Less than a month after the closure of IAG’s short-haul budget airline LEVEL Europe, another branch of the LEVEL brand looks set to close. Reports suggest LEVEL France, based out of Paris Orly, is weeks away from closing its doors. What does this mean for the remainder of the low-cost, long-haul brand?
Another LEVEL closes
Following the closure of IAG’s short-haul budget airline, LEVEL Europe, last month, the group is reportedly now looking to shut down one of its most promising branches. LEVEL, the long-haul, low-cost arm of the IAG family, is facing an uncertain future as Spanish publication El Pais reports that operations in Paris will close.
The report says that IAG is undertaking a group-wide cost-cutting exercise, which also includes fleet reductions at Iberia and British Airways, as well as widespread layoffs and schedule trims. As part of this move, it is closing the Paris arm of LEVEL, although part of the airline will remain in Barcelona for now.
For the France base, it seems like the decision has been made. The loss-making Paris operation will close down in the coming weeks, following consultation with workers unions, slated to begin on July 15th.
IAG provided a statement to Simple Flying on the situation. It said,
In light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the expectation that passenger demand will not return to 2019 levels until 2023 at the earliest, OpenSkies is formally notifying its works council about a proposed cessation of operations and the development of an Employment Safeguard Plan.
OpenSkies has faced challenging circumstances since its creation in 2006. It was rebranded as LEVEL France in 2018 with the aim of developing low-cost longhaul flights from Paris Orly airport. However, the airline has been impacted by the unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with all its flights grounded since March 2020.
The airline will start consultation with its staff representatives on 15 July. It will also begin negotiations on the content of the Employment Safeguard Plan with its trade unions.
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Where LEVEL France came from
As Head For Points noted when reporting this story, LEVEL France was originally an operation from British Airways known as OpenSkies. OpenSkies was launched as a brand of British Airways in 2008 in an attempt to reduce the airline’s dependence on slot-congested London Heathrow. It flew between the US and Europe, initially using a Boeing 757 and later also adding the larger Boeing 767.
The airline flew from Paris and Amsterdam to New York and Washington, although both Washington and Amsterdam were dropped from its schedules by 2010. For the rest of its days, it operated just from Paris Orly to New York Newark, with twice-daily flights.
The ‘end’ of OpenSkies came on September 7th, 2018, when British Airways retired its last OpenSkies branded Boeing 767. The last 757 had left the fleet in August. Its AOC transferred to LEVEL France, who began flying out of Orly with two A330s, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What does the closure of LEVEL France mean for the rest of the brand?
Despite the exit of LEVEL France and LEVEL Europe, one arm remains to uphold the brand. LEVEL Spain, which was the very first iteration of the LEVEL brand, set up in June 2017 flying to destinations including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Punta Cana, Buenos Aires, and, most recently, Boston from its hub at Barcelona El Prat.
Reportedly, the Spanish arm has been relatively profitable, with a large catchment area and relatively little long-haul competition. For now, at least, it doesn’t look like LEVEL Spain is for the chop, although that could change in the future.
For the time being, Spain’s COVID furlough scheme is ensuring workers are being paid while not needed, which means they are not a cost burden to the airline. However, just as the CARES Act ending in October feels like an ax hanging over the heads of furloughed US airline employees, so the situation could change for the Spanish LEVEL when its own furlough scheme expires.
In the long run, LEVEL could be revived as neither of the long-haul branches has entered administration. AOC’s remain in place, so IAG could decide to bring it back when demand for long haul operations returns.
What do you make of LEVEL France closing down? Let us know in the comments.