Thursday, January 31, 2013

► GAMBIA: Gambia Bird to launch two new European routes this summer; in early talks with 2 Middle Eastern carriers over possible partnership deal.

Gambia Bird logoGambia Bird (3G) has outlined its intended Summer network plans. Highlights include the launch of two new European destinations in addition to an increase in frequencies to Barcelona and London Gatwick. The fledgling carrier has also mentioned its involvement in early negotiations with two Middle Eastern carriers.

Gambia Bird's Route Network

Speaking with Flightglobal magazine, Gambia Bird's Chief Commercial officer Karsten Balke mentioned the possibility of starting flights to an unknown Central European country to be followed by flights to an as yet undisclosed Scandinavian destination.
"Starting in May...we will sell tickets to another European destination," Balke said in an interview in the Gambian capital Banjul. "I expect to have a Scandinavian destination announced first." Route development talks have been held with airports in Holland, Italy and unspecified countries "close to Germany and covering French catchment areas"- conceivably a reference to Belgium or Switzerland - but Balke said the Scandinavian talks are at  the most advanced stage.
The Gambian carrier is also preparing to increase the frequency of its once weekly flight to Barcelona and  twice weekly service to London Gatwick - one of which connects via the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown - following strong load factors on the routes.
"We want to increase frequencies to London Gatwick by  at least adding a third flight," says Balke.  Noting that the UK CAA has awarded Gambia Bird up to six  slots to the British capital, he said the third frequency "depends on fifth-freedom traffic rights out of Freetown", while a possible fourth  flight "depends on negotiations with tour operators in the UK".
Barcelona will benefit from a second weekly flight, effective 31 March, as Gambia Bird defends  market share ahead of Spanish LCC, Vueling's (VY) upcoming entry to Banjul in April.

Gambia Bird(3G): Banjul - Barcelona, Spain
- Effective 31MAR13
  • 3G1700 BJL 0100 - 0810 BCN 319 7
  • 3G2378 BJL 1430    - 2140 BCN 319 3
  • 3G1701 BCN 1100 - 1430 BJL 319 7
  • 3G2379 BCN 2240    - 0140+1 BJL 319 3
Source [Amadeus]
"When Spanair pulled out of the market there was a big gap left," Balke notes. "Some routes  [between Spain and the West African sub-region] have been underserved for quite some time, and  now it'll be good to see how the markets react."
He says that although the flag carrier's regional links should bolster demand among inbound  passengers, Gambia Bird is nonetheless exercising caution before going head-to-head with Europe's  larger carriers.
"France is very interesting, but we have strong competition," he concedes. "Starting a new route in  Germany is not what we want."  
Turning to potential future partnerships, Balke says Gambia Bird has held talks with four European  carriers since its October 2012 launch. He identified Germania, who own a 90% stake in Gambia Bird, as one of the parties  - saying the two airlines will start codesharing out of Gatwick in May - but declined to identify the  others. 

Gambia Bird has also held negotiations with two Middle Eastern carriers and "one in particular in west Africa", though those talks remain in the nascent stage.
"We are going into the market with open arms," Balke affirms. "Outside west Africa, we are in  contact with bigger carriers. Of course they cannot cover everything [in the sub-region], so it's up to  us to adopt a position where we bring them some added value."
Source [GambiaBird]

Emirates (EK) has in the past reiterated its willingness to partner smaller regional African aircraft with the aim of creating feeder carriers (amongst them fastjet (FN)) to connect with its Dubai-bound flights from major African cities like Nairobi, Luanda and Dakar.