After months of takeover speculation, Sir Michael Bishop finally sold his share of Castle Donnington-based Bmi to Lufthansa in a pre-Christmas deal. Sir Michael owned 50 per cent of the airline. He sold to Lufthansa for an estimated £318 million, turning the German airline into the second biggest carrier at Heathrow behind British Airways. It already owned 30 per cent of Bmi.
Immediately after the sale was announced, the big hitters in the airline industry queues up to pay tribute to the popular and much respected Sir Michael.
Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic said: “Michael Bishop is one of the icons of UK aviation. He has been a considerable force in championing the cause of the consumer and has helped to provide much needed competition to BA and choice for consumers.”
BA chief executive Willie Walsh said: “Sir Michael Bishop has done a great job for British aviation and is highly respected for all that he has achieved.”
The high value of Bmi’s slots at Heathrow was one of the reasons why takeover fever was so intense for more than a year before the sale. It’s come at a good time for Bmi which has otherwise been having a tougher time of things. Profits in 2007 were £15.5 million, down from £29.7 million despite a 12.9 per cent increase in revenues. The downturn and fuel costs have taken their toll.
Bmi consists of the main operation as well as the low cost carrier Bmibaby and UK operator Bmi Regional. It operates 70 aircraft and flies nearly 11 million passengers a year. Destinations from Heathrow Terminal 1 include Ankara, Beirut, Cairo, Dakar, Sierra Leone, Khartoum, Armenia, Poland and Georgia.
Sir Michael, 66, has been a thorn in the side of governments in the past as he has battled to open the skies up to competition. And he is not very happy with David Cameron’s approach to transport, favouring rail at the expense of air. He has spent his working life in civil aviation. Born in Bowden, Cheshire, he joined Mercury Airlines in 1963, which was taken over by British Midland in 1964. He became managing director in 1972 and led a management buyout in 1978.
He was chairman of Channel 4 Television between 1993 and 1997 and is also chairman of the board of trustees of D’Oyly Carte Opera. He runs the Michael Bishop Foundation, which among other charitable works, supports the expansion of the Australian Flying Doctors service.