You can fly again, soon.

But aviation looks different after the pandemic than before, because low-cost fighters seem to be better able to respond to changing circumstances.

Not to everyone's delight.

This article is from Trouw.

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KLM: EUR 337 million gross loss in one quarter.

Ryanair: 815 million in one year.

easyJet: 800 million in the past six months.

The figures announced by airlines this month are unchanged deep red in color.

But better times are coming, exclaimed top men in unison.

The number of vaccinations in the Netherlands and elsewhere is growing, travel restrictions will be lifted and flying will soon be possible again.

The airlines are warming up.

easyJet announced after the relaxation announced by Prime Minister Rutte that it was ready to quickly expand the number of flights.

KLM subsidiary Transavia immediately saw a significant increase in the number of bookings.

And KLM itself reported that its European summer network has been completely rebuilt, with even four new destinations in Southern Europe.

Longing for a flying holiday

Many people are eager to go on a flying holiday, says William Vet, director Benelux of easyJet.

"We saw it before: whenever travel restrictions are relaxed, passengers seem to like to book."

They also have money for that: according to travel organization Zoover, the prices of flying holidays have risen by 10 percent in a week.

On the road to recovery?

Perhaps, but it could also be that the proportions will look different after the corona crisis than before, insiders say.

Airlines like KLM are likely to recover more slowly than low-cost carriers (or in a friendlier word: low-cost airlines) like Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air.

The competition between these two types of carriers had started long before the pandemic, and the budget fighters are now in a good position to make a difference.

Airplane from low-cost carrier EasyJet.

Airplane from low-cost carrier EasyJet.


And not everyone is happy with that.

According to successive cabinets, Schiphol and KLM are of vital importance to the Dutch economy, and their strategy will come under severe pressure if price fighters gain ground.

Trade unions are concerned about the poor terms of employment that these companies often offer their employees.

And the anti-aviation lobby believes that the trips with which the price fighters earn their money should be the first to disappear completely.

Half-empty planes

What makes budget companies promising in the post-corona era? First of all, the fact that they have traditionally relied heavily on holidaymakers and family visits, and less on business travelers. Business air travel is generally expected to recover less quickly and may never return to pre-crisis levels. That will affect the price fighters less hard, and with the summer holidays approaching, there are in any case months ahead with good passenger numbers.

But the low-cost airlines are also in good shape for the period after that.

This is related to the different revenue models in aviation.

The cornerstone of KLM and Schiphol's strategy is the hub-and-spoke model.

This mainly revolves around passengers in transit: KLM earns a lot of its money by picking up travelers with European flights who transfer to an intercontinental flight at Schiphol, also with KLM.

In order to avoid long waiting times - because that scares passengers away - the arrival and departure times in this model must be carefully matched.

But that intercontinental traffic is still slowly getting underway, with half empty aircraft as a result, also within Europe.

Airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair have a much simpler model.

They only fly point-to-point (aviation is full of jargon): simply from airport A to airport B and back, preferably as often as possible.

So one flight does not have to connect to another, which makes a much more flexible flight schedule possible.

This also partly explains that these airlines can fly so cheaply, says Hans Heerkens, aviation expert at the University of Twente.

"The utilization rate is much higher: planes of such a low-star are many hours more in the air per day than those of a company like KLM. They are unused for much longer on the ground, and that is expensive."

Respond smoothly

The dependence on business traffic and on intercontinental flights means that KLM will probably need more time to recover from the crisis, says Heerkens.

The lowcosters can now respond flexibly to the needs of holidaymakers within Europe.

Or create new needs themselves: if they offer a cheap flight to, say, Lisbon, it will automatically attract travelers looking for a nice city trip.

"KLM is still trying to defend its European network," says Heerkens.

"British Airways, for example, has already partly given up on that. It is inevitable, it seems to me: eventually the lowcosters will be there for European flights and airlines such as KLM for the long haul."

Better on all fronts

The corona crisis can accelerate existing trends, says Joost van Doesburg of the FNV Aviation trade union. "Price fighters have started to pay their staff even less in the crisis. They have built up much less debt. Although they did not receive any state aid, they are therefore not affected by the conditions attached to it. They are much better on all fronts. before the legacy carriers "- that aviation jargon again.

And then KLM also faces the danger of losing slots at Schiphol, fixed times at which an airline is allowed to land and take off aircraft.

Those slots are of great importance to any society.

No extra slots means no growth.

And for KLM they are even more important, because without precisely coordinated slots, the hub-and-spoke model with its sophisticated arrival and departure times cannot run.

A Transavia (subsidiary KLM) plane takes off from Schiphol while it passes a plane of competitor EasyJet.

A Transavia (subsidiary KLM) plane takes off from Schiphol while it passes a plane of competitor EasyJet.

Photo: Hollandse Hoogte / Marcel Antonisse

But those slots are up for debate.

The European Commission has required other airlines to surrender slots in exchange for state aid.

This support creates unfair competition with companies that do not receive any money, the committee argues, and that is why there must be something in return to rectify the competitive relationships.

Air France has already sold slots to Paris-Orly and Lufthansa at the airports of Frankfurt and Munich.

KLM not yet.

But if the airline needs aid again - after the € 3.4 billion in loans it already received last year - it is almost inevitable that it will still have to happen.

Certainly at airports that are on the boundaries of growth, such as Schiphol, you will not get slots back quickly once they have been handed in.

In the talks about new state aid - which seems just as inevitable - KLM is therefore doing its utmost to prevent this.

Also because it is completely clear who will be the first to report for such a free-falling slot: one of the budget companies.

Van Doesburg of the FNV is not eagerly looking forward to it.

Although he does make a distinction.

"easyJet is a fairly decent low-cost airline. It respects Dutch rules and adheres to the collective labor agreement. But we don't like to see ultra-low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air coming."

Prefer to look at themselves

Does KLM itself see the low-cost airlines as a threat?

Society does not answer that question.

She prefers to focus on her own strategy, says a spokesperson, and it will continue to revolve around maintaining the hub-and-spoke network.

Thanks to the growing demand for cargo flights, this has also worked out quite well intercontinental.

"On average, we fly to 90 percent of the destinations, with 50 percent of the aircraft capacity and 25 percent of the passengers. We now expect an upward trend."

When asked about threats, KLM does not speak about the competition, but mainly about corona.

The virus is not yet under control everywhere, says the spokesperson, and it helps if the Dutch government does not impose obligations in the meantime that do not apply elsewhere, such as tests for switchers.

Because that costs KLM customers.

A KLM plane takes off from Schiphol.

A KLM plane takes off from Schiphol.

Photo: Brunopress

And what are the budget airlines up to?

Ryanair is competitive on the cutting edge.

The Irish low-cost fighter filed a series of lawsuits against state aid for aviation and achieved a victory last week: according to the judge, the European Commission must better substantiate the approval for Dutch aid to KLM.

Whether that also means that KLM will lose that state aid remains to be seen.

But it is certain that this judgment makes new state aid more complicated.

easyJet has a housekeeping book in order

easyJet is taking a more moderate approach.

When asked, director Benelux William Vet, like KLM, prefers to talk about his own strategy, because 'it has always been successful'.

easyJet is in good shape, better than many of its competitors, he says.

"We have our housekeeping book in order."

And yes, it is 'certainly true' that it is less complicated for a society with the point-to-point model to get started than for others.

But a threat?

"We are not looking to take over the market from others, we are making the market bigger."

Even at an airport that is not growing and where slots may become available?

Schiphol's growth is a 'political discussion', and what happens to those slots, 'well, that is still so uncertain'.

"But look, KLM has 70 percent of the slots at Schiphol," says Vet.

"Isn't it realistic that we also get the necessary leeway? It's true, we always look for opportunities. And Amsterdam is very important to us."

Heerkens of the University of Twente expresses himself slightly more strongly about the strategy of the price fighters.

"It is clear that they are ready," he says.

"They always stand."