EasyJet and Go have formally merged to become Europe's largest low-cost carrier (LCC), with the combined entity revealing that its long-expected fleet expansion deal is nearing completion and will include provisions for 240 aircraft.

EasyJet says the finer details of the £374 million ($586 million) integration are being worked out by a team led by Ed Winter, Go's chief operating officer and now also chief executive following Barbara Cassani's departure. The two operations will be brought together under a single air operator's certificate by 29 March 2003 when the winter schedule ends, and the Go brand will disappear. Integration efforts are under way.

The airline has a combined fleet of 62 aircraft and 83 routes, and carried 14 million passengers in the 12 months to June, making it bigger than Ryanair - previously the largest LCC in Europe - on every count. EasyJet chief executive Ray Webster is reported to have said he wants to conclude a deal with Airbus or Boeing for 120 aircraft "within a month or so". The airline has also revealed that the deal will include price guarantees on an additional 120 aircraft.

EasyJet would use some of the new aircraft to expand German carrier DBA, which it is likely to buy from British Airways by next July.

Meanwhile, BMI British Midland is to transfer the rest of its Boeing 737 fleet to its low-cost operation Bmibaby by the second quarter, in a move that could cause pilot disquiet. The airline has replaced its regional operations from the UK's East Midlands Airport with new Bmibaby services. Bmibaby will also start services from Cardiff, becoming the UK's second-largest low-cost carrier after EasyJet/Go in terms of destinations served.

The airline currently operates 13 routes, and is adding flights to Amsterdam, Belfast International, Brussels National, Edinburgh, Glasgow International, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Jersey, Salzburg and Toulouse.

BMI management is understood to have told its mainline and regional pilots that their employment contract, which includes clauses concerning relocation, aircraft type and pay structure, is to be rescinded by September.

The airline will not discuss pilot contracts, but says that "all Boeing pilots will have the option of working for Bmibaby". The British Air Line Pilots Association is calling for the change to be made without any compulsory job losses.

Source: Flight International