Channel Islands carrier Blue Islands is embarking on an exciting new journey, announcing more routes and a bold new livery. Satu Dahl attended the ambitious regional carrier’s event in July to mark the occasion.

    Blue Islands, a well-established regional airline based in the Channel Islands, is entering an exciting new chapter for the carrier. Blue Islands had operated under the Flybe brand since June 2016, flying in Flybe’s colours as a franchisee. However, the franchise came to an abrupt end in March this year when the Exeter-based Flybe entered into administration. With Flybe bankrupt, Blue Islands had to act quickly, creating its own reservations system, booking engine and a new website. This was no mean feat – however, even with Covid-19 still disrupting the aviation industry, Blue Islands has successfully continued to operate without interruption and has now re-established itself as an independent carrier, also launching a new frequent flyer programme in the process.

    While the versatile carrier operates regular scheduled services, it also flies extensive charter programmes for European tour operators, bringing visitors to the islands from across Europe from destinations such as Zurich, Rotterdam, Groningen and regional airports throughout Germany. During the pandemic, Blue Islands has also been operating essential flights to both Southampton and Gatwick from the Channel Islands, repatriating residents and transporting essential key workers.

    In fine form

    The exciting day of celebrations for Blue Islands began at Southampton Airport which was announced as a new base for the carrier. Blue Islands is initially basing one 70-seat ATR72 at Southampton, creating 20 direct jobs for pilots, cabin crew and maintenance staff. According to the airline, further 20 more indirect jobs will be generated in ground handling and other associated activities.

    The airline’s ATR72 touched down at the airport at midday in brand new blue and white livery to signify the carrier’s bold new identity. “When the market improves, Blue Islands plans to add a second aircraft at Southampton, covering an increased selection of routes and frequencies”, said Blue Islands’ executive director Paul Simmons.

    Blue Islands aircraft arriving at Southampton International Airport in new livery

    When it comes to most popular routes for the airline currently, Simmons explained these include the Jersey to Southampton and Guernsey to Southampton connection, with the short 10-minute Jersey–Guernsey connection also being in high demand.

    The airline confirmed four initial routes on the day which include a daily Southampton-Jersey connection (rising to double daily from 31 August), a daily connection between Southampton and Manchester from 31 August and four times weekly connection between Southampton and Dublin from 31 August. The Southampton-Guernsey connection will also be operated twice a day from 31 August.

    Restoring connectivity

    The 15-year old regional airline’s goal is to replace lost capacity on core business routes in the South and South West on routes such as Southampton and Exeter to Manchester, and to provide connectivity to people from Jersey and Guernsey. “Blue Islands is committed to simplifying regional air travel – with no hidden costs or stresses over bag restrictions”, said CEO Rob Veron. “In addition, we know that our passengers require strong wellbeing measures before flying and we are pleased to have introduced a very robust set of measures to meet this very important need.

    “In addition, we are proud to announce our new product offering, refreshed brand identity and new website. Our offering is tailored to the needs of regional passengers. Our aim is to make flying a pleasure again. It’s the little things that matter and make the welcome difference.”

    Blue Islands is also adding more flights from the UK regions to Jersey. These include Bristol to Jersey four times weekly from 3 August and daily from September, Exeter to Jersey three times weekly from 3 September, Birmingham to Jersey on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 31 August and East Midlands to Jersey three times a week from 29 September.

    Revitalising the regions

    The exciting day also included a return flight between Southampton and Exeter airports to mark the new era for Blue Islands. Alison Chambers, owner of aviation PR firm Emerald Media which coordinated the day with Blue Islands, says the airline connecting these airports is great news for regional aviation. “Both these airports are important because of collapsed airline Flybe’s dominance, accounting for over 93 per cent of landing slots. It’s little wonder they have been among the worst hit since the demise of Europe’s largest regional carrier on 5 March, let alone other airlines hitting the pause button as a result of Covid-19.

    “As the Jersey airline, Blue Islands has been in and out of Southampton since 2007, but it has never had a base there. Its commitment to one initial based aircraft – then a second when the market picks up – is significant in that it will also generate 80 direct and indirect jobs.”

    Matt Roach, Exeter Airport managing director also highlighted the importance of regional connectivity. “It’s been a tough year for aviation and a tough year for Exeter Airport, so we are delighted you are picking up these important routes,” he told Blue Islands executive director Paul Simmons.

    All-ATR fleet

    Blue Islands introduced a new management team in 2011, with Rob Veron appointed CEO and this is also when the airline began implementing its strategic growth plan which included a vision for an all-ATR fleet. Following the implementation of the strategy, the airline now has a total of five ATR aircraft and the carrier says this brings many efficiencies and synergies to the business, together with a harmonised passenger experience. Speaking at Exeter airport, Paul Simmons explains the ATRs are ideal for the airline’s operations. “We like the ATRs, they are the right aircraft for our routes which are fairly short. We have no plans to change this.”

    In another significant development for Blue Islands, the carrier announced on 13 July that it had formed an extensive partnership with Loganair, the UK’s largest regional airline, to offer customers a broad new range of regional air connections across the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Loganair operates 43 aircraft on routes to, from and within Scotland. The airlines say they will provide seamless connections between their flights, enabling customers to buy a single ticket to benefit from lower fares and guaranteed connections on a wide range of links between Scotland, the North East and the Isle of Man to the south coast and the Channel Islands.

    The new links will re-build connectivity to help boost the UK and Channel Islands’ economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, with the connections focusing on links via hubs at Southampton and Manchester, connecting destinations such as Inverness with Exeter, the Isle of Man with Southampton and Guernsey and Jersey with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle.

    Blue Islands and Loganair
    Blue Islands and Loganair

    The carriers say the ability to book journeys in a single ticket will result in the added benefit of customers being able to save the double Air Passenger Duty which would apply if tickets for the flights were purchased separately. It also guarantees connections in the event of weather or other disruptions to customers’ travel plans. Blue Islands also says it has recently completed its move to the Videcom booking system that is also used by Loganair, providing certainty of systems connectivity to assure a seamless transfer between flights.

    Loganair’s chief executive Jonathan Hinkles commented on the new partnership: “We’re delighted to be working with Blue Islands to offer this new range of connections for customers throughout the UK. Providing dependable air services to communities throughout the UK, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man is a core part of the ‘DNA’ of both airlines, and by joining up our networks, we can help many more customers reach their destination.”

    Rob Veron is equally pleased to begin the partnership which enhances regional connectivity in the UK. “We are excited to form this new partnership with Loganair, hand in hand with a significant expansion of our own route network after 15 years of Channel Islands’ centred operations. It further enhances Blue Islands’ commitment to deliver robust and reliable regional air connectivity. We are delighted to be able to offer customers an extended route network with the peace of mind of guaranteed connections, Air Passenger Duty savings and the easy convenience of checked-through hold luggage in a single ticket.

    “Whether flying for business, leisure or visiting friends and family, this partnership once again boosts regional connectivity for the communities we serve in the Channel Islands and the UK using our Manchester and Southampton hubs to connect to destinations on the Loganair route network. Furthermore, it will provide vital support for our visitor economies, particularly in the Channel Islands as we can welcome Loganair customers from Scotland and the north east onto our services to Guernsey and Jersey.”