ERA 2006: Mesaba’s loss is CityJet’s gain as Avros find way across Atlantic

 - September 13, 2006, 5:04 AM
Irish regional airline CityJet in a little more than a month expects to place into service the first of 23 Avro RJ85s acquired in a $221 million deal to replace its present fleet of 20 BAe 146s. According to CityJet CEO Geoffrey O’Byrne White, the choice boiled down to the airplanes’ shared characteristics with the BAe 146, enhanced performance, better economics and, of course, the Avros’ comparative youth. At an average age of 20 years, the Air France subsidiary’s eighteen 93-seat BAe 146-200s and two 146–300s comprise one of the oldest passenger fleets in Europe.

White, a former pilot, told AIN that “post-9/11 and SARS, the Avro series has seen an increase in demand as the aircraft is particularly suited to European regional carriers whose routes tend to consist of shorter sectors and high frequencies, feeding major hubs and helping to compete against the low-cost carriers.”

He described the airline as a “new-style carrier that will operate its single-type aircraft fleet more like a low-cost airline than a regional carrier–but with high-quality service.” The former Mesaba Airlines Avros will come configured with four-abreast seating in business class and six-abreast in economy, and CityJet projects the younger airframe will deliver substantial savings on maintenance costs.

Plans call for CityJet to dispose of its five owned aircraft and replace its entire 146 fleet with Avros by the end of next year. Delivery schedules show the first three aircraft arriving in Dublin by December, followed by two per month through the following October. Some of the Avros due for delivery still operate with Minneapolis-based Mesaba, which subleases them from principal lessee Northwest Airlines. Flying under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Northwest reached a deal early this year with BAE Systems to terminate the leases, the last of which expires by the end of this year. Also in bankruptcy protection, Mesaba at one time flew 35 Avro RJs and some 100 Saab 340 turboprops, but a decision by Northwest to severely curtail their code-share relationship saw Mesaba’s fleet shrink by more than half.

Based in Swords, County Dublin, CityJet operates franchise, wet-lease and code-share routes. It started operations between London City and Dublin in January 1993 under a franchise agreement with Virgin Atlantic Airways. It began using its own brand and identity in July 1997, soon forging a relationship with Air France for which it opened Paris-London City service. In May 1999 a partnership of Air France and Air Foyle Ireland took a 25-percent equity stake in CityJet and by February 2000 the French flag carrier had taken complete control. Long-time Air France executive Jacques Bankir, still a member of the CityJet board, became CEO and rescued the airline from the brink of bankruptcy.

Last year CityJet carried 1.5 million passengers and took in revenues of ?254 million ($317 million) for a year-over-year increase of 18 percent. CityJet employs 580 staff. It maintains small crew bases at Dublin International and Paris Orly Airports, but Paris Charles de Gaulle serves as its main hub and crew base. Its international scheduled destinations connect Paris with Dublin, Birmingham, Edinburgh, London City, Florence, Gothenburg and Zurich. Its Dublin-London City service accounts for the only Air France network route not touching France.