Carrier unveils Caribbean routes from Manchester and studies extended-range Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-700

BMI British Midland has signalled its intent to become a major long-haul player even without transatlantic rights from London Heathrow. The carrier has unveiled plans for Caribbean services from Manchester and is to study long-haul operations using Airbus A319s or Boeing 737-700s.

The airline's evaluation of a "long-thin" point-to-point operation using extended-range narrowbodies emerged last week when the airline unveiled the November launch of twice-weekly services to Barbados along with weekly flights to Antigua and St Lucia using its widebody Airbus A330-200s.

BMI chief executive Austin Reid says that the Caribbean was chosen as it is one of two leisure markets that are currently "booming". "The other is South Africa," he says, and services from Manchester to Cape Town and Johannesburg are being considered by the airline.

Meanwhile, a study into setting up a long-haul narrowbody operation is "in the very early stages" says Reid. "We think there could be an opportunity to operate long-haul services from the UK regions where the A330 would be too big," he says. "We are looking at the A319LR and would be a single-digit fleet."

The aircraft would be equipped with a two-class, business/premium economy cabin. Although BMI's all-Airbus fleet would suggest that the A319 has the upper hand, Reid says that the 737-700X has greater range.

Boeing says that "737-700X" is the designation given to its long running study of an extended-range -700 developed from the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), that could carry around 60 business-class passengers on routes of 7,400km (4,000nm). Like the BBJ it would combine the wings, engines and landing gear of the -800 with the -700's fuselage, and incorporate up to four auxiliary fuel tanks.

The A319LR has been developed from the A319 corporate jet, using auxiliary fuel tanks to boost its range. The aircraft has been ordered by Air France, PrivatAir and Qatar Airways.

BMI plans further long-haul expansion in the near term to Asia, with services from Manchester to Delhi and Mumbai in India being negotiated and China also being considered.

The airline ordered A330-200s in 1997 for planned US services from Heathrow, but had to rethink its long-haul strategy after failing to gain access to the London airport due to the failure of the UK and USA to renegotiate the existing bilateral.

BMI's three A330s are deployed on its daily services from Manchester to Chicago and six-times-weekly Washington DC flights, as well as to Toronto from next month. Three aircraft will be sufficient to operate the Caribbean services, and the Indian flights as well in its winter season, by tweaking the existing US capacity, says Reid: "We have a fleet plan, depending on what we do with long haul." He adds that a fourth A330-200 could be acquired in the near term.


Source: Flight International