UK regional’s wings clipped as British Airways slashes routes

 - January 9, 2008, 4:17 AM

In a move that drew groans from local politicians and airport authorities of small- and medium-sized cities across the British isles, British Airways has decided to cut 21 routes from its UK regional network and announced a complete withdrawal from its bases in Leeds- Bradford, in West Yorkshire, and Cardiff, Wales. Currently served by BA’s wholly owned regional subsidiary, CitiExpress, Cardiff hosts flights to Brussels, Aberdeen, Belfast, Jersey and Paris. Leeds-Bradford serves Dublin, Aberdeen, Bristol, Southampton, Isle of Man and Gatwick. BA plans to withdraw all the routes by the end of March.

The overhaul comes as part of British Airways’ efforts to “simplify and strengthen” its CitiExpress regional operation, formed last year from the remains of once separate subsidiaries Brymon, BRAL, Manx and British Airways Regional. Of the 21 routes to be cut, British Airways plans to hand over seven to independent Jetstream operator Eastern Airways. It also plans to transfer twelve 29-seat Jetstream 41s and the associated maintenance hangar in Glasgow to Humberside-based Eastern.

BA also intends to withdraw its CitiExpress route between Aberdeen, Scotland, and Bristol, England, as well as service from Southampton to Aberdeen, Dublin and Isle of Man; from Belfast to Aberdeen and Isle of Man; and from Newcastle to Southampton, Birmingham, Dublin and Aberdeen. Dublin-based Aer Arann Express plans to take over the Dublin services this month. The CitiExpress fleet, once composed of 92 airplanes, will fall to 70 by mid-year from its current 82 under the BA “rationalization” plan. The airline expects to fly an all-jet fleet by the end of 2005.

But while BA abandons some of its thinner, more peripheral routes, it also plans to add services to such popular destinations as London City Airport from Glasgow, Frankfurt and Paris this spring. Glasgow lost its direct link to LCY last January when Dornier 328 operator Scot Airways withdrew from the route. Although Scot still flies to London City from Edinburgh and Dundee, Scotland, CitiExpress’ planned Embraer ERJ-145 services could conceivably draw passengers back to Glasgow.

CitiExpress also plans to add three more flights from Manchester, situated roughly 40 mi southeast of Leeds. “Manchester is our largest base and it holds the potential to develop further with the type of aircraft we have,” said CitiExpress director of network development David Neill. “We are concentrating resources at a smaller number of bases where there are opportunities to develop further. From Newcastle, for example, we still fly 10 times a day to London, but we don’t see the opportunity to increase the type of flying we want to do as we move toward a jet-based fleet.”