Regular readers will recall that the last time KLM showed any interest in Manston, they were being lured by the promise of £600,000
– money which Manston and KCC were trying to prise out of the
Government’s Regional Growth Fund. The Government said “No”, and KLM
faded into the background. I do hope this new service isn’t being
subsidised from the public purse (national, county or district).
Air France-KLM’s long-term strategy is to bravely accept the fact
that can’t afford to compete with BA for the valuable and expensive
slots at Heathrow. Instead, they will subvert and bypass Heathrow’s
position by funnelling regional traffic (which would otherwise go to
Heathrow) to their own hubs at Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de
Gaulle. I suppose this is one solution to the much-discussed problem of
air capacity in south-east England – simply export or outsource it to
One major advantage that the KLM timetable has over, for example, the
FlyBe Edinburgh timetable, is that it allows passengers to make same
day return journeys. This is a key feature for most business travellers.
Of course, one of the morning flights leaves at 6.35am – permissible
only because of a loophole in the appallingly drafted Section 106
agreement (between the Council and the airport operator, that defines
how the airport operates).
The S106 forbids scheduled flights before 7am, unless they are going
to Europe or the USA, in which case they banned before 6am. This is
stupid – Europe is ahead of GMT, America is behind, but the same time
shift is allowed for both. And, of course, it makes no difference to the
tens of thousands of people who live under the flight path where any
particular plane is going – it’s the time of day that matters, and
whether it’s disrupting their lives and businesses.
Thanks to the instant wizardry of the internet and flight comparison sites like Expedia,
everyone can be their own travel agent. It’s easy to compare just how
expensive and convenient any flight is in comparison to all the others
available. As I’ve explained, Air France-KLM’s strategy is to channel
people through their own hubs, which may be great for them, but isn’t so
jolly for the passengers…
- Flying to Faro in Portugal would take 10½ hours from Manston, but 3½ hours from the (competing) London airports.
- Flying to Cape Town in South Africa would take 25 hours, as opposed to 12 hours from the (competing) London airports.
- Flying to Brisbane in Australia would take 35 hours instead of 23 hours from the (competing) London airports.
The extra time is spent sitting in airports, eating airport food, and
eating into valuable holiday time. Even if the potential passengers of
east Kent don’t realise this before they book, the odds are it’s not a
mistake they’ll make twice. So much for repeat business. Manston is
unlikely to deliver a steady stream of passengers wanting to connect to
Air France-KLM’s international hubs.
There’s a significant risk that KLM will price themselves out of the
market they just created for themselves. KLM aren’t cheap, and the
Manston service will face two major sources of competition: KLM
themselves, who operate cheaper flights to Amsterdam from the London
airports; and several other airlines (notably EasyJet) who are about
half the price of KLM.
Half the seats on KLM flights are reserved for business class. They
are unlikely to be fully booked. The ticket-buying public will realise
that international flights from Manston are slow and expensive. The
Manston service will become a city-hopper service to Amsterdam (there
will be very little inbound tourist traffic) for romantic weekends, stag and hen nights, and a handful of business suits.
That’s not enough to sustain the service in the longer term, and it’s
certainly not enough to reverse Manston’s (mis)fortunes. We’ll have to
put up with night flights, and Manston will keep sinking.