Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

British Airways franchise airline GB Airways is gearing up for expansion under new leadership, aiming to benefit from the UK flag carrier's short-haul restructuring.

The independent, based at London Gatwick, will take delivery of the first of at least 10 Airbus A320 family aircraft in May. It marks the beginning of a transition from its all-Boeing 737 fleet, under newly appointed managing director John Patterson.

The former director of alliances at BA, who was a recent casualty of the airline's management revamp (Flight International, 15-21 September), replaces John Osborne, who departed for Virgin Express in September.

GB operates nine Boeing 737-300/400s on scheduled and charter services from London Gatwick and Heathrow, and Manchester, to 16 destinations in south-western Europe and North Africa.

The airline will take a 150-seat A320 in May on lease from Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise, while the first of nine Airbuses ordered directly (plus five options) will arrive in early 2001. The new fleet is due to be in service by 2003.

The first two ordered aircraft were originally to be A320s, but the airline switched these to the larger 190-seat A321. "There are certain routes where we can fill a 190-seater, such as [Heathrow to] Malaga," says Patterson. "The larger aircraft is also good for routes where we do not have enough slots to cope with demand," he adds.

Patterson aims to help BA turn around its short-haul fortunes by tackling low-yield routes that BA drops. "We fit in well with BA - we don't have its size or overheads," he says, adding that operations will also align well with BA's new oneworld partner Iberia.

The bulk of the airline's operations are at Gatwick, although it serves Alicante, Faro and Malaga from Heathrow. "We have some more Heathrow slots from next March" says Patterson, and these will enable the airline to introduce six weekly services from Heathrow to Malta. Potential new destinations are believed to include points in Germany and Italy.

• British Mediterranean Airways, BA's franchise partner to the Levant and Caucasus, is expanding operations with the introduction of a twice weekly Heathrow-Aleppo, Syria, service. A fourth A320 will be added, to increase frequencies to Amman and Damascus.

Source: Flight International