ERA honors airline triumvirates

 - November 8, 2006, 5:18 AM

This year’s ERA Airline of the Year gold award went to two-time runner-up Eastern Airways. While noting the carrier’s “dynamic approach to industry lobbying,” judges lauded the UK regional’s ability to survive powerful competition through “courage, creativity and persistence,” as well as marketing and operational and technical commitment. The nine-year-old airline’s 32-strong fleet of BAe Jetstream 32s and 41s and Saab 2000s serves 26 routes among 17 domestic UK points (plus Brussels) with 800 flights per week, according to chairman Bryan Huxford.

This year’s silver award went to Aegean Airlines of Greece for its “constant growth of turnover, earnings before interest and tax, and profit and [its] strong and active promotional strategy, efforts on environmental and security strategy and active participation in ERA and governmental lobbying activities.”

Bronze award winner Blue 1 of Finland has added larger aircraft as it expands services. Three McDonnell Douglas MD-90s recently joined a pair of BAe Avro RJ100s and seven RJ85s, and two more aircraft of as yet unspecified type are planned. The MD-90s serve points such as Athens, Barcelona, Nice, Rome and Zurich. Blue 1’s five Saab 2000 turboprops fly with Swedish operators Air Express and City Airline under leases arranged by Skyways Aviation.

Irish regional Aer Arran received ERA’s Palme d’Or award for sustained excellence despite strong and focused challenges from “Europe’s most powerful and ruthless low-fare airline [Ryanair].” Its five ATR 42 and nine ATR 72 turboprops cover 600 services per week on 39 routes linking points in France, Ireland and the UK. It plans to acquire 10 more ATR 72s by 2009.

CEO Padraig O’Ceidigh’s strategy hinges on “growing very fast to obtain necessary critical mass so high costs can be spread as far as possible.” Aer Arran has combined low fares with high passenger load factors and has built markets through service frequency. It expects to carry 1.2 million passengers this year, four times the number it served four years ago.