UK low-cost regional airline Flybe is poised to ramp up its Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 fleet with an announcement on its 20 options by early in the new year. It also plans to take on up to 12 150-seat aircraft over the next five years as it expands its Continental Europe presence with new medium-haul routes from the UK and bases in France or Spain, writes Murdo Morrison.

The Exeter-based carrier, which has turned around heavy losses in the past two years thanks to a low-cost, largely domestic network business model, has taken delivery of 16 of 21 Q400s on firm order. Managing director Jim French says he will be "disappointed if we do not make an announcement on our 20 options by the end of our winter season".

Flybe is leasing its first 150-seaters - two Boeing 737-300s - for its summer 2005 season services from Birmingham to Spain. It could add another three 150-seat aircraft in the short term. However, French says the larger aircraft will not oust its 18 BAe 146s. "In the next three years, we are looking to have 30-35 Q400s, 10-12 146s and four or five 150-seaters, maybe going up to 10 to 12 in three to five years," he says.

French also predicts the term "low-cost carrier" will disappear in Europe as airlines adapt their short-haul operations to a no-frills, reduced cost model.

Source: Flight International