Etihad Regional, Eastern Airways, bmi regional spice up dynamic European regional airline market; flybe still #1 despite cuts

From the new … to the well established. Etihad Regional is the new brand name for Darwin Airline’s operations centred on Switzerland, which will see around 20 new route launches over the summer. Meanwhile, Eastern Airways (founded in 1997) has already launched new domestic flights this year in the UK (from Leeds Bradford to Southampton, pictured) and in France.

It’s not easy being a regional airline in Europe. Mind you, that depends on your definition of a regional airline, since it could be argued that Ryanair is a regional airline as it operates to many regional (not to say downright remote) areas in Europe. However, for the purposes of this week’s analysis it is assumed that regional services are those that are operated by aircraft of 80 or fewer seats. This will then include all turboprop aircraft as well as smaller jets. According to available schedule data for April, there are over 1,500 intra-European air services (routes) operated by aircraft with fewer than 80 seats. The top 15 airlines operating these services, as analysed by marketing code (as opposed to operating code) reveals that flybe, is indeed, Europe’s largest regional airline, even though this does not include the flights operated by the airline’s 25 Embraer E175s and E195s. Even so, with a fleet of over 40 Q400s, its Loganair franchise operations, and its Nordic operations using ATRs, flybe still easily tops the rankings based on weekly seats (though measured by flights it only beats Widerøe by 12; 2,658 to 2,646).

Europe's leading "regional" airlines Weekly seats flown by aircraft with fewer than 80 seats

Source: Innovata / Diio Mi for w/c 7 April 2014

flybe celebrated the fifth anniversary of its franchise arrangement with Scottish carrier Loganair with this cake.

In mid-December flybe celebrated the fifth anniversary of its franchise arrangement with Scottish carrier Loganair. In that time just over 2.5 million passengers have flown on Loganair flights operating under the flybe brand. Seen celebrating the event with a fabulous looking cake are Phil Preston, Chief Operating Officer of Loganair (left of cake), and Fred Kochak, Director of Route Performance at flybe (right of cake). Loganair has helped flybe remain Europe’s #1 regional airline despite some recent pruning of the network.

It may be surprising that the majority of these top 15 regional airlines are either flag-carriers, or subsidiaries of flag-carriers, even though some of the capacity may be operated by independent carriers, such as in the case of Aer Lingus, which contracts Aer Arann to operate flights on its behalf branded as Aer Lingus Regional. Aegean Airlines appears in this list as a result of its merger with Olympic Air.

Seven airlines launching new routes in Q1 2014

Since the beginning of the year there have been a number of significant new route launches involving some of Europe’s smaller regional airlines. Ignoring seasonal ski routes we have identified the following new routes that have either started, or are scheduled to start, before the beginning of the summer season at the end of March.

Launch date Airline Route WF (aircraft)
5 January Eastern Airways Lyon (LYS) – Lorient (LRT) 11 (J41)
13 January AIS Airlines Münster/Osnabrück (FMO) – Zurich (ZRH) 5 (J32)
20 January CityJet Cardiff (CWL) – Glasgow (GLA) 12 (F50)
20 January CityJet Cardiff (CWL) – Paris Orly (ORY) 6 (F50)
20 January Eastern Airways Leeds Bradford (LBA) – Southampton (SOU) 16 (J41)
23 January bmi regional Stavanger (SVG) – Gothenburg (GOT) 6 (ER4)
23 January bmi regional Stavanger (SVG) – Harstad/Narvik (EVE) 5 (ER4)
23 January bmi regional Stavanger (SVG) – Kristiansund (KSU) 5 (ER4)
23 January bmi regional Stavanger (SVG) – Tromsø (TOS) 5 (ER4)
3 February Etihad Regional Geneva (GVA) – Stuttgart (STR) 4 (S20)
3 February Rostock Airways Bremen (BRE) – Zurich (ZRH) 10 (D328)
3 March bmi regional Newcastle (NCL) – Brussels (BRU) 11 (ER4)
3 March NextJet Vaxjo (VXO) – Oslo Gardermoen (OSL) 5 (SF3)
Source: New Route Database

These routes involve airports in Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK suggesting plenty of perceived opportunities right across Europe. In the case of the two CityJet routes, these are replacing services previously provided by flybe.

Europe’s ever evolving regional airline scene

The following is a brief overview of some of the recent network-related activities at a selection of Europe’s regional airlines.

  • Aer Lingus Regional (EI): Began Dublin-Newcastle service at the end of October and is adding Cork-Newcastle and Shannon-Bristol flights this summer. All flights are operated by Aer Arann’s ATRs.
  • AIS Airlines (IS): Is a Dutch charter and wet-lease airline that began scheduled operations at the end of 2013 with Jetstream 32 flights between Münster/Osnabrück and Stuttgart, followed earlier this month by flights to Zurich.
  • Alsie Express (6I): Launched in the summer of 2013, this Danish airline operates just a single route between Sønderberg and Copenhagen, using a couple of ATR 72-500s painted in dramatic matt black.
  • bmi regional (BM): Now an independent airline after being bought from IAG, the airline re-launched in October 2012 with a fleet of ERJs operating domestic and international routes from UK airports. This week it has launched four new routes from Stavanger in Norway.
  • CityJet (WX): An Irish regional airline that used to have close links with Air France/KLM. Acquired VLM in 2008. Has now been bought by German Intro Aviation. Recently started two routes from Cardiff using Fokker 50s, replacing flights that flybe had dropped.
  • Eastern Airways (T3): Operates Jetstreams, Saab 2000s and ERJs mostly on UK regional routes. Has also branched out into the French domestic market. Since the beginning of the year it has launched a new UK route (Leeds Bradford to Southampton) and a new French domestic route (Lyon to Lorient).
  • Etihad Regional (F7): The new brand name for Swiss-based Darwin Airline. Intends to launch some 20 new routes this summer to help feed Etihad Airways’ routes to Abu Dhabi and beyond. First new route between Geneva and Stuttgart launches next week.
  • eurolot (K2): Added several new international routes from Polish regional airports during 2013 using its Q400s.
  • flybe (BE): Has had a major management shake-up in the last 12 months and recently announced the closure of several bases and the termination of some routes. Recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its franchise arrangement with Scottish carrier Loganair.
  • HOP! (A5): Created last summer from the merger and integration of Airlinair, Brit Air and Régional. Around a quarter of its 100-strong fleet comprises Bombardier and Embraer jets with more than 80 seats. A new twice-daily service between Paris CDG and Stavanger is scheduled to start this summer using the airline’s 76-seat E170s.
  • Minoan Air (MAV): After experimenting with its own operations from the unlikely combination of London Oxford and Lugano airports, the Greek carrier has now returned to focussing on the Greek domestic market with its fleet of four Fokker 50s.
  • Rostock Airways: This new regional airline was planning to fly from, no surprise, Rostock-Laage Airport in Germany, but its first scheduled service is now planned to be between Bremen and Zurich, starting next week. Flights will be operated by Air Alps using their Dornier 328s.
  • SkyWork (SX): Bern-based SkyWork has a small fleet of Dornier 328s and Q400s and is now the leading carrier at the airport serving the Swiss capital.
  • TWIN JET (T7): Operating 10 Beech 1900D aircraft, this French carrier launched multiple daily flights between Toulouse and Milan Malpensa in September (after easyJet abandoned the route), as well as domestic flights between Lyon and Le Havre
  • Widerøe (WF): Europe’s second largest regional airline was, until recently, a fully-owned subsidiary of SAS. However, as part of SAS’s long-term survival strategy it decided to sell 80% of the airline to Norwegian investors, a process that was finalized at the end of September. Last week the airline announced Ålesund as its 44th destination in Norway, with services from Bergen beginning this summer. The airline also operates international flights to four destinations; Aberdeen, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Newcastle. The airline’s fleet consists of 40 Bombardier turboprops of different types.

The European market is a tough one for independent regional airlines as the demise in recent years of the likes of City Airline of Sweden (which was absorbed by Skyways in 2011 before the latter also ceased operations in 2012), and flybaboo, the Swiss regional which was partly absorbed by Darwin Airline, demonstrates. Other carriers to have ceased operations in the last 12 months whose fleets included some aircraft with less than 80 seats include Belle Air of Albania, while other carriers such as Air Dolomiti of Italy and Romania’s Carpatair stopped operating any aircraft with less than 80 seats.


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