A new start-up airline is proposing to set up base at Rotterdam (The Hague) airport, and to include a number of routes to UK airports, such as Southend, Manchester, Humberside and Aberdeen.
The airline plans to call itself "Europort Express", and it will be largely aiming itself at the business user. Europort Express founders claim that there is a significant latent demand for flights to Rotterdam, and that this is a distinctly different market to the already established network of routes which operates into the far larger Amsterdam Schiphol airport.
Rotterdam Europort is the largest port complex in Europe, and the third largest in the world behind Shanghai and Singapore. Europort Express say that they have done a significant amount of research which shows that ports also generate demand for aviation services, largely to move highly skilled crew around.
Europort Express have indicated that they would start operations with flights from Southend airport, which they point out benefits from its proximity to the London port of Tilbury, as well as having a "high-speed" rail link to London.
Prices for these flights would be fixed at a provisional price of €30 each way, with all passengers on any one flight paying the same price.
As with any potential flight route analysis, we have no doubt at all that there is a gap in the market for more flights to Rotterdam, especially as if we just look at city size alone, Rotterdam is no less significant than the Dutch capital Amsterdam.
However, just because there may well be a gap in the market, this does not mean to say that there is a market in this gap. We find it particularly ironic that Europort Express want to start their first UK route from Southend, and that they are interested in the Essex airport because they claim it has a high-speed train route to London.
In actual fact, Southend airport is only a fraction less than an hour away from London's Liverpool Street station, which itself is relatively distant from London's West End. Although Liverpool St station may indeed be right on the edge of the City of London, any financiers who want to travel between either the City or the Docklands and Rotterdam can already do so courtesy of Air France flights from London city airport.
If there is one high-speed rail connection that is particularly valuable, then it is the FYRA and Thalys train service that operates on the new HSL Zuid line between Amsterdam Schiphol airport and Rotterdam Centraal Station. Although this line has had a lot of problems with rolling stock, the journey still takes just less than half an hour, putting central Rotterdam, which does have a significant agglomeration of high-rise office buildings, within easy reach of Schiphol.
Looking further out at regional airports, none of the proposed cities mentioned have any direct links with Rotterdam at present, although they all have flights to Amsterdam, as do almost all UK international airports.
Rotterdam airport has one major strength that is also its weakness, and that is its size. Whereas passengers arriving on the Polderbaan runway at Amsterdam Schiphol can expect a 20 minute taxi to the gate followed by a similarly long walk to get to the airport railway station, planes arriving in Rotterdam only have to spend a couple of minutes taxing, and the terminal itself is tiny compared to the vast sprawl of Schiphol.
However, the problem any airline has with operating flights to Rotterdam is that even if the airport itself is compact and easy to use, this is immaterial if the level of flight scheduling does not match up with the comparative availability of flights to Amsterdam.
Airports like Humberside and Durham Tees Valley are so quiet these days that you could almost feel the tumbleweeds blowing through the terminal building, yet both are able to maintain multiple daily flights to Amsterdam with KLM. How could any airline offer anything like the same level of frequency on flights to Rotterdam, even if a sizeable proportion of passengers on KLM's flights are actually heading in that direction?
The only way any new airline could offer such a high level of frequency would be by using very small aircraft with around 20 seats. The problem with such a proposition is that these aircraft are incredibly expensive to operate on a per passenger basis as they still need two flight crew to operate them. On the other hand, KLM can sustain such a high frequency on their Amsterdam flights because the majority of their passengers from these regional airports are connecting onwards to other destinations.
Rotterdam is a great city airport, but it is not a hub airport for onward connections, and for these reasons, we doubt that there is much of a business case for any more flights to Rotterdam beyond those that already exist from London, with the possible exception of flights from Manchester or Birmingham, as both of these cities are able to provide a reasonable sized market at the other end.
Additionally, if Europort Express want even the slightest chance of survival, it will need to abandon the concept of fixed flight pricing, as there is no justification for this in today's highly competitive business environment. Whilst it might be true to say that some passengers are irritated by the idea that they might be sitting next to someone who has paid one tenth of what they have paid, they are not going to change to a different airline because of this.
The option to have a flexible pricing policy through the process of yield management is readily available through any booking software, and is widely accepted within the industry as it means that people who are flexible and book early get the best deals, whereas people who want to travel at the last minute are charged more, and they also expect to pay more as well.
To suggest that a last-minute business passenger should pay the same as a forward booking student is a very bizarre approach to the concept of equal opportunity, and is not one which can be sustained on anything other than a pretend paper airline.