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Tough times for no-frills tiddlers
Nov 10th, 2009 by john

BMI Baby flight from Manchester to Malaga. Photo by Terry Wha

BMI Baby flight from Manchester to Malaga. Photo by Terry Wha

The drastic downsizing of low cost airline bmibaby shows the fierce competition smaller operators are facing from the big two of the no-frills airline world, Ryanair and Easyjet.

The bmibaby fleet will be cut from 17 to 12 planes, leading to the likely loss of around 160 pilots and cabin crew based at Birmingham, Cardiff and Manchester. Management and support staff jobs are also at risk.

Bmibaby has blamed the recession for its problems, but it looks as if new owner Lufthansa has decided bmibaby cannot compete head on with the big two, who have been muscling in on previously profitable holiday routes like Alicante and Málaga. Instead, it will focus on less competitive routes with growth potential.

The move is the latest step in a long process of consolidation amongst budget airlines. Players that have fallen by the wayside include early front runners Go (set up by BA and later sold to Easyjet) and KLM subsidiary Buzz (sold to Ryanair). MyTravelLite stopped independent operations in 2005 and Thomsonfly has effectively given up scheduled flights. The two remaining significant UK-based operators are Flybe and Jet2. Both have tried to develop as regional airlines avoiding direct competition, but that strategy is likely to come under increasing pressure as the big two add ever more routes. Monarch also offers scheduled services on some holiday routes.

Charter airlines are also suffering, as flight-only passengers increasingly prefer the lower costs and greater flexibility of budget airlines. In October, the number of charter airline passengers passing through BAA’s seven UK airports fell by 12.4 per cent compared with a year earlier (scheduled traffic rose by 1.1 per cent), while Manchester airport saw a 12.7 per cent fall in charter passengers.

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