British Airways adds longest direct route with Santiago return

British Airways (BA) is to introduce the only direct air service between the UK and Chile from early next year when it inaugurates a four times weekly link between London’s Heathrow Airport and Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago. The new non-stop offering will mark its return to a market it previously served as a tag on an existing link into South America.

The new flight will launch from January 3, 2017 and will be operated using a four-class Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with capacity for 216-seats, including a special eight-suite First Class cabin. It is part of the airline’s strategy to grow its activities in South America and follows the recent launch of links between its London hub and San Jose in Costa Rica and Lima in Peru. It also operates to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Buenos Aires in Argentina.

“In recent years we have been increasing our services to South and Central America reflecting the area’s continued growth in both business and tourism,” said Alex Cruz, chairman and chief executive officer, British Airways.

BA previously served Santiago between 1993 and 2000 but as a tag on its flights into Buenos Aires. The new non-stop offering at 14 hours 40 minutes is nearly an hour longer than BA’s current longest flight of 13 hours 50 minutes to Buenos Aires and covers a distance of approximately 11,645km, versus the 11,085km for the London - Buenos Aires city pair.

“The Chilean economy has been steadily growing, with increasing trade links to Europe so this new direct route will respond to the need for travel between the two Capital cities to do business face-to-face. Equally, Chile is of enormous appeal to leisure travellers, especially those looking for adventure, exploration and experiences,” added Cruz.

BA is in the process of taking delivery of the 21 787-9s it has on order, a larger variant to its smaller eight-strong fleet of 787-8s that have served with the carrier since June 2013. It took delivery of its first aircraft in September 2015 and grew its fleet to five units by the end of last year. A further three aircraft have already arrived this year and eight more are scheduled for delivery before the end of 2016. The last five will follow during 2018.

BA launched scheduled operations with the 787-9 on routes from London Heathrow to Austin, Delhi and Toronto in October 2015 and this summer is using type on regular flights to Abu Dhabi, Austin, Calgary, Delhi, Houston, Jeddah, Kuala Lumpur, Muscat, Newark and San Jose. Later this year Boston, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Tokyo Narita will also become scheduled 787-9 destinations.

According to data from Sabre Market Intelligence, the number of passengers flying between Europe and Chile has grown by almost a third since 2011 with an average annual rise of 7.0 percent. The overall market size is around 2,100 passengers a day and British Airways had a 4.3 percent share of this market in 2015 carrying an estimated 33,000 bi-directional O&D passengers in this market through its codeshare partners, mainly via its existing long-haul operations into South America as well as through Spanish flag carrier Iberia.

An estimated 40.0 percent of passengers flying between London Heathrow and Chile last year connected via Sao Paulo in Brazil, while 37.9 percent flew via Iberia's Madrid hub. Air France secured a 9.5 percent traffic share of the market via Paris, while Buenos Aires, Argentina and Miami, United States of America completed the top five connecting markets. BA was the largest operator in this indirect market of around 33,000 O&D passengers with a 28.0 percent market share.

BA's sister carrier Iberia is one of four airlines to currently provide flights between Europe and Chile. It currently operates a daily service on Madrid – Santiago, a route also served by LAN Airlines. Air France also provides a daily link to Santiago from its Paris Charles De Gaulle hub, while Alitalia launched its own Rome – Santiago service this month.

Air France currently holds the largest share of the O&D demand between Europe and Chile, however, LAN Airlines has boosted its position due to a frequency growth on its Madrid – Santiago service. Its relationship with TAM Airlines under the new LATAM Airlines brand has also boosted the Brazilian carrier’s role in this market with its own traffic up 46.3 percent between 2014 and 2015.

BA has tripled its own passenger count in the Europe – Chile market since 2011, rising an average annual rate of 54.1 percent from around 10,400 passengers in 2011 to almost 33,000 last year by leveraging upon stronger International Airlines Group (IAG) activity across Europe.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…