by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, April 18, 2018
"People are getting smart, they are willing to travel, and travel should become more affordable,” explains Anastasija Visnakova, chief commercial officer at Primera Air.
“The technology is there, so why not share it with the customer and give them the opportunity to travel.”
The low-cost airline this month launched its much-anticipated long-haul routes from London Stansted, to New York, Washington DC and Toronto, with one-way fares for the Big Apple and Canadian capital starting from just £149, and Washington from £199.
Primera is the latest airline to join the increasingly competitive low-cost, long-haul market, following in the footsteps of the likes of Norwegian, Wow and Level, offering cut-price seats without hold luggage or food and drink. But the Icelandic, Latvian-based carrier (with a Danish operating licence) is the first to do it out of Stansted.
“There is a big demand from the catchment area of Stansted, from Essex,” says Visnakova. “London Stansted was lacking the transatlantic connectivity. To get to Heathrow from Essex is like taking another flight.
“Around Stansted there is the Cambridge area, the pharmaceutical companies, and a huge demand for North America. There is the Cambridge to Cambridge, Massachusetts, link.”
Visnakova says ticket sales have started well for the first long-haul destinations - “actually above expectation” - with Primera promising plans to grow its network from Stansted.
“By 2021 we are expecting to have 40 aircraft [it currently has 10], we are looking at new bases, but also to expand from our current bases. We currently have a long list, which will become a short list.”
Primera, which began life offering chartered flights for Scandinavian tour operators but soon started selling surplus seats to regular travellers as flight-only tickets, has 10 Boeing 737 Maxs on order and will be the launch customer for the new Airbus A321 Long-range. The new fuel-efficient aircraft will bolster the carrier’s search for new destinations.
“We are definitely looking for more destinations,” says Visnakova, adding that Primera will likely announce new routes from Stansted this year. “Not only to North America. Of course North America is our main focus now, and the aircraft are ideal for that, but also in the opposite direction.”
She says that Norwegian, which has grown exponentially in the last few years, is Primera’s main competitor, since Wow flies its routes via Iceland.
“People want to travel at an affordable rate, but they also want to go direct from A to B,” she says. “When it comes to USP, there is no such thing for us. We are also no-frills, so you have the hand luggage-only fares. Pricing, we are competitive. The competition is quite serious.”
She says Primera’s lowest fares are sold out within half an hour of going live: “It’s not about the luxury any more, it’s about the convenience, about connecting the unconnected.”
Though confident with sales from Stansted, Primera had a baptism of fire with its long-haul routes from Birmingham, when poor sales forced it to drop its route to Boston and cut capacity to Newark.
“Instead of sitting there and waiting, we took a decision to move one unit [aircraft] from Birmingham to Stansted,” says Visnakova.
“It was harder to sell Birmingham to American and Canadian passengers, rather than London.”
Another reason for Primera to stay on its toes was the recent rumour that BA’s parent company IAG was looking to take over Norwegian, a move that would bolster the carrier’s long-term future.
“It’s a natural move from IAG,” says Visnakova. “They need to compete with the low cost and being a legacy [airline] it’s not easy to keep your costs at a low level.
“I would be lying if I said I was not concerned a little. You should not take anything for granted, and we will keep an eye on that.”