Travelers seeking a nonstop flight from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to London were left at the gate more than a decade ago.
Now, Lambert officials are seeking to resurrect transatlantic flights between St. Louis and London through British Airways, officials said this week.
Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said the idea was still in the discussion stage. St. Louis made a pitch for service before British Airways selected Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. Flights between London and Austin began in March on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
British Airways has made it known that as the carrier grows the 787 fleet, it is seeking entry into markets that lack major hub airports, Hamm-Niebruegge said.
“It’s at the discussion stage,” she said after briefing airport commissioners.
Hamm-Niebruegge said there was a potential that British Airways might want to bring another U.S. city on board in 2015, “so we are gearing up trying to make sure that we’ve got as much data as we can.”
The airline, she added, has “made it clear” that the market will need to support its sale of more-lucrative business class seats.
Lambert’s current list of nonstop international destinations is a short one. Air Canada Jazz flies to Toronto, and there are charter flights to Cancun, Mexico, and to the Dominican Republic.
American Airlines, which bought TWA’s assets out of bankruptcy in 2001, canceled London flights from St. Louis by 2003.
In an email, a British Airways spokeswoman said only that the carrier regularly reviewed its network to “look for growth opportunities.” Beyond the Austin service, the airline has no “news to share” about U.S. markets.
Former Lambert Director Richard Hrabko, now an airport commissioner, pointed out that other Midwest airports have aggressively pursued European service — something once thought unthinkable for medium-sized hub airports such as St. Louis’.
“The problem we had in the past ... was that we were too far away from Europe for a 757 and didn’t have enough passenger traffic for a 767, and that was always the roadblock in getting European service,” Hrabko said. “The 787 has revolutionized that.”
Boeing has billed the 787 as a midsized passenger jet that can fly long-range routes with greater fuel efficiency, which gives air carriers the flexibility to enter new nonstop destinations. The Dreamliners operated by British Airways seat 214 passengers versus up to 252 on the 767-300, according the airline’s website.
Hrabko said Virgin Atlantic recently announced a “change in direction” in its approach to the Americas.
Earlier this year, Columbus, Ohio, airport and business officials traveled to London to make a pitch for service, said Angie Tabor, spokeswoman for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.
“We are in continual conversations with British Airways as we have been for many years” to land nonstop service to London, Tabor said.
In St. Louis, there are about 300 travelers on any given day whose ultimate destination is in Europe, airport officials said. That number may need to grow to land a new London flight. Lambert is considered a medium-hub airport.
By comparison, Austin had about 300 people a day destined for “various points” within Europe, Hamm-Niebruegge said. But the reason it was chosen was because the San Antonio market, which is a 45-minute drive, had another 75 people a day, she added.
Lambert airport officials expect to meet with British Airways officials in Chicago later this month. There is no target for the number of London flights that could be supported here, Lambert officials said.
“We will continue,” Hamm-Niebruegge said. “It is something that we think is within realistic reach.”
Steve Johnson, executive vice president for economic development at the St. Louis Regional Chamber, said London represented a major gateway to Europe at a time when the St. Louis region is positioning itself as a major financial services center.
“The upside would be huge,” he said.