La Compagnie, the “boutique business-class, low-fare” French airline, could have another two aircraft in its fleet within two years.
The airline commenced full operations from Luton to New York’s Newark airport on April 24 last year and is celebrating its anniversary with a new Duo offer, whereby two passengers can fly for £1,849 (if booked before April 30).
In March, the airline increased its schedule to six flights a week between London and New York and plans to go daily by September.
“I’m a happy CEO,” said Frantz Yvelin, who started the airline with Peter Luethi in 2013 with a Paris-New York service. “We’ve operated 1,400 flights carrying more than 60,000 passengers overall since launch, have been running at 80% punctuality within 15 minutes - 90% if you put that to 30 minutes - and we now employ 100 people. This is a tremendous success for an airline that wasn’t in existence 19 months ago.”
La Compagnie currently operates with two Boeing 757-200 aircraft, each with 74 lie-flat seats in a 2x2 configuration and Yvelin said the airline will bring another 757-200 on stream in the first quarter of 2017 to support the north Atlantic services.
He added he was also likely to announce a decision on further aircraft in the coming months following “advanced discussions” with both Airbus and Boeing for delivery of aircraft in 2018 or 2019.
“We’re thinking about the A320neo and the B737-9 and exploring all the best finance options for that purpose right now,” he said.
Once the new aircraft are in service, he said he will also consider expanding further afield, considering flying to West Coast US, South America and even Asia.
Of the new aircraft he said: “They’ll be new generation straight out of the factory aircraft and we’ll apply the same standards we have been doing, but some improvements such as even more comfortable seats and internet availability.”
“A new satellite covering the Atlantic has been launched which will allow for the required bandwidth. Once that is in place, 4G-quality internet is likely to be available over the Atlantic,” he said.
He said the airline had found a position in the market that allowed economy passengers to pay just a bit more to “alleviate physical pain” from flying in economy, and for business travellers to “alleviate the financial pain” of paying the higher business-class fares of legacy transatlantic carriers.
“We believe we carry around 40% of private passengers paying from their own pocket – which is a new market we have created for business travel - and then 60% corporate customers,” said Yvelin. “The largest majority of our customers - 55% - originate from New York, but London has been ramping up very well.”
He said he had no immediate plans to increase the marketing budget in the next year to accelerate sales here however, but was hopeful repeat factors and word of mouth would continue to help grow the business.
“There is only one area we are not as strong as the legacy carriers – the marketing budget. We just cannot spend what they do,” he said. “But of course it depends how we grow and we plan to grow for sure.”
He admitted one of the biggest challenges he had faced since start-up was operating three bases, and the unavoidable delays and cancellations – maybe a dozen in a year.
“It was a more complex operation maybe than we thought originally. Perhaps we wanted to go too fast. Of course we learnt from it,” he said. “All we could do was apologise as much as possible to customers and ensure they were fully compensated and taken care of way beyond any legal obligations.”