Passenger Growth and New Cabins Top Europe Airlift News

It's been a busy month for Europe's airlift scene, with cabin upgrades and a notable purchase from a Middle Eastern flag-carrier. Here's the buzz you may have missed:

Just before the July 4th holiday, rumors began circulating about a bomb that would go undetected through airport security, prompting the U.S. to call for tighter security measures Wednesday at some foreign airports.

More recently, according to the BBC, American officials have ordered some overseas airports with direct flights to the US to intensify screening of electronic devices. In a statement, transport officials said that passengers could be asked to switch on devices, and any equipment that does not power up would not be allowed on board. An official told the BBC that London's Heathrow was among the airports.

More than 250 foreign airports offer nonstop service to the U.S., including Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport and Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. American Airlines spokesman Joshua Freed told the Associated Press that the company has been in contact with Homeland Security about the new requirements but did not comment further.

Norwegian Sees Passenger Growth

Norwegian Air Shuttle carried more than 2.3 million passengers in June, an increase of 21 percent compared to the same month last year. The load factor was 82.5 percent, up 2.9 percentage points.

The total passenger traffic (RPK) increased by 45 percent, while the capacity (ASK) increased by 39 percent this month. 

In June, Norwegian took delivery of a brand new Boeing 737-800, as well as a new 787 Dreamliner. Norwegian will take delivery of 14 Boeing 737-800 aircraft and four 787 Dreamliners this year. 

Norwegian operated 99.8 percent of its scheduled flights in June, and 83.4 percent of those departed on time. The on-time performance was affected by industrial action among air traffic controllers in France.

Etihad Purchases Stake in Alitalia

Late last month, Etihad Airways announced that it would buy 49 percent of Italy's beleaguered Alitalia in what the Wall Street Journal reports is likely to be the UAE airline's biggest investment in a foreign carrier so far. In a statement, Etihad said that the airlines would begin the process to finalize the transactional documents that include the agreed-upon conditions of the purchase "as soon as possible." The conclusion of the investment is subject to final regulatory approvals. 

Further steps will include completing the transaction documents, finalizing the conditions precedent, applying for regulatory approval and obtaining the final approvals from shareholders and the board. 

Air France Unveils Cabin Upgrades

Air France rolled out its new cabins on flights between Paris and New York in late June, with new configurations and perks available for long-haul passengers. The first-class cabins are fully private suites with curtains to enclose the flat-bed seats, and the business-class seats also become flat beds, and are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration so every passenger has direct aisle access. Best perk of all: Regardless of class, every passenger gets a glass of champagne. (It's France, after all.) 

British Airways Redesigns Short-Haul Planes

British Airways, meanwhile, announced a “dramatic” redesign of its short-haul aircraft, which it claims will “maximise personal space and comfort.” Perks include an eye-level tablet holder in seatbacks and smart leather upholstery, but less likely to impress is a reduction in the seat pitch in Club Europe Business Class, from 34 inches to 30 - the same as one would find on Ryanair. The changes will make room for additional economy class seats.

Club Europe seats in the middle block will also have a “central console table” shared between the two aisle seats, but will retain its 2:2 configuration with the middle seat left unoccupied. This side table aims to provide “a more useful and functional space” for passengers, and features leather mats where drinks, snacks and personal devices can be placed, while the main seatback table is designed for work or a meal.

The new perks are currently being implemented, with a full refit across the airline’s fleet of 95 Airbus aircraft expected to be completed within the next 12 months.