As part of our plan to talk to some of the leaders in aviation branding, thedesignair.net take 5 minutes out of Frank Mertens’ busy schedule to talk about the immediate future of the UK’s much admired bmi regional airline.
Hi Frank, thanks for taking time to talk to us, firstly what is your background and who have you worked for?
My first experience in the airline industry was right back at the start of my career when I worked as a senior cabin crew with a major UK airline. After almost a decade travelling the world I switched to a career in sales and marketing for a series of residential property companies including Knight Frank and Redrow Homes but the aviation sector was something I kept thinking about and in 2009, I joined bmi.
What attracted you to bmi regional? Were you involved with the original bmi family before it was sold?
I joined the company specifically to develop acquisition and retention of the airline’s frequent flyer programme. After two years I was appointed marketing manager for the whole brand, developing campaigns for consumers and trade across the network of regional locations. The change in ownership brought a lot of opportunities with it and I wanted to be a part of taking the company to the next level.
In the UK there is a huge love for the historical bmi brand, it’s been around for so long, was this part of the reason to keep the brand after the sale?
There is a lot of heritage wrapped up in this iconic brand which is a familiar name to many. We didn’t want to lose what that meant to people with a sudden change of name or image. What we want to do is hark back to the days when air travel was something people took pleasure in. For many, the bmi regional name stands for exemplary service, convenience and punctuality – that’s what we still stand for today so why change it?
At thedesignair.net we mentioned last year, that around about now, the contract to fly with the bmi regional brand name came up, meaning in theory you could fly once again as just bmi? Is this still the plan?
It has been a challenging year during which our focus has been very much on ensuring as seamless a transition as possible as we moved from being part of a larger concern to operating as an independent airline. We have also invested significantly in growing the business, launching a number of new domestic and international routes, creating new jobs and establishing our new headquarters at East Midlands Airport.
We have big plans for the future and there will be lots of significant announcements in the months ahead. While the renaming option is on the table, we’re not in a position to give any further detail at the moment.
You are in the middle of launching an impressive 11 routes. What exciting developments are there at bmi regional this year?
We will be launching more new routes in the next few months as well as introducing a new frequent flyer programme, enhanced in-flight product development and fostering new partnerships. We will also be expanding the charter side of our business which is a relatively untapped opportunity at the moment.
How does the bmi regional brand differ in your opinion to your competitors, and who do you class as your direct competitors?
bmi regional concentrates on the services that its name suggests. We serve niche markets on domestic UK and European routes which are ideally suited to the small jet aircraft which make up our fleet. We are also a major provider of ad hoc charter and aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance capacity and have held the title of the UK’s most punctual airline for the past eight years. In those terms, we are head and shoulders above other airlines.
What’s the future plan? New fleet of aircraft? New uniforms? Will you pitch the airline as a full service carrier or will it follow the LCC route of fees and buy on board?
Our focus at the moment is on improving our passenger’s experience and have been reviewing and enhancing our onboard product of complimentary food and drink. As part of this, we are also continually looking at opportunities to expand our network in line with our customer’s needs and we will be announcing further new routes in the months ahead.
Do you feel there is a glut of good design in aviation right now? Has anything memorable happened recently in the field that has made you stop in your tracks (livery / advertising campaign / brand)?
It is a very competitive market with some really good ideas and campaigns out there which is why it’s important for us to really maximise what we are doing at bmi regional as the business embarks on this new stage in its evolution.
What’s your idea, bar bmi regional, of an excellent airline brand?
I like the look and feel of the websites of carriers like Emirates and Qatar as the photography and design reflects the global nature of their brand very well. From a retail point of view, Southwest does an excellent job promoting their USP’s.
Can we expect to see a new livery anytime soon?
Our distinctive red, white and blue livery is an important part of our brand and is recognised all over the world. There are no plans to change this in the near future.
I think I am right in stating that MC Saatchi developed your new brand. We have many followers who are frustrated livery and brand designers, who want to get into the field, but find it hard to make their mark against
brand giants. What would your advice be to someone starting out, wanting to approach an airline?
It’s an industry that is always changing and looking for new ideas so getting your foot on the first rung of the ladder is really important. I started out by approaching a big radio brand and asking if I could shadow their marketing brand for a week – in my own time and unpaid. It allowed me to gain valuable experience of what the job really entails and to decide whether it was the right career for me.