UK-based regional carrier Aurigny Air Services took only about 10 weeks to select and order its first ever jet aircraft to "reassure" the island market it serves that operations will continue on lifeline services to London following the withdrawal of a competitor, interim chief executive Mark Darby has told Flightglobal Pro.
"Flybe announced it was pulling out at the end of March so the sooner we replace that lost capacity the better," says Darby. Large UK regional Flybe will discontinue serving the Channel Island of Guernsey from London Gatwick at the end of March 2014 following the sale of its slot portfolio at the London airport to EasyJet.
Aurigny, which currently flies 72-seat ATR 72s on the route, will take delivery of a 122-seat Embraer 195 in June to operate the service. It operates a range of services from its Guernsey base to cities in the UK and to Dinard in France.
"We needed to move quickly to give certainty to all stakeholders in Guernsey that there will be an airline offering sufficient capacity on this lifeline route," says Darby.
Approximately 350,000 passengers travel between Gatwick and Guernsey each year, a number that has been remarkably stable over the past decade, says Darby.
Aurigny, which is owned by the States of Guernsey, is taking advantage of a state-backed guarantee to acquire the Embraer 195. It will be almost exclusively used on the Gatwick route, with the possibility of some charter operations to Mediterranean destinations during the summer, says Darby.
The airline did also look at adding more turboprops but as landing charges at Gatwick favour larger aircraft, and considering the difficulty and expense of acquiring additional slots at the airport, it was decided to go the jet route instead, says Darby.
Aurigny will retain its existing three ATR 72s when the Embraer 195 arrives, with its oldest one being kept indefinitely, primarily as a back-up aircraft.
The airline has also long been studying a replacement for its six 15-seat 40-year-old Britten Norman Trislanders. These operate island hopping services between the Channel Islands and the UK mainland.