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Speed-dating for airlines

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Business development executives are tasked with creating profits in an industry that's making multi-million dollar losses. It's they who decide where airlines fly, and when.

Many of these make-or-break decisions are made at the annual Routes Conference. Forget about boring speeches, this is more like a speed-dating session for the airline world.

Last month hundreds of established and emerging airlines and airports descended on Dubai to negotiate where we will be flying in the future. Airports often have only 20 minutes to convince airlines why they should be added to their schedules.

It's a high-pressure situation with airport representatives having to pique the interest of potential airlines with a patter that is almost like pitching an idea for a movie to a Hollywood executive.

From the hundreds of suitors the airlines have to decide which opportunity is the correct business model. Being able meet face-to-face is a clear benefit for airlines that do extensive research on the merits of airports their catchment areas and potential for growth, but often lack the first hand knowledge.

"It's a great conference as it helps us continue our relationships with our existing airport partners, and we've got over seventy of those, in a very low-cost efficient way," Katherine Lynn, head of easyJet's network development told CNN.

"It also helps us meet new potential business partners. Understanding their whole strategy and how easyJet can fit into that is very important for us. We, don't know everything about every market, so understanding the insights that the local teams on the ground can give us is important in our network choices."

One of the big winners this year was London City Airport, which has just be bought by American consortium, AIG. It won the Best World Wide Marketing Award for an airport servicing under 5 million passengers annually, as voted for by airlines.

Charles Buchanan, the airport's Director of Business Development credited the adaptability of frequent flyers for its success.

"Despite the challenges the aviation industry continues to face, the business traveller has been very resilient to world events. Our levels of business continue to grow. To date this year we are seeing passenger numbers increase by 20 per cent, we are confident that we will continue to enjoy the current level of growth and achieve an annual passenger throughput for 2006 of 2.3 million."

London City Airport has added five new destinations to its services this year: Milan, Stockholm, Madrid, Stuttgart and Newcastle, thanks in part to the way in which it managed to woo the airlines at the biggest networking event in the business.


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Airlines and airports in search of the perfect relationship at the Routes Conference in Dubai.

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