FARNBOROUGH: Flexibility central to Flybe order

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Flybe chief executive Jim French believes the UK regional carrier's new deal for up to 140 Embraer aircraft gives it the flexibility to adapt however the market and economy develops.

Speaking at a press conference during the Farnborough Air Show today to announce the order for 35 Embraer 175s and options or purchase rights for a further 105 aircraft, French said the deal was constructed so the carrier had flexibility to swap between E-Jet family aircraft.

Deliveries of the 175 begin in September next year, around which time the leases on some of its 58 Bombardier Q400s will need renewing.

This, French explains, gives the carrier the opportunity to moderate the pace of its growth by returning some of its Q400s if necessary - although he stresses the carrier will retain a core fleet of Q400s as part of its two-type strategy.

French says the airline averaged compound growth of around 20% over the last decade, and adds: "If you take 6% compound growth over the next 10 years, we need 140 aircraft."

Flybe already operates the larger Embraer 195 - which French describes as "quite simply the most reliable aircraft I have ever used" - and the smaller Q400 turboprop. "We have to be absolutely flexible," says French. "The Q400s make money on some routes, these [Embraer 175s] will make money on others."

In particular French believes the 175s will be the mainstay of its plans to expand into continental Europe, which also chimes with the carrier's recently-struck codeshare with Air France.

"Everything we are doing is to take the business into continental Europe. To do that you need the partnerships and you need the aircraft," he says, adding he believes there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming years as a result of consolidation in Europe.

"There is always a second phase to consolidation. There's always a time to sit back and say 'Do I need all of this?'. Whatever happens, we are in a great position to take advantage of any opportunities," says French.