The man who turned a flight of fancy into an airline success

YOU may think that a man in charge of 30 aeroplanes flying to more than 40 destinations worldwide would have exotic tastes, but Philip Meeson insists that his favourite holiday destination is the Costa del Sol.

"I love going to Spain," he said. "Malaga and Murcia would be my favourites. I don't speak Spanish, but then again, going there you don't need to, do you?"

The 61-year-old also enjoyed his recent trip to New York ahead of last week's launch of the first transatlantic flight from Leeds Bradford.

"It's absolutely fantastic, a very exciting place," he said. "I had my shoes cleaned by a shoe cleaner in the street and I haven't bothered to do them since because I haven't needed to. They know how to clean shoes over there."

He's also planning another trip to the Big Apple. "My daughter, Jemma, is going on one of the flights with her boyfriend, so I might tag along," he said.

But when it comes to his spare time, Mr Meeson, who describes himself as "happily divorced", says that he doesn't have very much of it. A self-confessed workaholic, he keeps his mobile phone on 24-hours a day and cites his dedication to work as the reason for his marriage breakdown in 2003.

He said: "I'm great friends with my former wife but when you are married to someone who is as dedicated to work as I am, it's difficult. When I formed, she knew that I would be totally useless as a husband."

Mr Meeson's passion for planes came at an early age. "My father, who was a mechanic during the war, would always talk about planes and it led me to be really enthusiastic.

"I used to build model aeroplanes when I was little, but I always wanted to fly one."

At the age of 17, Mr Meeson, who is originally from London, went to train as a pilot in the RAF.

Afterwards, he built up a major quality car dealership in London and a vehicle distribution business with a partner.

A pivotal point in his career came in 1983 when his private company purchased the Channel Express Group which, at that time, distributed Channel Islands-grown flowers to wholesale markets throughout the UK and freight from the UK into the Channel Islands.

From that original business, he developed the group's two business sectors – aviation services and distribution.

Having decided that the company needed wider access to funding in order to accelerate its growth, Channel Express Group was floated on the USM in 1988. In 1991, it changed its name to Dart Group and moved to a full listing on the London Stock Exchange.

From the original business, he developed Dart Group's two companies –, whose main base is at Leeds Bradford International Airport, and national distribution company, Fowler Welch Coolchain, whose headquarters are in Spalding, Lincolnshire.

Fowler Welch Coolchain has grown from 16 lorries to 350 and distributes chilled foods to retail giants such as Tesco. now operates 30, 737 and 757 aircraft from six bases in the north of England and last year carried more than four million passengers, including those for its package holiday arm, Jet2holidays.


After its expansion of scheduled flights, preliminary results for this year showed turnover for the year ended March 31 was up 23 per cent,

to 429m.

The firm said profit before tax was 11.8m compared to a 3.6m loss a year ago. However, the group said that if hedging was taken into account, profit before tax actually fell to 3.9m from 14.1m the

previous year.

Mr Meeson said that the airline's significant growth was partly at the expense of profitability as expanded its network from 114 to 133 routes. added 19 new routes during the year to March 31, and saw passenger volumes increase by 32 per cent.

The airline recently changed its strapline from "The North's low-cost airline" to the "Friendly low fares" airline, a message which it said better reflected how its customers felt about the business.

"We fly to really fun and interesting destinations," he said. "We have very low fares and we really watch our costs. We make sure we fill our aeroplanes if we can and choose routes where people really want to go to in volumes. We pride ourselves on our friendly service."

He added: "We have been a little bit careful. We have cut back on the frequency of some of the flights, about eight per cent next year to some destinations.

"It's challenging for everybody at the moment but what people want is really attractive prices and the lowest possible fares from us. People still want to go on holiday."

In what little spare time he allows himself, Mr Meeson, who lives in the centre of Leeds, enjoys flying helicopters, and his private collection of light aircraft, which includes an eight-seater 1944 Rapide and a Tiger Moth. "I take some friends and we enjoy ourselves," he said. "Sometimes we go to France."

His hobbies are a bit tamer than 30 years ago. In the late '70s/early '80s, he was five times British Aerobatic Champion. "I used to fly all over Europe," he said. "I had quite a few close shaves. It was quite irresponsible but a lot of fun."


Title: Chairman and chief executive of Dart Group and chief executive of

Date of birth: October 2, 1947

Education: Wellingborough School, in Northamptonshire, and Northampton Technical College

First job: Selling ice-cream for Mr Whippy

Favourite holiday destination: Malaga and Murcia

Last book read: Sir Robert Peel: A Biography, by Douglas Hurd

Car driven: I don't know, I'm not interested in cars. Why would I be when I've got aeroplanes?

What are you most proud of? My daughter and