton) on the London-Athens route.
In terms of further expansion, Vassilakis says Aegean will look to launch two or three destinations per year, one regional and two international. France, Belgium and Spain are all destinations the airline has yet to tap, and Vassilakis says the carrier would consider flights from other Greek cities to the UK, such as Heraklion and Thessaloniki, as well as increasing the frequency of the Stansted-Athens flights at a later date.
Vassilakis says: “Our goal is to become the largest airline in Greece, both in terms of passenger numbers and significance. We now have 55 per cent of the domestic market, and we are the only Greek carrier to co-operate with a global airline [Lufthansa].”
Aegean codeshares with the German carrier on several routes to and from Germany, and also participates in the carrier’s Miles and More frequent flyer programme.
In terms of the business class product out of London, Aegean is in talks with two airport-lounge operators at Stansted to provide lounge access for its premium customers. On board, business class passengers enjoy extra space with the middle seats kept empty in each row, and as well as newspapers and enhanced food and beverage options, the carrier also offers premium passengers one day’s free car rental within Greece (the Vassilakis Group owns the franchise for Hertz in Greece).
Aegean will celebrate its tenth anniversary next year, and Vassilakis says it will carry somewhere between 5.6 and 5.8 million passengers in 2008, up from 5.2 in 2007.
Report by Mark Caswell