Blue Islands should seize the opportunity to make 'aviation' a real industry in Jersey again by tapping into local talent, according to a locally based airline executive.
Captain Lee McConnell, who has flown for Flybe, EasyJet and Ryanair and been an executive at Ports of Jersey, also said the Government of Jersey had been right to loan the airline £10m to secure routes to and from the Island following the devastating impact of covid-19 on the sector.
Reflecting on the airline following the recent death of its chairman, Derek Coates, last week, Capt McConnell said that Blue Islands should not miss the opportunity to recruit locally, now that it has moved its main operations base here.
“Derek Coates recognised that the Channel Islands needed its own regional carrier when he bought Rockhopper back in 2004,” said Capt McConnell.
Pictured: After receiving a £10m loan from the Government of Jersey, Blue Islands launched new livery, a website and routes.
“In some ways, it was based on an ‘old school’ airline model – it cared about the customer experience, it treated its staff as a family, and it even had a dedicated lounge for all passengers.
“That can disappear when you get too big, which is what happened with Flybe, but Blue Islands appears keen to keep the passenger experience at the centre of what it does. We’ve seen this with the new rebrand and product offering.”
With Blue Islands effectively becoming the flag carrier for Jersey, as Aurigny has for Guernsey, Capt McConnell said the airline could be central in rejuvenating the island’s aviation sector.
Pictured: Captain Lee McConnell hopes that Blue Islands will recruit more Jersey-based pilots and ground staff.
“When I began by career, I could have flown for at least five operators with a Jersey base: you had JEA, Air UK, Air Atlantique, Aurigny and Air Corbière, as well as Aviation Beauport.
“These airlines had local engineering bases, operations departments, catering and other departments, but today, someone who wants to go into aviation has very little choice here.
"Blue Islands will hopefully create new opportunities, but the key will be tapping into the local job market. The talent is certainly here.”
Capt McConnell, who is now a director of private aircraft management company Ortac, believes Blue Islands is in a strong position to emerge from the pandemic.
“With covid-19, what the aviation industry is being forced to grasp is the bigger the plane, the bigger the problem. Not only are they more difficult to fill but they are also gas guzzlers: that's why BA has decided to retire its entire 747 fleet.
"Blue Islands have small turboprop ATRs so they've got the right planes to survive these difficult times. Of course, Flybe also had propeller aircraft but they were already on the edge when the pandemic struck. Their plan to be something in between EasyJet and Ryanair with a mixed fleet just wasn't a viable business model."
1999: Alderney resident Noel Hayes founds Le Cocq’s Airlink to fly Tesco goods from Bournemouth to his store in St Anne’s.
2002: The carrier begins to fly passengers on the route in a Britten Norman Islander. 10,000 passengers are carried in the first year.
2003: Airline changes its name to Rockhopper.
2004: Healthspan Leisure buy the airline, with Derek Coates becoming chairman.
2006: The airline rebrands as Blue Islands. 63,500 passengers are flown that year.
2009: The 48-seater ATR 42 joins the Blue Islands fleet.
2011: Rob Veron is appointed CEO, leading a new management team.
2013: A new Guernsey – Southampton service is launched with the introduction of the fleet’s first 68-seat ATR 72. A year later, the Blue Islands five-aircraft fleet is just ATRs.
2016: Blue Islands becomes a Flybe franchise partner, taking all bookings through the Flybe website and painting its aircraft in Flybe colours.
March / April 2020: Flybe collapses. Blue Islands restores its own website and signs a contract with the Government of Jersey to fly ‘essential’ passengers between the island and Southampton and Gatwick.
July 2020: The Government of Jersey loans £10 million to Blue Islands, to be repaid over six years. As part of the deal, the airline moves its main operating base from Guernsey to Jersey. It also announces new routes, starting in August and September, including Jersey to Guernsey, Birmingham, Exeter, East Midlands and Bristol; and Southampton to Dublin, Manchester and Guernsey.
August 2020: Mr Coates passes away aged 72. As a tribute, a Blue Islands aircraft flies over the Channel Islands, making the shape of a heart.
Pictured: A Blue Islands aircraft pays its own tribute to chairman Derek Coates last week.
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