The head of airline and package holiday operator Jet2 has vowed to continue investing in Birmingham on the back of a major recruitment drive last year.

Steve Heapy said the city and wider West Midlands region was a key growth market for the 16-year-old company as it looked to fill the gap left by Monarch airlines following its collapse in October 2017.

Jet2holidays runs package tours while sister website Jet2.com is the airline operator, branding itself as "friendly low fares".

Mr Heapy, who is chief executive of both strands of the group, said: "The future for Jet2 in Birmingham is very bright.

"Monarch had nine aircraft in Birmingham so we've more than filled that hole as we have ten there now.

 

"The people of the Birmingham area seem to have a very strong affiliation with Jet2 and I think there's a bright future between us.

"I think if we put more services on we'll do very well."

Last September, Jet2 launched a recruitment drive for more than 200 cabin crew, flight deck and ground staff to be based at Birmingham Airport where it will operate 46 different routes from summer 2019.

But Mr Heapy was confident the operator would be expanding its routes even further, with discussions now under way about its 2020 programme across the UK where it operates from nine different airports.

Jet2's 100th aircraft leaves the Boeing Delivery Centre in Seattle
Jet2's 100th aircraft leaves the Boeing Delivery Centre in Seattle

"It's one of our big bases with a massive catchment area and, if we are going to try new routes, Birmingham Airport is one of the key places we would try that from," he said.

"We have seven aircraft at East Midlands Airport - it's a good operation for us but Birmingham has proved to be a little more robust than East Midlands.

"It has been very good, particularly given the unfortunate demise of Monarch.

"There is a reasonable business case for growing all of our nine UK bases but three in particular - Birmingham, Manchester and Stansted - have seen particular growth.

"And I think there's more we can do at those."

 

He was speaking at a special launch event in Seattle for Jet2 as it took delivery of its 100th aircraft, bringing to an end a major investment programme by the Leeds-based firm which saw it buy 34 new 737-800s, Boeing's new generation of short-haul aircraft capable of holding 189 people.

We visited the Boeing factory where Jet2's new fleet were built and waved off that 100th aircraft as it made its long flight back to the UK to be kitted out with Jet2's seats and livery ahead of being put into full service.

The planes are made at Boeing's state-of-the-art factory in Renton, on the outskirts of Seattle, where it currently produces 52 airplanes a month, set to increase to 57 per month this year.

Boeing's factory in Seattle where Jet2's new 34-strong fleet was built
Boeing's factory in Seattle where Jet2's new 34-strong fleet was built

The new 34-strong fleet has a list price of around £2.5 billion but the operator stressed it had negotiated a "significant discount" on that price.

Mr Heapy said: "The arrival of the 100th aircraft into our fleet is a momentous occasion and demonstrates the confidence we have in our growing business.

"Operating a fleet on this scale means we can continue to increase capacity, offering holidaymakers more choice and flexibility than ever before."

 

The company launched its first flight as Jet2 in February 2003 but was born out of Channel Express, a distribution company bought in 1983 by Philip Meeson who still serves as the group's executive chairman today.

Jet2.com has grown to become the UK's third largest airline while Jet2holidays is now the second largest tour operator in the UK.

Its growth at Birmingham Airport has been rapid since first launching there in March 2017 with four new aircraft and 15 routes.

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, cuts the ribbon on the operator's 100th aircraft at the Boeing Delivery Centre in Seattle
Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, cuts the ribbon on the operator's 100th aircraft at the Boeing Delivery Centre in Seattle

This year, it will run 165 flights a week at peak times, with 1.6 million seats on sale for summer 2019 - fuelled by another six new routes to Bergerac, Bourgas, Crete, Izmir, Pula and Verona.

In recent years, several routes have been launched from Birmingham by various airlines to much fanfare and then been cancelled shortly afterwards, particularly Primeria Air's bid to tackle the transatlantic market in 2018 which ended in a disastrous total withdrawal from the airport.of all its short- and long-haul routes here.

Looking forward, Mr Heapy said he was not concerned by the trend.

"This is not a reflection on Birmingham - sometimes there is too much capacity in the market or the flight times are wrong so people don't like them," he added.

"Airlines come and go but we try to put the best flight times on sale and give the customers the best experience. It seems to be working so far."