Interview September 2013

Vishal Sinha

Regional general manager for Korea and Japan, British Airways

Sinha sees Japan as an important market for airlines.

What services, solutions and/or products does your firm provide here?
British Airways [BA] has a long-standing history in Japan; in fact, 2013 marks our 65th anniversary of flights to Tokyo.

We currently operate 12 weekly services between Tokyo and Heathrow—daily flights from Narita and five weekly flights from Haneda—and are proud to be the only European carrier flying direct from both Tokyo airports to London.

We offer a choice of four distinct cabins to suit the varying needs of business travellers and holidaymakers.

Flights from Japan arrive in our state-of-the-art, award-winning home at Heathrow, Terminal 5, which is exclusive to passengers of British Airways and our sister airline, Iberia. Passengers arriving at Terminal 5 can take advantage of fast and convenient transfers to the largest choice of UK and European cities from London.

We also have a joint business agreement with Japan Airlines [JAL]. We can, therefore, provide customers with a greater choice of flights and better links between Japan and Europe: flights from 32 cities in Japan to 65 cities in Europe.

Our code-sharing agreement offers customers 19 weekly flights between Tokyo and London Heathrow.

Customer satisfaction is our top priority, and we are continually investing in new services that meet their needs, from onboard amenities, to new technology and convenient flights and connections.

We are currently implementing a £5bn (¥768bn) investment in products and services to enhance the travel experience, including the acquisition of revolutionary new aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

How do you differentiate British Airways from the competition?
We offer an unbeatable network across the UK and mainland Europe, all conveniently and smoothly accessible through Terminal 5. In fact, the terminal was recently recognised by Skytrax as the world’s best airport terminal for the second year running.

British Airways is also proud to be a pioneer in the airline industry. We have a history of introducing many industry firsts, such as flat beds in business class and four-cabin aircraft with a dedicated premium economy class section.

We are also one of the first airlines to provide our customer service teams with iPads to effectively monitor customer preferences and address any customer service issues. Travellers can look forward to more initiatives in the coming months.

Currently, for example, we are testing automatic check-in services and electronic baggage tags to save our customers more time before flights.

The combination of groundbreaking products and services best differentiates us from others in the industry.

Why did your firm invest in Japan?
Japan is a very important market for us. Even though we have been flying here for over 65 years, we still see opportunities. The country continues to be a leading international business and holiday destination.

Furthermore, Tokyo is a regional hub and one of the most well-connected cities in the world. We have no doubt Japan will continue to be a major market for our industry.

What have been your greatest challenges here?
Meeting and exceeding the high expectations of Japanese customers has been the biggest challenge, and it is one we are always striving to meet. I am proud to say we have been successful, given the consistently high load factors on our routes.

Customer satisfaction is the top priority at British Airways. We must always offer new services that meet customers’ needs, whether it is through onboard amenities, more intuitive service, new technology or convenient flights and connections.

How have BA’s operations evolved?
Over the years, our products and services have evolved to adapt to customers’ needs for more comfortable seating, enhanced services such as arrival lounges, and special menus with premium wines, and heightened convenience.

Some of our initiatives include launching flights from Haneda and establishing our agreement with JAL.

We continue to look for ways to build on our successes and further refine our product offering for our customers in Japan. Our motto is “To Fly. To Serve” and we aim to provide a memorable and pleasant experience for our customers.

What business changes do you foresee?
We expect growth. We see many opportunities as Japanese businesses and consumers internationalise further and trade between Japan, European countries and other areas grow.

What is the top asset UK firms offer Japan?
The sense of trust Japan has in the UK and its excellent legal and other infrastructure are important for firms here, in addition to the open attitude to trade and investment displayed by the British. UK entities can also help Japanese firms globalise and reach new customers and markets.

How can foreign and Japanese firms gain mutual benefits in the current economy?
Since both economies are growing, there are big opportunities for two-way investment and trade.

What are the main areas of opportunities for foreign firms in Japan?
I believe there are big opportunities here in all areas of the service and manufacturing industries such as pharmaceuticals, aerospace and some high-tech sectors.