I realize that not too many of you would be interested in this news but to me it is breaking news. Obviously, after finalizing talks, Balkan Bulgarian Airlines decided to sell 10 of its 12 LHR slots to BA for $6 million.
The slots are in the noon to 3:00pm range.
It seems that BA has been targeting those slots for some time as its service to Sofia was from LGW.
Balkan has been in receivership since May and they had been gradually expanding their services, still a long cry from the 50 destinations they used to have. However, Balkan is practically out of planes, and the occasion for the slots sale has the lease of 2 B737-300 from Lufthansa.
Still, however, the deal is a complete disaster, and will ditch Balkan even further. The LHR slots were really one of the only left assets of Balkan, and probably a sign of its former prestige. This year Balkan will actually turn 55 years, and I know that greater airlines have gone - Sabena ans SwissAir to mention the recent ones - still Balkan used to be the second-largest East European airline, according to some accounts, I guess after Aeroflot.
I did feel actually better and prouder as I am a Bulgarian knowing that Balkan offers flights to Sofia from LHR, and BA from LGW, however the slots sale will badly hurt Balkan.
In the first place, any flight to LGW adds about $30 dollars to get to London on the Gatwick Express so it is really not in the interest of the Bulgarian pax to fly to LGW as it is more expensive. The slots transfer practically eliminates any competition on the London-Sofia route as BA and Balkan are the only airlines offering a direct non-stop service, and if Balkan had any advantage over BA in terms of price, now this is gone as the fare of Gatwick Express will even make a Balkan ticket to London more expensive than BA's, and thus BA will achieve the only way it knows to operate - eliminate competition. And not very much longer after that, Balkan could be expected to terminate its LGW service, because it will be a huge loss-maker.
Some of you may wonder what is the big deal with London to Sofia route as if it so travelled. The truth is that it is travelled, and here is why:
There are a lot of Bulgarians in the USA, me being one of them, and there is not a direct flight from Sofia to the USA. Balkan used to fly to JFK but not anymore, so all of the traffic to the USA flies some foreign airline, BA being one of the more popular.
Balkan did not wanna miss some profitable traffic and in 2000, I believe, it started to offer tickets to the USA with a connection at LHR on Virgin, and they still do. Believe me or not, their price is unbeatable - right now it is $480 - a return ticket from Sofia to BOS! Some of you may know, and it is certainly not hard to guess from my user name, that I am quite of a fan of Virgin Atlantic, and I only welcome the partnership of Balkan and Virgin. However, the competitive travel solution they offer would be completely unviable because of Balkan flying to LGW and Virgin concentrating most of its flights to the USA out of LHR.
I am absolutely pissed because because
1. Balkan losses one of its few competitive advantages and its prospects for a better future become even more obscure.
2. BA will completely control the London-to Sofia route and thus will eliminate competition not only on the this route but also on all flights from Bulgaria to USA via London.
3.Flying Virgin to get to Bulgaria from the US will be even harder and more expensive althogether with transferring at LGW.
I have asked many times the question, why do the people who manage Balkan now, and these are appointed by the creditors as Balkan is in receivership, attempt to strike deals with Balkan's biggest competitiors - Lufthansa and BA.
How is it possible to go and ask one of companies that would be happy for you to die, to lend you two planes so that you can go and compete with it? This is the case with Lufthansa.
And then, go and strike another deal with the company that could not be happier to remove you out of their way to completely control one route and many others via it.
This slot transfer deal will not only kill Balkan but also it will be such a blow to Bulgarian aviation industry, which has been gradually demoloshed during the past 12 years. As a result, the Bulgarian public, and the Bulgarian economy is not one of the best in Europe, would have to pay exorbitant prices to the most expensive carriers in Europe and in the world, because the stupid politicians in Bulgaria irresponsibly destroyed a major company and a whole industry with it.
When people living in the richer European countries enjoy low-cost travel, and fly across Europe for just $50, Bulgarians would have to pay $300 to get to London! This is why I am so mad and angry.
Now the game as long as the Bulgarian market is concerned will be between BA and the Star Alliance - Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines, in particular. Very sad.
Sorry for the long post, but I really needed to share my grief with people who would understand....