Flybe and bmi regional Expand from Birmingham

UK regional carriers Flybe and bmi regional are to compete directly on flights from Birmingham to the French city of Lyon after they revealed plans to serve the route within 24 hours of each other. The announcements mark the return of a route that has been served regularly from the Midlands’ airport since the mid-1990s.

The Birmingham – Lyon route has been regularly served by British Airways (BA) and more recently by Air France but services ended last year. BA introduced the route in April 1994 in partnership with franchisee Maersk Air and together they served the market until October 2003. The following summer season the route was resumed through BA’s regional and connect brand but only operated for just under three more years from May 2004 until March 2007. In September that year Air France introduced flights using the 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s of its regional partner Brit Air but the route was closed in March 2012 as the French national carrier began a restructuring of the activities of its regional subsidiaries.

Flybe plans to offer a six times weekly offering on the Birmingham – Lyon route from May 1, 2013 using one of its new 88-seat Embraer 175 regional jets. bmi regional plans a similar six times weekly schedule from May 13, 2013 using either a 50-seat Embraer ERJ 145 or smaller 37-seat ERJ 135. In the last full year of services (2011) Air France carried 31,878 passengers on the route, according to UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data, with approximately 27,000 bi-directional O&D passengers estimated to have flown on the route that same 12 months.

Lyon is the largest conurbation in France after Paris and offers a wealth of opportunities being not only a major centre for the banking, chemical, bio and pharmaceutical sectors but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is home to the headquarters of Sanofi, Renault Trucks and Interpol as well as being a major convention centre.

Flybe’s decision to expand at Birmingham follows its successful launch of a Birmingham to Amsterdam route late last year and it anticipates the new Lyon service to benefit similarly from a good mix of business and leisure passengers. The airline already has an extensive schedule to and from Birmingham Airport that features a total of 23 routes and up to 598 flights each week.

“Flybe is committed to developing its route network out of Birmingham. We have every confidence that this additional new service will prove successful in offering an attractive and affordable way for travellers to access this major business and popular leisure destinations,” said Simon Lilley, Director of Marketing, Flybe.

For bmi regional Lyon will be just part of a summer 2013 expansion at Birmingham, its first flights from the city and which will also see the introduction of new flights to a second French destination, Toulouse, and the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Both destinations will also be served on a six times weekly basis from May 13, 2013 and again represent the return of two routes previously flown from Birmingham.

Interestingly, the Toulouse route was previously part of the Flybe network. The carrier introduced services in April 1999 when it was still known as Jersey European Airways and served the route continuously until October 2007 when it was switched to a seasonal route operating from May until September for the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 summer seasons. British Airways also flew the route for a limited time through its Maersk Air and Duo Airways partners between May 2002 and October 2003.

Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, and the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées region, the largest region in France. It is perhaps best known as the centre of the European aerospace industry, hosting the Airbus headquarters and assembly-lines of Airbus A320, A330, A340, and A380 as well as the home for regional turboprop manufacturer ATR. The city also has numerous aeronautics, space, electronics, IT and biotech firms, including Thales, Alenia Space, Intel and Astrium Satellites and is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of the oldest universities in Europe.

bmi regional will also serve Gothenburg, a coastal city in Sweden with a lively cultural scene, stylish shopping and a fast-growing reputation as a foodie hotbed. It is the second largest city in the country, with the largest port in Scandinavia. It is home to major companies such as Volvo and Ericsson, in addition to hi-tech industry and is the main gateway to West Sweden, home to a growing holiday market thanks to its mix of coastline, islands, lakes and forests.

The route was formerly served by Birmingham European Airways during the 1990 summer season but it was not for another ten years that regular year-round services commenced as the local carrier’s successor Maersk Air introduced flights on behalf of BA in September 2001. The route continued until October 2003 and was operated for three months more by Duo Airways up until January 2004, but by then Swedish regional carrier City Airline has entered the market and continued to serve the market until its closure in May 2012. In its last full year of operations (2011) City Airline carried 13,690 passengers on the route, according to CAA data, with approximately 25,000 bi-directional O&D passengers estimated to have flown on the route that same 12 months, more than a quarter on indirect flights via other European hub airports.

“The launch of these routes to Gothenburg, Lyon and Toulouse is a continuation of bmi regional’s promise to serve key economic and tourism hubs across Europe. Launching our first services from Birmingham Airport is an indication of our commitment to UK regions and a significant investment to position the airline for growth. These new routes are incremental to the four new routes rolled out since bmi regional established itself as an independent airline in 2012,” said Cathal O’Connell, chief executive, bmi regional.

“bmi regional’s choice of destinations is based on business and leisure customer demand. Toulouse is a significant base for the aerospace business, while Gothenburg and Lyon are home to major car manufacturing sites as well as high-tech industries. These three European cities are great destinations for leisure customers as well, boasting Unesco Heritage Sites, amazing foods and great outdoor activities nearby,” he added.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…