by Adam Coulter
British Airways’ chief executive Willie Walsh said is confident the airline’s first all-business flight will turn a profit within a year.
Walsh joined 31 other passengers onboard the inaugural flight from London City Airport to JFK today (Tuesday September 29).
The Airbus A319 – which usually carries 100 economy passengers – has been specially reconfigured into an all-business aircraft with 32 flat beds.
It is also the first aircraft which will allow passengers to use their mobiles, BlackBerries, iPhones and send emails and text messages on board.
BA’s inaugural all-business flight took off on time at 12.50 flanked by two fire trucks, spraying jets of water over the top of the plane.
Speaking at the launch, Walsh said: “This is innovation. This is what people expect from BA.
“We believe it’s going to be a fantastic success and we are confident that it will be profitable in its first year of service.”
Walsh said forward bookings were strong and people were booking within a four week window or less.
Speaking to BTN, he said: “The booking window is getting shorter. It’s about a four week booking pattern, which is what we expect.”
BA chairman Martin Broughton said the launch was “a vote of confidence” in both BA and the return of the corporate market.
Many observers are confused as to why BA would launch such a premium service during a recession.
However, the airline remains bullish. A spokeswoman said that investing in product when the market is down meant the airline would be well-placed when the economy picks up.
Separately, BA is investing £100 million in revamping its first class, which has been delayed until early next year.
With fares on promotion at just less than £2000 return (fully flexible flights will be nearly three times that amount), the service is aimed squarely at the corporate market.
Onboard today were, amongst others, Mark Avery, a partner at PriceWaterhouse Coopers who will be sending Tweets from the air exclusively for BTN; Geoff Allwright, travel manager at Airbus, and Ray Wooldridge, travel manager at Bank of America.
A spokeswoman for the airline said although the airline was not aimed primarily at the premium leisure market, she believed there was a potential market among affluent Docklands’ residents.
There was a small group of protesters outside the airport.