BMI operation is set to expand at East Midlands Airport, says boss Ian Woodley
The man behind the rescue of the BMI airline brand says he is confident the business can grow at East Midlands Airport.
Ian Woodley led the takeover of BMI Regional from International Airlines Group (IAG), ensuring the internationally-renowned 40-year-old BMI (British Midland International) name lives on.
Speaking yesterday, he said: "We have bought it so we can expand it."
The brand's future had faced uncertainty after the £172.5 million takeover of the Castle Donington-based BMI business by IAG earlier this year.
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This had followed a disastrous takeover by German carrier Lufthansa, which was unable to plug huge losses totalling around £3 million a week.
The largest part of the business, BMI Mainline, was absorbed into British Airways, also owned by IAG, thanks to its highly-prized take off and landing slots at Heathrow.
Low-cost arm BMI Baby, the best-known part of the business in the Midlands, closed last week after being unable to find a buyer with the loss of more than 300 Leicestershire jobs.
BMI Regional, which specialises in short-haul business routes, was bought by a Aberdeen-based consortium led by Mr Woodley for £8 million in June.
As reported by the Leicester Mercury yesterday, BMI Regional has relocated its head office from Aberdeen to East Midlands Airport.
Mr Woodley, who has become executive chairman of BMI Regional, certainly has the credentials to steer an expansive course against the head winds of a recession and tough competition.
He set up Business Air in 1987 which was bought by BMI nine years later and became BMI Regional.
The 55-year-old said he would be keeping the BMI Regional name, with the possibility of dropping the 'Regional' part in the near future.
"It's a very iconic brand and has been for a long time," he said. "OK, it's had a rocky history recently, but it's very highly regarded by staff and passengers and we are very happy to keep it.
"BMI Regional is a bit of a sub-brand. But we have acquired the whole BMI brand, which we are able to use if we wish from next April.
"We still have a huge regional airline industry in Europe. There's around 70 to 80. They don't normally compete with each other. They fly from regional airports to major hubs where they connect with bigger carriers and provide a feeder service.
"For instance, we fly from Frankfurt to East Midlands and vice versa."
The airline also flies to Brussels from East Midlands, and currently operates more than 10 routes from Aberdeen, Bristol and Newcastle.
Yesterday, it announced it would begin routes from Aberdeen to Bristol and Manchester to Antwerp from October 29.
The IAG takeover of the BMI group has led to the loss of hundreds of jobs at East Midlands Airport and BMI group's nearby Donington Hall corporate headquarters.
BMI Regional's creation of 20 jobs in Leicestershire since its rescue, as well as the promise of another 20 over the next six weeks, has helped to offset this. These jobs, originally announced in June, will be based at a new 8,000 sq ft office complex at Pegasus Business Park, next to East Midlands Airport. They will include posts created following a decision to relocate the airline's call centre from India.
The carrier also has 30 air crew and eight engineers based at East Midlands Airport and employs around 350 people in total.
Mr Woodley said the office site would have room to accommodate up to 100 people.
"Depending on our performance, we will look to increase our manpower and look to place these jobs at our head office," he said.
"However, there's been a lot of uncertainty about BMI Regional. What we are doing today is trying to dispel that uncertainty. We are moving into a new head office at East Midlands.
"But this year is about consolidating the business. We have had to separate it from BMI Mainline, which will have been completed fully by the end of November.
"Next year we will look to begin more route development."