BMI Regional plans to expand outside the UK as it aims to connect the industrial cities of Europe.
The airline’s19 regional jets carry more than half a million passengers a year
Chief commercial officer Jochen Schnadt told The Times: “Around 50 per cent of our flights are outside of the UK and there are more opportunities for us outside of the UK than within it.
“In the UK we have one regional rival several times our size [Flybe] but there just aren’t the same regional airlines flying up to 100-seater aircraft in Europe.
“Do we compete in a 60 million [UK] passenger market or play in an EU market of 500 million people?” He denies this being Brexit related.
“It is not the reason we are focusing on Europe,” Schnadt said. “We are not abandoning the UK but the EU is where the market is.
“Expansion for us will be in the industrialised parts of German-speaking Europe, the Nordics, central and eastern Europe, where there may be long distances [for travellers] to connect to Europe’s industrial hubs.”
All the popular high-frequency business routes are operated by Europe’s big three carriers — Lufthansa, IAG/ British Airways and Air France/KLM — or by the two leading budget airlines Ryanair and EasyJet.
Bmi Regional’s plan is to fly the routes that can’t sustain an Airbus or Boeing aircraft but that will be workable with its smaller Embraer 145 regional jets.
“There are more gaps opening up in the market and we want to fill that niche,” said Schnadt.
He expects “a bit of M&A, or a joint venture, or an equity event”, which will prompt BMI to do a deal with an existing EU operator to piggy-back its flying licence.
That could lead BMI increasing its fleet to start flying 80-100 seater Embraers or Bombardier jets; and a “jazz-up” of the brand.
“‘Regional’ doesn’t mean anything to anyone but there is some resonance of BMI being a challenger brand,” he said.
Addressing Brexit, Schnadt said: “My opinion is that if the government wants to recreate Britain as a pre-eminent global trading nation after Brexit, then business in the UK will be looking for more, not less, connectivity to Europe, just as European business will be looking to connect to more trade with Britain.”