VLM fills the budget void

16 May 2009 by Mark Caswell

A new VLM Airlines route targeting business travellers out of London has “exceeded expectations”, according to managing director Johan Vanneste.

The London City service fills the void left by Easyjet and Ryanair after they severed ties between London and Nantes, France’s fifth largest city. Mr Vanneste said a high proportion of seats had already been filled after only two weeks.

“Most new routes can expect a load factor of around 30 per cent after two weeks. We’re already at 50 per cent,” he said.

Europe’s two largest budget airlines once served 160,000 business and leisure passengers between London and Nantes every year, Mr Vanneste said.

But VLM and fellow Air France subsidiary CityJet hope to draw in a smaller proportion of business travellers with further growth expected.

“We’re aiming for a quarter of that figure, around 40,000 passengers a year,” he explained. “The main focus is business travel but we expect a lot of premium leisure traffic too.”

The route is served twice daily during the week by a 50-seat VLM Fokker 50 aircraft aimed at the business segment. Flights leave London City at 0825 and 1745.

An Avro RJ85 seating 95 flies out of London City once daily at the weekend when the balance traditionally shifts from business to leisure travel.

Airlines have suffered from high oil prices followed by falling demand for travel, prompting many to cut capacity and drop unprofitable routes.

Mr Vanneste could not say why Easyjet and Ryanair had abandoned routes to Nantes from Gatwick and Stansted, respectively.

“The Nantes chamber of commerce approached us, we looked at the business model and it seemed like a great opportunity,” he said. “They asked how Nantes, France’s fifth largest city, could not have a link to London.”

A spokesperson for Nantes, largely seen as a leisure destination, said the city had a significant business presence driven by a thriving art scene.

VLM and CityJet, both subsidiaries of Air France KLM, are in the process of combining operations at London City.

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Report by Andrew Gough

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