Fourth airline in four years fails at London Oxford

anna.aero’s editor Marc Watkins poses with his Minoan Air certificate

Soon to be become a collector’s item, anna.aero’s editor Marc Watkins poses with his Minoan Air certificate, from when he flew on the inaugural service between London Oxford and Edinburgh back in March. Just over 3,100 (and nearly 1,700 to Dublin) passengers used the service in the first four months of operation.

We love celebrating new routes and new bases, particularly when an airline decides to start a base in an unproven market rather than just trying to fly to Heathrow or Singapore or New York. We just want to know whether it will work. So we were excited earlier this year, on 4 March, to fly on the Minoan Air inaugural service from London Oxford Airport to Edinburgh Airport. However, after just over 150 days of operation, the airline plans to withdraw its F.50 operation to Dublin and Edinburgh from 5 August. While this is not the shortest based operation ever, perhaps the prospect of having to largely rely on low-yield leisure traffic during August forced the airline’s hand.

Loads were improving; time called too early?

Like football, new route development is more than ever results-dependent, and the tolerance levels for sustaining start-up losses is shrinking. At five months and one day, Minoan did not give the routes long to flourish, particularly as it did not seem to be spending many marketing dollars in promoting the services in the London Oxford catchment. Looking at UK CAA data for the two routes does show that the loads were gradually improving, with Edinburgh outperforming Dublin.

OXF-EDI March April May June
Monthly Frequencies 48 56 76 86
Monthly Seats 2,400 2,800 3,800 4,300
Monthly Passengers 390 596 948 1,188
Monthly Load Factor 16% 21% 25% 28%
Passengers per flight 8 11 12 14
OXF-DUB March April May June
Monthly Frequencies 40 40 56 56
Monthly Seats 2,000 2,000 2,800 2,800
Monthly Passengers 209 379 519 567
Monthly Load Factor 10% 19% 19% 20%
Passengers per flight 5 9 9 10

Indications from the London Oxford business development team at a recent industry conference were that bookings were continuing to improve from these levels, with many flights now recording passenger numbers in the 20s and 30s. Forward bookings were also strong, particularly in September, but they were clearly not enough to save the two routes.

Happier times. A former Cake of the Week winner, Minoan Air’s London Oxford operation has lasted just over five months. This comes despite the CCO, Marcos Caramalengos assuring anna.aero that: “Greek venture capitalists [are] behind Minoan Air who understand that the start-up phase for airlines is always going to be tough going.”

Four strikes and you are out

Minoan Air becomes the fourth airline to have tried and failed at London Oxford over the past few years. Flybaboo, now part of Darwin Airline, operated a winter-season, Saturday-only service to Geneva over W09/10, which did not return the following year. Varsity Express flew for one week on 11 flights, carrying just 46 passengers to Edinburgh in March 2010, with the UK regional airline Linksair, which operated the route for the virtual airline, withdrawing its support for the venture fronted by so-called young entrepreneur Martin Halstead. Most recently, the airport was served from the Isle of Man from May 2012 up until January 2013 by Manx2.com (now operating as CityWing). Clearly there is a network development opportunity at London Oxford, but the right mix of aircraft, airline and route is yet to be found to make it a sustainable operation.


Comments

  1. David says:

    CAA stats came out for June 2013 the day before you published the article !
    Oxford-Edinburgh – 1,188 passengers
    Oxford-Dublin – 567 passengers

    • Marc Watkins says:

      Hi David, Thanks for the heads-up on the monthly figures…I have added them to the story. Makes the decision even more mystifying…however we don’t know what the yields were!

  2. David says:

    Forgot to add – have you considered the possibility of Loganair or bmi regional trying an Edinburgh route, but this time spending a bit of marketing cash *before* they start flying ?

  3. Jürgen says:

    Who does the Marketing?
    Talking with airlines and airports about fixed numbers (for both sides), I was faced frequently with a very high expectation “the other does it” with the result “no one does it”.
    I can only recommend to place both parties on one table and talk marketing investments on a cash, non-cash and time basis.

  4. James Pearson says:

    The marketing opportunities seemed highly exciting to me: fly better, fly local. Premised on virtually turn-up-and-fly with very little dwell time, far less lost productivity, far less stress, and a notably lower total travel time. (And probably far lower car parking charges, too.) When combined with more sleep, more relaxation, and more enjoyment, it sounds fantastic – assuming a sufficiently attractive fare and timings based on the requirements of the targeted segments.

  5. James Pearson says:

    On a different note, any news about Links’ planned services from Oxford to Belfast and the Channel Islands? It has gone very quiet, and given the off-season isn’t too far away…

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