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bmi secures major leasing agreement with South African Airways (SAA) - Manchester transatlantic services to continue

Travel News Asia 7 November 2002

bmi has secured a major leasing contract to provide South African Airways with two Airbus A330-200 aircraft. The contract will include the provision of flight deck crew to operate the aircraft as well as a comprehensive flight-training programme for South African Airways flight deck and cabin crews. The leases will commence on 1 December and 15 December and will last for a year in respect of one aircraft and five months for the other.

The aircraft will be used by South African Airways on services between Johannesburg and Milan and Paris.

Austin Reid, chief executive officer, bmi said:

"The agreement we have reached with South African Airways enables us to add further financial strength to bmi during the challenging conditions that face the aviation industry throughout the world. Our ability to secure a deal of this kind speaks volumes for the reputation we have gained over the years to provide the highest levels of professionalism that a world class operation like South African Airways demands.

"We have, over the past 12 months, been examining a range of options for the utilisation of our spare Airbus A330 aircraft and this agreement with South African Airways has provided us with an ideal opportunity. Currently our two long haul aircraft operate from Manchester to Chicago and Washington. The service to Chicago is performing exceptionally well, with an 89 per cent increase in passenger numbers during October compared to the same month last year. Advance bookings on winter flights to Washington are encouraging, however they do reflect the seasonality of the route and fall short of an economic operation during the winter timetable period.

"We have therefore come to the conclusion that a better option would be to meet the needs of SAA for a second unit and to suspend the Manchester to Washington service with effect from 2 December. However, during the winter months, customers will be able to make bookings for when services resume in June 2003.

"We are of course delighted to have secured this contract with South African Airways. However, the fact that we have a spare aircraft in the first place coupled with the suspension of winter services to Washington, demonstrates the considerable damage that the lack of progress on the deregulation of the UK to US market is causing. We have made repeated warnings to the UK Government and regulators of the difficulties of sustaining regional air services to the US without the benefit of similar services from Heathrow. Whilst we remain totally committed to providing vital links from the North West of England to the USA, we cannot ignore indefinitely the financial implications of sustaining scheduled services from Manchester without an equal opportunity to serve Heathrow."

* Passengers holding firm reservations during the period of the suspension of the Washington service are being re accommodated or offered refunds.

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