Aurigny, the airline of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, took delivery of its first jet–a 122-seat Embraer E195–early last month. The airline ordered one aircraft to help protect the air services the island lost when low-cost carrier Flybe announced it would pull out of the lifeline Gatwick-Guernsey route. The new aircraft operates four round trips a day, every day of the week.
The Embraer jet cuts flight time to 35 minutes from the 45 minutes it took the ATR 72s that previously operated on the route.
“For an island community of 65,000 people to have its own E195 as well as a fleet of ATRs speaks volumes for the importance of Aurigny maintaining business links with London and how far we are prepared to go to protect them,” said Aurigny CEO Mark Darby. Guernsey, along with sister island Jersey, serves as an important offshore finance center.
Aurigny faced a similar air services challenge in 2003, when British Airways decided to cease flying from London Gatwick to Guernsey, leading to a takeover of the small airline by the island’s government, called the States of Guernsey. In 2007 it raised a private loan to purchase two new ATR 72-500s, which entered service in 2009.
Darby said he has begun negotiating the purchase of two Dornier Do-228 turboprops, which would open a route to London City Airport starting next month and also help the airline gradually retire its aging fleet of Britten-Norman Trislanders.
Visiting the island for the “grand reveal” of the new Embraer in Aurigny’s hangar at Guernsey Airport (three miles southwest of the island’s capital, St. Peter Port), AIN could see the old Trislanders that still connect the three main islands. Journalists flew to Guernsey on a wet-leased Flybe E195, which the airline planned to keep for a couple more weeks in July until it had completed all training on the Aurigny Embraer. Plans called for it then to start four Gatwick services a day late last month. The return service during the visit marked the inaugural flight on the new jet, greeted in Guernsey with a customary fire engine water-cannon arch.
Malcolm Coupar, Aurigny commercial director, told AIN that the airline has been looking for three Dornier Do-228s but has found only two so far on acceptable terms. The airline would also like to order a second E195, he added. Although the airline has expressed interest in more routes into nearby France to add to its Dinard route, “We haven’t found a good enough reason to get a second one yet,” said Coupar.
What about the risk of having a fleet of one? “We’ve had the Flybe aircraft and had zero technical difficulties,” said Coupar. “But in the event, we do have a backup ATR [to help].” He added, however, that “weather problems are more likely,” and that Guernsey’s runway currently operates with only a Cat I ILS.
One reason for acquiring the larger aircraft centers on the high landing fees at Gatwick, which charges approximately £1,400 ($2,400) no matter the size of the equipment. Coupar added that forecasts suggest the route’s load factor will average 73 percent this year and 77 to 78 percent next year. The airline aims to fly 620,000 passengers next year.
The States of Guernsey has invested approximately £80 million ($137 million) to upgrade the island’s airport over the past 10 years, starting with the opening of a new modern terminal in 2004. More recently the single 1,463-meter (4,800 foot) Runway 9-27 has undergone a leveling (it had a dip) and Guernsey added runway-end safety areas to meet ICAO standards and allow Flybe to start operating its jets into the airport in March last year. Increasing the usable length would prove costly because the land falls away at one end and there is a village at the other end. “That is why we needed a high-performance aircraft that will safely deal with short runways,” said Darby.