17 September 2013

bmi returns to its roots and its 'Britishness'

Having gone through what it describes as a 'transition phase' bmi regional is getting ready to re-brand in 2014 as simply 'bmi'. This year saw the launch of 11 new routes in the UK but next year is going to be more about the brand and the product. Diane Evans spoke to marketing director, Colin Lewis.

Keen to salvage the good will and recognition of the brand while also promoting its 'Britishness', bmi regional will drop the regional and become 'bmi' during the course of 2014. The airline, bought by an aviation consortium in 2012, owns the name and the URL and is keen to use it.

2014 also conveniently coincides with the 50th anniversary of British Midlands Airways' creation when the airline moved to East Midlands airport in 1964. With bmi baby shut down last September and the rest of bmi absorbed by British Airways, the re-branding makes sense.

"We're looking to re-brand as bmi over the next year," said Colin Lewis. "We know our target markets and now we need to make it work.

"We've called it the 'oldest start up in town' as although we got the aircraft and staff, we had to put new systems, policies and management in."

The airline has used a three-pronged approach to find new routes - markets where this is a demand from leisure and business passengers like Munich, markets for specialised business routes like the oil and gas industry and markets with a big commuter market like Bristol and Manchester to Aberdeen.

This predominantly mid-week business also allows the airline to offer private charters which, due to the 50-seater size of their aircraft, are regularly used by celebrities and Premiership football teams.

"Monday to Thursday are our busiest days of the week. We do have an aircraft allocated specifically for charter but we're not busy on Saturdays," added Lewis.

The airline also hopes to fly more domestic routes for countries in mainland Europe, starting in January with the first scheduled services connecting Stavanger with Harstad and Tromsø in northern Norway.

Lewis said: "The UK is a very competitive market. Across Europe it's competitive but there are also opportunities.

"We're also looking to work closer with some of the big European carriers and may look to feed some of the European carrier networks.

"We have the flexibility to take decisions and move very fast. "

Bmi prides itself on the 'extras' - offering only 30 minute check-in and in some airports use of a fast track lane.

And its accolade as the most punctual airline in the UK judged by website FlightOnTime in July did nothing but help its image.

The website found 92% of all its flights touched down within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time.

Lewis is keen to ensure passengers have the same experience in each of bmi's airports and 2014 will also see the revamp of bmi's on-board service including new menus and 'about 200 other things' as well as a new reward programme for frequent flyers.

The airline is capitalising on the trend towards passengers flying from local airports, with Lewis saying the airline has "no plans at the moment to fly from London".

"People do now think in terms of their local airport and the regional airports have upped their game," he said.

But he admits that Air Passenger Duty, the hotly contested tax, is a threat to aviation and tough on domestic flights.

He said: "APD is a huge threat and a large percentage of every ticket. The tax is amongst the highest in the world. Even if we wanted to lower our prices, we couldn't and the UK is losing business on the back of it."

While claiming to have given the investors what it said it would in the first year, bmi will continue to target new consumers and consumer groups.

Lewis said: "It's all about refreshing the brand.

"We've got the recognition but we need to modernise. The European view of Britain is incredibly positive. Union Jacks are on people's clothes everywhere. British style and British charm is well regarded."


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