Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Britannia Airways has confirmed its move back to the sub-200-seat market after an eight year break, with a deal for up to 10 Boeing 737-800s. The move will enable the UK charter carrier to increase services from UK regional airports and boost its Scandinavian operations.

Britannia has placed orders directly with Boeing for two 189-seat 737-800s, and has taken leases on a further three aircraft from International Lease Finance, which will be delivered in time for its summer 2000 programme. The airline has options on another five aircraft for delivery in 2001, but says it has not yet finalised sources for these aircraft.

Although now an all-Boeing operator with its fleet of 37 Boeing 757-200s and 767-200/300ERs, the airline says it took a close look at the rival Airbus A320 family, before selecting the 737. "The Boeing offers the best cost and performance combination," say Britannia. "There were certain range issues, particularly from northern Scandinavian airports to the Canary Islands, which the 737 met better," it adds.

Britannia was one of Europe's first 737 operators, introducing the type in 1968. By 1991, the airline's 737-200/300 fleet totalled over 30 aircraft, but a decision was later taken to dispose of the 737s and move to the larger 235-seat 757 for the bulk of its European charter flights. Tour operator parent Thomson had to rely on third-party airlines for its regional flying programmes.

Recent expansion by Thomson has seen the setting up of Continental European airline divisions in Germany and Sweden, the latter being created through the acquisition of Scandinavian tour operator Fritidsresor Group (FRG) and its airline Blue Scandinavia. The Swedish arm now provides about 45% of FRG's capacity with its fleet of 757s, and the introduction of smaller 737s will enable this to increase to around 80%.

Britannia experimented this year with the use of smaller aircraft, wet-leasing A320s from TransAer to support Thomson's UK regional programme, and a 737-800 from Sterling European Airways in Scandinavia. The UK-based division of Britannia now provides 85% of Thomson's capacity, and the introduction of a smaller aircraft will enable this to increase by bringing more services from regional airports in-house, says Britannia. The wet-lease arrangements are likely to continue next year, but from 2000 the 737s will allow Britannia to take over this business.

Source: Flight International