Virgin Express is to expand its fleet by 11 Boeing 737-700s over the next three years, as the airline prepares to cease most of its charter operations.

The Brussels-based low cost, no-frills airline will stop regular charter work when its 2000 summer season finishes in October after the decision of tour operator NUR not to renew its contract.

The move will free up four aircraft for scheduled services. Traditionally, 40% of its business has come from charter work, and the airline plans to continue to operate ad hoc charters where possible.

Virgin Express will receive eight of the eleven 148-seat 737-700s on lease from GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) between July 2001 and April 2003, and three similar aircraft from International Lease Finance, two in 2002 and one in 2003.

The airline's current all-Boeing fleet includes twenty-three 737s, thirteen 737-300s and 10 737-400s. The new 737-700s will replace some of the older aircraft, but not all, as the airline intends to expand its fleet to around 28 aircraft.

After a poor first quarter of 2000 due to the poor dollar exchange-rate and rising fuel prices, Virgin Express is to drop a number of loss making services. These include Rome-Madrid, Rome-Barcelona and Brussels-London Stansted. Services from Brussels to Copenhagen and Nice will increase.

Source: Flight International