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UK regional carrier Flybe set to double fleet by 2010 as Day One of BA Connect takeover sees more rostering-related cancellations

UK regional carrier Flybe is aiming to double the size of its fleet by 2010, having today completed its acquisition of British Airways regional business BA Connect. However, rostering snags have forced the carrier to cancel a series of flights from UK airports.

Flybe claims that the deal to take over BA Connect makes it Europe’s largest regional airline, with a network of 152 routes and nearly 10 million passengers generating £500 million ($961 million) in annual revenues. The combined operation will employ around 3,500 staff. Flybe has already negotiated terms and conditions for its new employees.

It says it plans to invest over $2 billion to increase its fleet to over 80 Bombardier Q400s and Embraer 195s by 2010. It will retire BA Connect’s former fleet as soon as possible to maximise its fleet efficiency, a move which will be funded through a £96 million payment from BA. Flybe currently operates 27 Dash-8s, nine BAe 146 RJs and .two Embraer 195s, with 18 further Q400s and 12 E-195s on order.

As part of this acquisition, British Airways will take a 15% stake in Flybe. The acquisition does not include BA Connect’s London City operations or its services between Manchester and New York JFK.

Flybe chairman and chief executive Jim French says: “The acquisition of BA Connect gives us critical mass across our domestic and European city markets and, with valuable slots at congested European airports, brings our growth plans forward by two years. Flybe is now firmly established as one of the UK’s largest airlines.

After the transition has been completed, Flybe says that it will stage its long-awaited initial private offering.

Flybe will go through a transitional phase until 25 March during which it will assume responsibilities for BA Connect’s former operation. BA Connect’s former routes will be operated under a one-way codeshare, although this will end within 12 months.

However, Day One of the new operation has been affected by a string of cancellations owing to operational and crew-rostering problems, following on from similar network failures last month.

Last month there were 20 return flights cancelled bwteen 15-24 February, affecting services between Birmingham and Aberdeen, Berlin Tegel, Frankfurt, Geneva, Glasgow, Hamburg, Hannover, Lyons, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Stuttgart.

BA Connect told Flight the cancellations were due to a number of issues including operational and rostering problems.

But the rosters and deal have fallen out of step, contributing to the cancellations. The acquisition is yet to be finalised, despite several slips to date and the most recent estimates of a mid-February completion.

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