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Simple Flying
The Airbus A321neo is the only suitable aircraft for the route due to Milan Linate's short runway and distance restrictions

Air France-KLM wants to launch services between Milan Linate and New York, Chief Executive Benjamin Smith said this week in an interview with Corriere della Sera on the sidelines of the Airlines for Europe conference in Brussels. The services would be operated by Airbus A321neos given runway constraints at the Italian airport, but there is yet another obstacle stopping the airline from launching them: Milan Linate's peculiar flight distance limits.

Unlike other airports where distance limits are not commonplace, services from Milan Linate must stay within a 1500km radius. In other words, a service from Milan Linate to Moscow is prohibited, let alone a transatlantic flight to New York.


Straying from the key hubs

There are several interesting features to this announcement. First and foremost, the service cannot be considered Air France-KLM's typical new route. The two flag carriers that compose this group, namely Air France and KLM, operate primarily from Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol respectively.

Transavia Netherlands and Transavia France, the low-cost subsidiaries, have their primary bases in the countries they are headquartered in. For the former, these include Amsterdam Schiphol, Rotterdam The Hague and Eindhoven. Transavia France bases include Paris-Orly, Nantes Atlantiques, Lyon-Saint-Exupéry and Montpellier-Méditerranée.


A change in strategy

The second interesting side to this route is the long-haul single-aisle strategy. Firstly, Transavia does not operate any transatlantic or long-haul services. Regarding the premium airlines in the group, neither Air France nor KLM offer transatlantic services with a single-aisle plane. Instead, you might find yourself on Air France's Airbus A350, Boeing 787, Airbus A330, or Boeing 777. From Amsterdam, KLM's transatlantic flights are operated by their Airbus A330s, Boeing 777s (although primarily to South America), or Boeing 787s.

Air France and KLM operate under a so-called hub-and-spoke model. This means that a lot of its long-haul services require feeder traffic to ensure their operational feasibility and hence fill their planes. In other words, both airlines attempt to attract passengers from other short/medium-haul destinations that they serve to choose to stopover at their hub (either Paris or Amsterdam in this case) to get to their final destination. If Air France-KLM were to introduce a service from Milan, this would breach their business strategy as no feeder traffic would come directly from the airline's other services.

Transavia operates on a point-to-point basis, flying to the demand that is present and further stimulating the market to fill their planes. Flights between Milan and New York would inevitably run under this model.


The use of the Airbus A321neo 

The final interesting point concerns the selection of the Airbus A321neos to service the route. In December 2021, Air France-KLM signed a firm order for 100 Airbus A320neo family aircraft with options for 60 more, which would be allocated to Transavia and KLM.

This means that Air France-KLM would have to either allocate some of its Airbus A321neos from the existing order to these services from Milan Linate or, more probably, increase its order given that it has 60 options. Among the many things that remain unclear is the brand: which airline would operate the services, and as such, what level of service would be offered? Should Transavia offer the flight, we can predict a full-economy class cabin layout with limited seat pitch, low prices, and a large majority of additional services being paid. On the contrary, the two premium airlines would provide a more passenger-friendly offering with more complimentary services and perhaps a more generous seat pitch split between an economy and business class cabin.

Note that the Airbus A321neo is the only logical possibility of aircraft that Air France-KLM will have that can fly between Milan Linate and New York. Most other aircraft - comprising all widebodies - are both unable to takeoff from Linate's short runway and legally not allowed to do so per regulation.


Replicating La Compagnie? 

However, a final possibility could be to offer a similar product to French carrier La Compagnie. The airline operates a fleet of two Airbus A321LRs in a Business Class-only configuration. The airline is most renowned for flying between Newark and Paris Orly. One of its lesser-known routes, perhaps, is that between Newark and Milan Malpensa, which was launched in April 2022. These are some of the longest A321LR routes in the world.

Faced with the same restrictions as Air France, La Compagnie was unable to operate from Linate and instead had to launch flights from Malpensa, further away from the city.

Its aircraft have a total of 76 seats, and fares are slightly under Delta and Air France's business class pricing. One of the concerns that La Compagnie does face, however, is its small fleet which makes it more susceptible to and more impacted by unexpected technical issues.

hould Air France-KLM launch flights from Milan, let alone Milan Linate with its short runway, it would not have the ability to change aircraft at short notice as a result of technical disruptions.


Restrictions at Milan Linate

Milan Linate's odd 1500km restriction is part of attempts to shift traffic to the bigger and more distant Milan Malpensa airport to the north of the city. It is a bit of a journey to get there in comparison to Milan Linate which is located centrally - perfect for business passengers, for instance. Linate is in the vicinity of very populated areas and thus faces constraints in its ability to grow. In addition to that, its operation has been limited to a threshold of 18 takeoff and landing operations per hour.

It was only in 2022 that new regulation came into force allowing operators at Linate to fly to destinations within a 1500km radius focusing on point-to-point traffic with exclusively narrow body aircraft. Prior to that, only flights within the European Union (and London) were allowed. There are no current plans to review the regulation, meaning Air France's ambitions will have to lay dormant for at least the near future.

Milan Linate also suffers from a short runway, limiting the size of the aircraft that operate to the airport. To an extent, this echoes London City Airport in that it is surrounded by very populated areas and is located very centrally. It also has a short runway that acts as an additional consideration for airlines before creating a new route.

Mar 26, 2024

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