What airlines does Barcelona need in order to become a truly global airport?
As a continuation to my post about the arrival of Qatar Airways to Barcelona I am going to do an exercise on airline fiction and try to imagine what airlines could best complement Barcelona's airport current network and put it in the league of the major global airports. In short, if I was Barcelona airport's manager which airlines I would like to fly into my airport in order to maximize my travelers' options?
As in real life resources are limited, and in order to make this exercise look a bit more real, and, thus, more interesting, we are going to set some constraints. The airport manager will only be able to choose one airline per continent (well, actually Asia will have two, but it's ok as we are not considering Australia for technical reasons: to far away for direct flights), the choices would also need to be realistic and take into account the market realities at BCN (for example, a route to the Maldives might be nice, but there might not be enough realistic demand for it or the connections to feed it).
These constraints would likely tip the balance in favour of Star Alliance airlines. Why?
Because of Spanair, the only network airline that is currently intent on building a hub at BCN while working together with one of the major alliances. This is not to say that the other airlines at BCN are not doing a good job, but frankly, I think that their current operational model would make it difficult to reach the type of coordination and code-share agreements that Spanair's membership of Star Alliance could facilitate. Moreover, it looks like Star Alliance's networks really fills the gaps at BCN quite nicely...here are the choices, in no particular order:
United Airlines to Chicago
The American carrier's hub at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) would be a good complement to Barcelona's current connections with the East Coast of the US, particularly with, recently merged, Continental's service to New York-Newark (other direct routes BCN-US are New York-JFK served by Delta and American Airlines, Philadelphia, PHL, served by US Airways and Atlanta, ATL, served by Delta). Flying into Chicago will open the door to the Mid-West and Western states for the Barcelona travelers, and Barcelona's tourist sector would surely benefit from having a direct connection to one of America's biggest and more prosperous cities.
All Nippon Airlines to Tokyo
A connection with Japan would be very important for BCN. Many Japanese companies are based in Catalonia, such as Nissan and Sony, and, as anyone visiting Barcelona's famous Gaudí monuments might have noticed, Barcelona remains a very popular destination among Japanese tourists. All Nippon Airways has a relatively small international network, but does fly to cities where it can code-share with Star Alliance partners, such as Lufthansa in Frankfurt, why not Barcelona then?
TAM to Sao Paulo
A regular and frequent connection with Latin America is missing at BCN despite the strong business links and the large Latin American community in Barcelona (there are some weekly flights to Buenos Aires and Bogota but with very sporadic frequencies) and where else to start other than Sao Paulo, the largest city and economic capital of up-and-coming Brazil, with its growing economy and large population? It's geographic position would also enable travelers to connect with TAM's regional network to access the rest of the continent. Moreover this route could fit well in the European expansion plans of TAM, also a Star Alliance member.
Air China to Beijing
No need to repeat what everyone has already heard about China, the World's new economic giant. A direct connection to China, with an airline that can give access to a large domestic and regional network is a must for any airport with aspirations. Air China is a member of Star Alliance as well and, like its home country, is also in a period of expansion. Great potential for this route that could handle a mix of business and leisure traffic both ways.
South African Airways to Johannesburg
This is not just a World Cup-related stunt...because of its geographic position Barcelona could be a good connection point for Europe-Africa traffic. At the moment many travelers in the Western Mediterranean area go North to Paris, Brussels or Frankfurt in order to then travel South again, a direct flight from Barcelona would save time to travelers in Barcelona's catchment area and could also feed flights to other parts of Europe with South African Airways' Star Alliance partners. This route and the possible regional onward connections at Johannesburg would also facilitate new business and tourism opportunities in the Southern part of Africa.
Emirates to Dubai
This is the only one of the lot that it is not a Star Alliance member, but Emirates has shown that it can do it alone...plus Emirates is becoming so big that I think any self-respecting airport would like to have it on-board...If Emirates came to Barcelona it would be competing with Qatar Airways on all routes to the Middle East and beyond: Australia, India and South Asia, East Africa, the Far East. In short, a global super-connector.
Well, given that this post is about wishful thinking, if Singapore Airlines' (another Star Alliance member) current Barcelona-Milan-Singapore route could become nonstop another portion of the World would be much better covered from BCN!
I would also keep an eye on two other Star Alliance members: Air Canada and Asiana of South Korea. I have not included them, in part to keep with the self-imposed constraint regarding the number of choices available. Their local markets are relatively small compared with their giant neighbors but both countries are economically doing well and there might be interesting opportunities ahead!
I would have liked to include an Indian airline in the lot, specially considering the dynamism of the Indian economy and its aviation sector. I haven't because I had the feeling that business and tourist flows between the two markets are not big enough yet, particularly given the lack of alliance partners that might help feed the flights at both ends. Moreover, the Gulf carriers Qatar Airways and Emirates already cover most of the major and even secondary destinations in India. I have no doubt that if the Indian economy continues to grow, it won't be long until we see Indian airliners at BCN, in fact, last year it was rumored that Kingfisher Airlines had some interest in operating the Barcelona-Mumbai route (it might help that its owner is regular visitor to the Catalan capital).
Given the complicated political situation in Thailand and the fact that there already is a Singapore Airlines flight to Barcelona that provides connections to South-East Asia, I have decided not to include Star Alliance member Thai Airways in this list this time. Once the political issues are sorted out I am sure that Thailand will remain a popular tourist destination as ever and hopefully we will see the Thai Airways's orchid livery at BCN some day!
Fiction or reality?
So this is it! You just add six carriers and practically the whole globe is within one stop of BCN...
I admit there was a lot of wishful thinking in this post, but, who knows? on one hand, I think there is a latent demand for long-haul flights at Barcelona, that is now using other alternatives, on the other hand there are emerging markets and airlines that are fast expanding into new and under-served markets. There is plenty of capacity now at BCN...I know there are people working hard to make things happen...we might not become a super-hub but we can certainly be a spoke of many interesting hubs, providing convenient access to a vast number of destinations across the globe and this might happen sooner than we think!