New Orleans top of British Airways US to-do list

New Orleans top of BA’s US to-do list

Willie-won’t he? Will British Airways launch a fat route to New Orleans in time for Fat Tuesday? thinks it will: Mardi Gras 2015 is 13-17 February, so BA may want to start the route in early February 2015 to ensure that it captures all the festival traffic from across Europe.

New Orleans could well be the top US new route opportunity sat on a network planner’s desk at British Airways’ Waterside HQ – according to a piece of unique research. Using a variety of demand data provided by our friends at Sabre Airline Solutions, as well as passenger traffic figures and macroeconomic statistics, our data elves have come up with the party city in Louisiana as the top option for Willie Walsh to sign-off as a new 787 route for next year. While some may scream that these potential points do not offer any significant onward connecting opportunities for BA, the airline has already operated to places such as Phoenix, San Diego, Denver and Baltimore/Washington for years with no substantial US-side feed.

Typically at this time of the year, airlines are finalising their long-haul new route plans for the following summer season launch. This was clearly evident during the recent glut of industry events (Routes Europe, CONNECT and IATA Slots), where airport delegates were coming to these shows bleary-eyed having been ‘on the road’ doing the rounds of global airline headquarters. Racking up the frequent flyer points with trips to BA’s global HQ will have been a barrage of US airports, all keen to follow in the footsteps of Austin-Bergstrom Airport, which secured a five times weekly (now daily) 787-8 route to the airline’s London Heathrow hub in March.

3 March: British Airways starts its five times weekly service to Austin-Bergstrom from its London Heathrow hub, becoming the airport’s only link to a European hub. Will Honolulu, St. Louis, New Orleans or Columbus also be on BA’s radar for S15?

Offering a European USP

The selection of Austin-Bergstrom as BA’s latest new US route, may well give us clues as to its key decision-making drivers. For example, by having the USP of offering the only European hub service from the chosen airport ensures that BA Hoovers up any potential traffic to the selected destination from across Europe, with its short-haul feeder network. On this basis, attractive airports like Salt Lake City and Portland, which do not currently have a London service, but do have an alternate European hub connection, may well have been disregarded by the airline, despite being bigger airports than Austin-Bergstrom, and indeed any of the S15 candidate airports.

Moving through the listing of the world’s top 150 airports in terms of passenger traffic for 2013, all of the following US airports are currently without service from BA, some have an alternative London service, while some have flights to other European hubs. To put these potential airports into context, Austin-Bergstrom has been added to the ranking.

Airport (2013 World Ranking)* Annual Passengers ( growth vs 2012) European Service (Operating airline) London Service (Operating airline)
Charlotte Douglas (#23) 43.46m (+5.4%) BCN (US), BRU (US), CDG (US), DUB (US), FCO (US), FRA (US), LIS (US, MAD (US), MAN (US), MUC (LH) LHR (US)
Minneapolis-St. Paul (#43) 33.89m (+2.2%) AMS (DL), CDG (AF, DL), FRA (DE), KEF (FI) LHR (DL)
Detroit (#46) 32.39m (+0.5%) AMS (DL), CDG, (AF, DL), FCO (DL), FRA (DL, LH) LHR (DL)
Fort Lauderdale (#65) 23.56m (+0.0%) ARN (DY), CPH (DY), FRA (DE), OSL (DY) LGW (DY)
Salt Lake City (#80) 20.19m (+0.4%) CDG (DL)
Honolulu (#84) 19.78 (+2.5%)
Portland (#109) 15.03m (+4.4%) AMS (DL)
St. Louis (#125) 12.57m (-0.9%)
Nashville (#136) 10.35m (+5.2%)
Austin-Bergstrom (#140) 10.02m (+6.2%) LHR (BA)
Kansas City (#141) 9.79m (-2.1%)
Oakland (#144) 9.74m (-3.0%) ARN (DY), OSL (DY)
New Orleans 9.21m (+7.1%)
San Jose 8.78m (+5.9%)
Columbus 6.21m (-1.8%)
Source: ACI World; Innovata Diio Mi w/c 23 June.
*US Airports like Washington Reagan, New York LaGuardia, Chicago Midway and Houston Hobby have been omitted from this analysis for operational reasons.

Assuming that BA is only interested in new services where it can be ‘the only show in town’, the top five airports are immediately excluded (although with Charlotte Douglas becoming a oneworld hub, it may be an exception to that rule), leaving Honolulu to top the potential city pair table, although the route has been previously discounted by the oneworld carrier. At 11,647 kilometres in terms of sector length, London-Honolulu would be the longest 787-8 sector in the world (beating Ethiopian Airlines’ 11,513-kilometre sector between Addis Ababa and Toronto Pearson). So, presumably Honolulu has been passed over, both for this reason (even though the 787 was originally designed for long, thin sectors) and because this lengthy service would not be off-set by high yields – a Hawaiian route will probably only deliver low, leisure yields (see resulting RPK figure in next table which supports this assumption).

New Orleans International Airport’s Director of Aviation, Iftikhar Ahmad

Bullish about a new British Airways London-Heathrow route: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport’s Director of Aviation, Iftikhar Ahmad (left): “New Orleans would be a perfect addition to the non-stop US destinations served by British Airways. Our analysis shows that our market is strong and continues to grow. We look forward to continued discussions in securing international service with British Airways.”

St. Louis and Nashville potential evaluated

Also ranking more highly than successful Austin-Bergstrom are St. Louis and Nashville. The state capital of Tennessee may well have been overlooked by BA because, using GDP for each airport’s metropolitan area as a new metric in the decision making process, Nashville’s value of $94,789 million (2012 data from US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis) is marginally lower than that of Austin-Bergstrom ($98,677 million). Curiously, St. Louis’ GDP is significantly higher than Austin-Bergstrom, at $136,677 million, however it has only grown by 8.7% in the five years since 2009, whereas the Texan state capital has grown by an impressive 22.5% over the same period. St. Louis’ sluggish GDP growth over recent years may also be a reason for the airport’s passenger traffic having fallen by 1% between 2012 and 2013. Airlines tend to be attracted ‘up and coming’ destinations rather than dormant ones, and this may well be the rationale behind St. Louis not appearing on BA’s network so far.

With a GDP for the metropolitan area of $113,090 million, Kansas City then becomes the next option, but with only 11.2% growth over five years, and with passenger traffic again heading in the wrong direction, the airport may not gain any route development traction with BA. Columbus may well have to wait its turn too, especially as its GDP growth has only been 12.6% in the previously defined period and, again, the airport has posted negative numbers for 2013. This all contrasts with other noticeably vibrant opportunities, such as New Orleans (five-year GDP growth of 25.9%) and San Jose (20.8% increase).

While airports like Columbus, San Jose and New Orleans are currently outside of the world’s top 150 airports, the latter was rumoured to have been a close #2 to Austin-Bergstrom in the competition for service from BA last year. Looking at the following data provided by Sabre Market Intelligence (the figures represent aggregated Sabre Global Demand Data across all US airports to all European airports in 2013), New Orleans is only beaten by Austin-Bergstrom as a prospective route in terms of the volume of passengers travelling point-to-point to London, but it does boast the highest total passengers to all destinations across Europe, and the highest one-way fare figures to Europe. New Orleans’ resulting revenue per kilometre of 12.5¢ is only bettered by those available at Columbus and St. Louis, so again all the indicators seem to be pointing to a New Orleans new route start-up for BA.

Airport (code) Total Passengers to Europe 2013 London Passengers (% share) Average one-way fare to Europe ($US) Revenue per km (US ¢)
Austin (AUS) 161,724 35,573 (22.0%) 834 10.5
New Orleans (MSY) 202,610 33,733 (16.6%) 932 12.5
St. Louis (STL) 184,574 29,674 (16.1%) 864 12.8
Honolulu (HNL) 135,107 26,879 (19.9%) 840 7.2
Columbus (CMH) 126,341 26,667 (21.1%) 838 13.5
Nashville (BNA) 132,487 26,075 (19.7%) 750 11.1
Kansas City (MCI) 133,439 24,080 (18.0%) 828 11.9
San Jose (SJC) 19,231 4,093 (21.3%) 725 8.4
Source: Sabre Market Intelligence.

Columbus’ high revenue per kilometre could be as a result of its attractive banking, insurance and fashion corporate sectors, while San Jose has experienced the fastest growth in international employees (between 2001 and 2011, based on a Brookings Institute Report) of all US airports without direct London services, which would be appealing attribute for any European hub carrier. Using this last metric alone, San Jose would have been selected before Austin, as they ranked #15 and #36 respectively in this particular study, but similarly so would have St. Louis (#17), Charlotte Douglas (#23), Kansas City (#26), Portland (#29) Columbus (#30) and Nashville (#34). This just goes to prove that airlines can and will use many different metrics (and not a little guesswork) when selecting a new route to start.

San Jose: “BA is a very desirable candidate for future service” spoke to several of the US airports in contention, most of which confirmed that they were in ongoing dialogue with BA. Besides the comments made by Louis New Orleans’ Iftikhar Ahmad, Mark Kiehl, Air Service Development Manager at San Jose, said: “’s research on Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) sees substantial growth in global travel demand and views a premier international carrier such as British Airways as a very desirable candidate for future service. In addition to growth, and well recognised massive amounts of venture capital flowing into the Silicon Valley, the greater San Jose area is witnessing over $4 billion investment in professional sports complexes and surrounding developments. Very few markets have the unique dynamics that SJC is experiencing, and airport statistics showing 17 consecutive months of passenger growth are a testimony to air service opportunities.”

Mark Kiehl, Air Service Development Manager, San Jose

Mark Kiehl, Air Service Development Manager, San Jose. Send your BA planes here: “Very few markets have the unique dynamics that SJC is experiencing.”


  1. Matt Hahn says:

    Not one mention of Pittsburgh? GDP of PIT is substantially higher than MSY, as is number of int’l employees. Regarding that metric, New Orleans is nowhere to be seen. MSY is ranked at #73 between Chattanooga and Wichita for int’l employees while Pittsburgh is #18

    • Marc Watkins says:

      PIT missed the cut on two counts…firstly its smaller than MSY in terms of annual traffic and outside world top 150…plus it already has a seasonal service to CDG with DL…and we stated that BA was looking to be the ‘only show in town’…hope that explains??

      • Matt Hahn says:

        Regarding the world top 150… CMH was included in the study which ranks a bit lower than PIT. Perhaps CLE and IND should have been looked at as well?

  2. Brian says:

    As a Kansas City native, I would also assume that international carriers would stay away due to outdated and inefficient custom’s facilities.

  3. Henry says:

    BA served MSY in the early 1980s with L1011-500s. So, if true, this would mark a return of the airline to New Orleans.

    Here’s why I’m doubtful BA will operate this route, at least for now. Unlike Austin, which has both significant growth and significant business traffic, New Orleans offers neither. Post-Katrina, New Orleans has seen its business community shrink. As a result, MSY is increasingly a leisure destination. It is a unique, beautiful city and a great place to visit, but it’s not a business center. I don’t believe an LHR-MSY nonstop would provide much value to either BA (or AA).

    • Steven says:

      Actually the business market in New Orleans is arguably better now than it was before Katrina. Trust me…I live here. There’s a “lot” going on. Almost every week there are announcements of new companies expanding to New Orleans or increasing their presence here. The downtown area has not seen this much commercial and real estate investment since at least the mid 80’s. N.O is on a roll.

  4. Peter Gordon says:

    If you use airport passenger numbers as a the main criterion the top candidates for US airlines flying to Europe would be Gatwick & Stansted. There have however been problems with yield when tried in the past. Probably the better metric would be size of the local metropolis. Agree that MSY must be near the top of the list for BA. Having AA mass to provide connections is important, so DTW is unlikely & MSP very unlikely.

  5. JayUSA says:

    To the author or editor:

    While it is correct that the formal name of Austin’s airport is “Austin-Bergstrom International Airport”, I’m not sure you realize that “Bergstrom” refers to a person, Captain John Bergstrom,and not to a community served by the airport; exactly in the same way that “O’Hare” refers to a person not a community. Yes, the hyphen, which is part of the formal name, suggests that this is a dual community airport, but it is not; it is a vestige of the days when the field was known as Bergstrom Air Force Base. Therefore, there is no reason to informally identify Austin’s airport as “Austin-Bergstrom” in this article, or elsewhere on this site, as id does repeatedly and systematically. “Austin” is just fine, especially when you are leaving out the proper names of the airports in St. Louis, New Orleans, San Jose, etc… I wouldn’t want anyone to land in Austin and ask the taxi driver to take them to a hotel in Bergstrom! Bergstrom, TX doesn’t exist!

    • Marc Watkins says:

      Hi Jay, We tend to take our lead from the airport in question’s website. On the whole, the airport refers to itself as Austin-Bergstrom International Airport…with the hyphen. Although like most airports and airlines around the world there is inconsistency…as Austin Airport and Austin Bergstrom International Airport are also used. However, A-B is used most of the time, so we’ll stick with that for now. Cheers Marc Watkins, Editor,

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