ERA announces 2005 Airline of the Year

 - October 18, 2006, 11:09 AM

A complete change of approach to its business and, not least, punctual performance have helped Binter Canarias become the European Regions Airline Association airline of the year for the third time. Formerly a subsidiary of Spanish flag carrier Iberia, the regional turboprop operator three years ago became the property of private owners, who have just ordered an eighth ATR 72-500 and have started looking for 170-seat equipment with which to open flights from the Canary Islands to major European cities.

Binter’s current fleet of seven ATR 72-500s and seven -200s provides service among points in the Spanish seven-island group, which lies off the Atlantic coast of Morocco and the Western Sahara in northwest Africa. It also flies a pair of Raytheon Beech 1900Ds. With a population of around two million people, the islands each year attract some 12 million tourists, who arrive mainly on leisure charter flights.

Since much of its operation consists of public service obligation (PSO) routes, subsidized by the European Union and thus subject to price caps, Binter sees no opportunity for profits with equipment sized between its large regional turboprops and 150-seat-class jetliners. Only two or three routes don’t qualify for PSO support, leaving little room for regional jet service.

Rather, it will select up to five aircraft from the A320/737 lines for peak-hour island services and for its recently opened routes to Paris and Milan, for which it already wet leases a Boeing 737-400. Since October last year Binter has served Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira, farther north in the Atlantic. The airline also plans services to mainland Spain, other European points and Africa.

Under private ownership, Binter has moved heavily into Internet booking, to the point that about 60 percent of its passengers use electronic tickets and self-check-in facilities. The workforce has doubled to about 850 people, and annual passenger numbers have increased from 500,000 to more than two million, according to director general Andreas Blass. Another initiative has seen Binter establish its own handling at the eight Canary airports since Spain ended monopoly ground handling.

Under recent rebranding, the airline has adopted new crew uniforms and a new livery–scheduled to adorn its older ATR 72-200s as part of a planned refurbishment project.

Runner-up honors in the ERA regional-airline awards went to last year’s winner, Aegean Airlines of Greece, ahead of Bronze Award winner Aer Arann of Ireland.