Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Regulation 261 - an insane standard for pax service

Regulation 261/2004 covers EU air passenger rights and airlines’ obligations in case of delays, cancellations, flight changes from airline’s side and other disorders. One of the main rules is airlines’ duty to give meals and to accommodate the delayed passengers. This regulation was presented like a triumph from consumer right protection organizations. Indeed - the punctuality now is top priority for all airlines as the passenger assisting expanses are undesirable. The recent airspace closure above parts of Europe had put an enormous financial challenge for air carriers – to assist stranded passengers from hundreds of flights for several days. Of course – most of airlines tried to escape this declaring that the delays are beyond airline’s control. We will see some legal actions against the airlines for breaking this regulation but I want to turn to the fundamental problems in the spirit of Regulation 261/2004:
1. It puts the expanses and responsibility of delayed passenger service on shoulders of airlines. Even if the delay is due to weather conditions or – more unfairly – government institutions which are not financially responsible for consequences of their decisions, the expanses are covered by airlines
2. The regulations are applied just to airlines and not train, ferry and coach operators.
3. The biggest problem – it regulates what shouldn’t be regulated at all. Airline’s dealing with delayed flight has nothing to do with safety issues which are the main objects of usual regulations. Keeping passengers happy is a pure example of ground service and it must be up to airlines how they position their brand and how keep people flying with them. A good example of good service is Volaris from Mexico – if a flight is more than 30 minutes late passengers receive a gift certificate for further flights valued 50-100% (depending on booking class) of the price paid for the delayed flight. This gives a great target for employees to arrive on-time and is one element why Volaris is the most loved airline in Mexico. And this policy comes from an airline, not from the government.
Government still could regulate required information about the product costumers buy. Airlines can be pushed to clearly define what type of help passengers receive in case of delayed/cancelled flight, up to what time the airline keep the rights to make  changes in the ticket and other areas of costumer service, leaving the product and price up to the market.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bringing Life to Liepāja Airport

Liepāja airport saw a start of scheduled airBaltic flights in 2007 to Riga, later also to Hamburg and Copenhagen yet already in 2008 all of the routes were dropped. Also Russian Atlant-Soyuz Airlines offered short-lived service to Moscow Vnukovo between 2008 and 2009. This failure on sustaining flights is mainly due the superiority of Palanga airport located about 60km south of Liepāja. Palanga airport have better facilities and – even more important – better catchment area. Palanga itself is a seaside resort and the airport is easily accessible from Klaipeda city in south, Liepāja in north and a number of mid-sized towns in east. airBaltic actually switched Liepāja feeder route to Palanga in 2009 regardless of the existing SAS feeder route to Copenhagen, Norwegian service to Oslo and seasonal UTair link to Moscow. Is there any chance of attracting some services – at least a feeder route to BT hub in Riga? I think – yes. The main idea is to develop the airport as a true city airport with fast connections to all districts of the city and full integration in the transport grid.

The Key – a BRT line from Liepāja to Grobiņa
Grobiņa is the biggest suburban town near Liepāja just about 10km from the CBD. Currently a twice-hourly bus service is the main public transport link between Liepāja and Grobiņa and it runs on the highway by-passing Liepāja airport. My point is that building a 4km brand-new Bus Rapid Transit line and upgrading a number of other roads and streets would allow to substantially speed-up Liepāja-Grobiņa bus service. A secondary effect from this BRT would be notably improved connectivity of Liepāja airport as the station can be built right next to the passenger terminal. The completely new road section for the BRT must be built trough reedy wetlands on the northern side of Lake Liepāja so some environmental concerns may rise but, as this road is dedicated for buses, cyclists and pedestrians, the impacts can be hold under control. This routing also bypasses urban areas so the actual operating speed for vehicles will be higher.

Gateway for Cars and Bicycles
Usually airports are surrounded by Park&Fly car parks but they are not used (at least I haven’t came across) like Park&Ride sites. In the case of Liepāja a win-win situation can be created if those booth facilities are merged. P&R will be based on BRT and the increasing traffic will bringing even better connections to airport. For successful implementation of P&R system some push-back actions like big parking fees in CBD or congestion tax may be applied. The same parking lots can be used for P&R and P&F so more effective use and bigger turnarounds will lower the parking prices.
A cycle line can be built along the BRT line so connecting Grobiņa to Liepāja and also airport to Liepāja. Booth air and road visitors can be easily served by one bicycle rent in the airport and  - cycling used to reach the golden beaches and lively clubs.

The biggest advantage of the listed measures is that ground transport system will be fully independent from level of air traffic which is designed to be more re-active. I believe - if the scheme is realized – a stable air traffic will came back to serve Liepāja from city's closest and the most convenient airport.