Monarch aims to spread wings with more flights from region

MONARCH Airlines is finalising plans to grow the number of routes from Yorkshire after celebrating its first anniversary of flights in the region.

Iain Rawlinson, Chief Executive of Monarch Airlines, at Leeds Bradford Airport.

Executive chairman Iain Rawlinson said the company would focus on further ski destinations and more routes to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands in the future.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post during a visit to Leeds Bradford Airport, he said he was “extremely pleased” with the airline’s performance in its first year at the airport.

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“We have flown about 250,000 passengers in our first year of operations,” he said.

“It has provided a solid base from which to start so we are extremely pleased with the results of our first year’s flying from here.”

Leeds Bradford became Monarch’s sixth base in December last year, adding to existing bases at Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands, Gatwick and its headquarters at Luton.

It flies to 11 destinations in the summer from Leeds Bradford, including Lanzarote, Antalya, Barcelona, Bodrum, Dalaman, Faro, Heraklion, Larnaca, Menorca and Tenerife.

In the winter it flies to ski resorts Grenoble and Munich.

Mr Rawlinson said: “Over time there will be plans to grow the routes from Leeds Bradford.

“The plans are being finalised. Over time we want to service our core short-medium haul network in line with where the passenger constituency here wants to fly.

“We want to do more skiing in the winter but also fill in some of our more traditional destinations around the Med and the Canaries.”

He added: “It’s a medium growth story where we would expect to make important expansion from here.”

Mr Rawlinson said Monarch had no plans to expand into Yorkshire’s other airports.

“Leeds Bradford for us is an important part of our six bases’ network in the UK.

“Over 70 per cent of the UK’s population lives in just over an hour’s drive from one of our bases,” he said.

“We are focusing all our attention on Leeds Bradford and do it very well.”

The airline flies its most modern planes from Leeds Bradford – two Airbus A320s.

“It’s a sign of our support for Leeds Bradford to have re-positioned those two planes here,” Mr Rawlinson said.

In addition, the airline plans to replace the rest of its fleet with 60 new aircraft in a $6bn (£3.7bn) investment over the next 10 years.

It has had bids from Boeing, Airbus, and Bombardier and hopes to finalise the order before March.

Six of the airline’s oldest aircraft will leave the fleet this winter.

“It represents major investment in the future and investment in having a flying product that is right up-to-date and suits the needs of the customers,” Mr Rawlinson said.

Privately-held Monarch is emerging from a two-year turnaround plan aimed at helping it compete against the no-frills carriers which dominate Europe’s airspace.

Last week, Monarch Holdings, which is controlled by Switzerland’s wealthy Mantegazza family, announced it was back in profit after growing turnover 15.5 per cent to £1.2bn during the 12 months to October 31.

The result is a significant turnaround for the company, which posted a £70m pre-tax loss in 2011 after the airline was hit by the Arab Spring and high oil prices.

Its shareholders injected £75m into the business in 2011, two years after a previous £45m re-financing.

In a pre-close statement, Monarch said all parts of its business, which includes tour operator Cosmos and an aircraft engineering division, were back in profit after a two-year programme to remove £52m of costs. A third of the cost savings came from improving fuel efficiency.

Mr Rawlinson told the Yorkshire Post that Monarch was focusing on customer service to set itself apart from its competitors.

“It’s not something you can switch on and off, it’s something which is in the culture of a company and it’s been in our company for 45 years at every level,” he said.

“A lot of our competitors are investing in automation and lack of personal contact but we are bringing in people at the most stressful points in a customer’s journey.”

In addition, Monarch has joined forces with the People 1st Training Company to roll-out the WorldHost training programme – one that thousands of volunteers and staff underwent for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics.

“We are the first UK airline to say we are going to reinforce what is already part of our group of how we greet and interact with people,” said Mr Rawlinson.

Following the London 2012 Games, the UK was named one of the world’s top 10 most welcoming nations for the first time ever.