MORE AND MORE PROFESSIONALS ARE COMMUTING BETWEEN PALMA AND LONDON

By Humphrey Carter “THE future of travel in Europe is low cost airlines and high speed rail travel,” the marketing director for easyJet in Spain Cristina Bernabé said in Palma yesterday and in the long term, easyJet and Ryanair will by Europe's two main carriers. EasyJet is now Europe's leading no-frills airline and carries 44 per cent of passengers between Spain and the UK. Nearly one in two air passengers fly easyJet on Spanish-UK routes while the airline currently has a 58 per cent of the UK-Palma market. Last year easyJet carried nearly 580.000 on its UK to Palma routes, 52 per cent more than in the year 2001 and that is taking into account the purchase of British Airways' low cost airline and allowing for the airline's passenger load between Stansted and Palma. Nearly six years after the first flight from Luton to Palma, easyJet now operates eight daily flights from Bristol, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Liverpool and as many as 12 on Saturdays. What easyJet has witnessed on its Palma routes since 1997 is that air travellers are turning away from the charter market and opting for low-cost airlines and easyJet expects to see passenger figures rise by 20 per cent this year, its annual target on all routes. However, this year, irregardless of the possible war in Iraq, which the airline does not consider a major threat to business, is a year for consolidation and expansion on its existing 100 routes to 36 European destinations. The only possible new routes for the Balearics may be Palma to Newcastle and developing Go's summer service to Ibiza into an annual service, in accordance with the airline's policy. Bernabé ruled out Minorca as the island's air traffic is too seasonal. EasyJet intends to increase services on its existing European routes and push ahead with expanding the domestic market in the UK. Barnabé said that the UK domestic market is enjoying a boom because flying is cheapar than travelling by rail and, apart from the unreliable UK rail network, “people feel safer flying than travelling by train.” EasyJet's fleet is also on the verge of significant expansion, currently it operates 64 Boeing 737*s but has placed an order with Airbus for 120 A319 aircraft, the first of which will be delivered in September and the rest over a five year period. By the time all the new aircraft have been delivered, Bernabé said that easyJet does not expect to see too many of the current and forthcoming no-frills airlines alive with just two scheduled operators dominating the European market. For the time being however, easyJet does not intend to move into the Spanish domestic market, although with the new aircraft, it intends to link up its major destinations such as Madrid. Munich, which, providing the airline can complete its purchase of Deutsch British Airways, may become its new base for international and domestic German flights, also linking Geneva and the UK. Bernabé said that easyJet's clients are split into three categories, tourist, business and VFR, (visiting friend and relatives). The growth market on the Palma routes is business clients, professionals relocating to live in Majorca while commuting each week to work in the UK. The business sector accounts for nearly 30 per cent of its Palma passengers while more and more holiday home owners in the UK are making block internet bookings as soon as the seasonal offers are posted. Ironically however, Palma is where the level of internet bookings is the lowest in Spain. Although 80 per cent of Palma bookings, 20 per cent of the airline's Spanish market, are electronic, Madrid and Alicante account for 24 per cent, Malaga, 25 per cent and Barcelona, 35 per cent of the market, over 90 per cent of ticket sales are on the internet. “At first the traditional airlines laughed at us, but now they are trying to compete, launching their own no-frills services and scaling down in flight services while slashing prices,” Bernabé said, adding that last year five million passengers travelled with easyJet from the UK to Spain and 11.4 million in total with an average load factor of 83 per cent on all flights. “Since 1998 we've been making steady profits every year, last year's pretax profits were 78% up on 2001,” she said, making it all sound so easy.

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