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Chris Jones
 

New Las Vegas to London Service Envisioned

29 August 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada and LONDON, England -- An upstart airline that's winning over travelers with its low-fare, all-business-class service will soon touch down in Southern Nevada.

MAXjet Airways said Monday it will launch twice-weekly nonstops between London and McCarran International Airport on Nov. 2.

MAXjet's customers have responded to its widebody Boeing 767-200s retrofitted for luxury service in the airline's first 10 months of operation, Chief Executive Officer Gary Rogliano said.

The jets typically seat 250 passengers, but MAXjet's configuration holds just 100. Customers are given wide seats, four-course meals and access to private airport lounges while still on the ground.

Despite those amenities, fares are often 50 percent to 75 percent below those of major airlines.

MAXjet's business model, Rogliano said, lets it streamline operations solely for business-class customers' needs.

"It's the Southwest (Airlines) model applied to business class," he said.

MAXjet's base fare will be $1,999, including taxes and fees.

An Internet search for similar business-class service revealed a fare of $8,900 on American Airlines, including a two-hour layover in Texas.

United Airlines quoted a $5,351 fare on flights, including stops in Chicago or Denver.

Las Vegas will become the third U.S. city served by MAXjet, a privately owned carrier based in Arlington, Va.

Last November, the carrier began flying six weekly round-trips between London and New York's Kennedy International Airport.

In April, a second route with four weekly round-trips was added between London and Dulles International near Washington, D.C.

Rogliano said the New York flights were approximately 75 percent full by their seventh month of operation, while the Dulles route was 60 percent occupied after just four months.

He expects flights here to catch on more rapidly due to existing demand and increased traveler familiarity with the airline.

MAXjet's service will begin and end at Stansted, the United Kingdom's third-busiest airport behind London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Stansted is located approximately 30 miles north of central London.

More than 22.5 million travelers pass through Stansted each year. Its 38 carriers offer nonstop service to more than 160 destinations.

EasyJet and Ryanair -- two of Europe's largest low-fare carriers -- use Stansted as their English hub with connections to cities throughout the continent.

Rogliano is confident many bargain-hunting business travelers will use those airlines to reach London before taking MAXjet to the United States.

The same model will apply in reverse.

MAXjet believes travelers from Denver, Phoenix or Seattle, for example, will buy low-fare tickets to Las Vegas before connecting to London via MAXjet -- even if those travelers could have flown directly to London from their home airports.

MAXjet's lower fares overseas, he said, would offset the inconvenience caused by a domestic connection.

"Thirty percent of our business through Dulles connects on domestic short-haul flights," Rogliano said. "We'll have great connectivity out of Vegas from L.A., Burbank and all of those cities around there."

Las Vegas welcomes most of the nation's busiest low-fare carriers, including Southwest, US Airways, JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways.

MAXjet's Web site even offers travelers tips on which flights are most suitable for connecting on its London service.

Airline industry consultant Mike Boyd questioned whether many would eschew the easy transfers and frequent flier incentives that come with using one airline (or its code-share partner) for the duration of a trip.

But Boyd also doesn't believe MAXjet will need to draw passengers from other carriers for its newest route to be successful.

Its low fares all but assure that demand will exist, he said.

"The way business class fares are now, you need to call your banker in Zurich to get a one-way" ticket, Boyd said. "Las Vegas is an upscale resort that I think would appeal to (MAXjet's target customer) on both sides of the Atlantic."

And because MAXjet will offer so few seats, it will likely avoid a fare war with larger rivals, added Boyd, who is president of The Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm based in Evergreen, Colo.

Virgin Atlantic Airways has flown between McCarran and London's Gatwick Airport since June 2000. The carrier gradually expanded from twice-weekly service to today's daily schedule as tickets sales improved.

Separately, Derby, England-based airline bmi has operated thrice-weekly service between Las Vegas and Manchester since October 2004.

Manchester is approximately 185 miles from London, which makes bmi an easy option for residents of north-central England, Scotland and Wales.

Both companies' service has been vital to the local economy because the United Kingdom is Southern Nevada's top overseas feeder market.

Approximately 392,000 U.K. residents visited here in 2004, well above second-place Japan's 217,000. Last year's international visitor data has not been released.

Over the 12-month period ended June 30, Virgin Atlantic reported 239,334 arriving and departing passengers at McCarran, a 54 percent gain from the 12-month period ended June 30, 2005, Clark County Aviation Department data show. In that same span, bmi carried 43,541 passengers, an increase of more than 36 percent.

MAXjet's flights will depart from McCarran's Terminal 2 at 7:30 p.m. each Monday and Thursday and will arrive at 12:30 p.m. the following day. Return service will leave Stansted at 1 p.m. before arriving here at 5 p.m. the same day.

Tickets go on sale Friday at www.maxjet.com.

MAXjet will receive its third aircraft in September, with its fourth and fifth aircraft arriving early next year. Cities eyed for future service include Boston; Miami and Orlando, Fla.; San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles.