Britain is in a unique position in some ways. It has three full-service airlines (BA, VS
) and that's two more than most European countries. It has LHR
which has long been the most desired destination in Europe but a lack of political will looks like preventing LHR
's continued dominance. It is head and shoulders ahead of all other European countries when it comes to LCCs. EasyJet is British and Ryanair has built its position mostly on flights in and out of the UK. It has the most strained relationship with the USA in terms of traffic rights and open skies. All of these factors (and others) will play their part in defining the future.
Some guesses? BA
was making all the running among European majors until a decade or so ago. It was once one of the world's most profitable airlines, it was ordering 747-400s in unheard of numbers, it had the most ambitious programme of franchise operators, and so on and so on. But things turned sour. Their French and German experiments ended in costly failures. Profitability plummeted. The (British) LCCs hit them much harder than, say, AF
. They have been unable to milk their relationship with AA
in the same way as, say, LH
/UA. They even lost their nerve over the world tails! But BA
now seems to be on the up. They are profitable again, they remain one of Europe's big three and it seems quite possible that the pendulum will swing back their way. Their American partner (AA) is better placed than most and many of their oneworld partners are in robust health - QANTAS, Cathay, LAN and even Aer Lingus and Iberia. Speculation that BA
and Iberia will merge is not new but that might be the next 'big' news at BA
. I'm quite confident about BA
, on the other hand... It's hard to see BD
lasting too long as it is. I would be tempted to predict a complete take-over by someone in Star (LH seems obvious) but LH
and SAS seem to be bailing out of BD
at present. However, their slots at LHR
and their ability to compete with BA
domestically must make them an attractive target for a European take-over or merger. What chance that BA
would be allowed to take them over like they gobbled up BCAL???!
seems healthy and continues to grow. A link with BD
? Again, not a new rumour and one that has an obvious appeal but it's not clear that VS
wants or needs it. What might happen is a VS
entry into Star. Otherwise, I see their future being more of the same: long-haul only, profitable, and steadily expanding.
Other, mostly charter, airlines? I've watched the British scene for thirty years or more and the charters come and go with tedious regularity. Only Monarch has been around under the same name for any serious length of time. Which airlines will still be flying in even five years and under which names is anyone's guess.
Open skies with the US and wider access to LHR
? The current impasse can't last forever. When that dam bursts it will certainly change the rules of the game.
What seems certain is that the UK scene will remain the most dynamic in Europe. That will - mostly - be a good thing.