UK's BMI Regional cuts bases in network rejig

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BMI Regional is to concentrate its UK operations at two main hubs, Aberdeen and Bristol, after opting to shut five routes from other cities.

It will redistribute its Embraer ERJ fleet to other locations including the new Norwegian domestic services planned for early 2014.

BMI Regional chief executive Cathal O’Connell tells Flightglobal that the changes are part of the shift away from the network structure inherited from the former BMI Group.

He says BMI had a “historically large presence” in Manchester and Edinburgh, from where four of the routes are being cut. Based aircraft will be moved to locations from where they will “deliver better return”.

BMI Regional will cut the links from Manchester to Edinburgh and Antwerp, along with the routes from Edinburgh to Copenhagen and Brussels, as well as its Birmingham-Billund flights.

O’Connell says a review of the network since the transformation of the company into an independent airline has revealed a number of routes which are “challenged” by the loss of feed traffic, as well as competition, and the airline is “not in a position to continue”.

Removing these five routes, in turn, has driven a change in the carrier’s base strategy, focusing the UK operation on Aberdeen’s energy sector and its Bristol station. O’Connell says he expects no net job losses as a result of the changes.

Statistics from the Civil Aviation Authority show the airline’s UK load factors have been around 50% this year, while those for its European flights have been a few points lower.

But O’Connell points out that its route network is geared towards business traffic which generates higher average revenues than load factors might suggest. He also says that, while small jets have fallen out of favour with carriers as fuel prices have risen, the ERJ-135 and ERJ-145 are well-suited to thin business-oriented routes. The carrier has 18 ERJs, of which it owns 14.

“What we’ve tried to do is identify opportunities where a 50-seat jet can deliver,” he says, adding that the type works well on such sectors as Bristol-Hamburg and Bremen-Toulouse. "The challenge for us is to maximise the revenue per flight."

BMI Regional also aims to expand on other routes – including new links from Aberdeen to Norway, as well as the internal Norwegian services – and develop its corporate and wet-lease business for which, O'Connell says, the ERJ is proving a good fit.