Primera Air is looking to make its mark on the low-cost long-haul transatlantic market and has big plans to expand its operations as it gets set to take-off from bases in the UK.
Speaking yesterday at the Hyatt Regency launch event for services starting in May at Birmingham Airport, chief operating officer, Anastasija Visnakova said she is excited about the carrier’s prospects in Birmingham and that further routes are on the radar.
Primera Air will start low-cost transatlantic services using Airbus A321neos to New York on a four times a week rotation from 18 May and Toronto three times a week from 23 June. It will also fly four routes to Europe, to Malaga, Palma, Barcelona and Crete.
Visnakova said: “Birmingham was very attractive as it is a developing region and with the [wide] catchment area and number of passengers travelling from the area and obviously with opportunities on transatlantic services,” she explained.
United Airlines stopped servicing New York from Birmingham in October left the airport with no direct transatlantic link, and Visnakova said the move to open North American routes was “really good timing” as there was gap in the market. Demand to date has been high for both transatlantic routes to New York and Toronto, Visnakova said. “We are going to operate all the flights on a year-round basis and our plans are pretty big from Birmingham,” she added.
The routes it seems are just the start for the carrier: “We are looking at expanding both transatlantic and into Europe, but it depends on the demand from the markets, hopefully the demand will be sufficient so we can open more transatlantic routes. We are not looking to only have one or two routes, as when we open a base we have a proper base and a lot of flights and destinations,” Visnakova said.
Interestingly, Primera Air is Iceland-owned, but based in Riga, Latvia with a Danish operating licence. It already operates a number of different bases including Copenhagen, Billund, Stockholm-Arlanda, Gothenburg, and Keflavik in Reykjavík.
Birmingham is not the only UK base for Primera Air and the airline will also start routes from London Stansted flying to New York from April, Boston and Toronto from May and Washington-Dulles from August and will also start transatlantic routes from Paris in May.
The low-cost UK transatlantic market is hotting-up with the likes of fast-growing Norwegian offering 11 destinations from Gatwick, but some have questioned if the business model can be a success and profits made.
Visnakova has no concerns the low-cost transatlantic routes will not be a success: “Absolutely it is profitable, otherwise we would not be doing it,” she said. “To be successful you have to achieve a really good cost base and you have to be low cost in terms of operations. You cannot be a legacy carrier with the heritage. We do not have this and we can be really flexible with our pricing.”
Visnakova is sure the business model stacks up and that Primera Air is set for a bright future from Birmingham and other bases it is flying transatlantic routes from. “Norwegian was sort of pioneering this, but we are pioneering it in a way using narrow-body aircraft, which are normally used for short flights, but we are using them on long-haul because the technology is there. It allows us to go 25-30 per cent below the cost seat [that legacy carriers charge],” Visnakova said.
She added: “This is the future and the way to go and our slogan is ‘expensive transatlantic flights are history’. When Ryanair was just starting in Europe people were laughing and saying they were crazy and ‘who will fly like that’, but this is the reality now, people don’t want to pay a few hundred pounds for a flight to Barcelona and this is the same with transatlantic flights.”
As for competition, with both Birmingham and Stansted currently having no direct North America services, it seems the path is clear for Primera Air. Visnakova said: “Here in Birmingham we don’t have competition – of course from a different perspective people are flying from Heathrow and Dublin, but this is not really competition to when you have direct flights on a low fare. The only thing about competition is if they [travellers] want a different schedule or they have their own personal preference in terms of the carrier they want to fly on, but I am sure this will not be an issue for us.”
Powering the route expansion and transatlantic routes for Primera Air will be a new fleet. The carrier will receive eight Airbus A321neos this year along with two A321neoLRs and in 2019 it will take delivery of 10 Boeing 737 MAX9 aircraft. These add to the seven Boeing 737-800s and two Boeing 737-700s in has in service today.
Visnakova said: “It is a huge development, what we have achieved in the last three years is we have brought this airline into a position where we are now able to increase our fleet and we are able to open new bases and this was the objective when we turned from a charter operator to a scheduled operator.”