BUDGET airline Jet2 is to invest in more aircraft based in Glasgow to handle anticipated growth in the holidays market.
The airline, which operates from eight UK airports, is seeing passenger numbers rise by 10 per cent a year, flying mainly to 50 Mediterranean hot spots.
Executive chairman Philip Meeson said he was “very encouraged” by the firm’s progress as it approaches its tenth anniversary this month. He believes one extra aircraft each year for the next three years will meet anticipated growth at Glasgow. He said there was also potential for more aircraft in Edinburgh.
The company, part of the quoted Dart Group in which he holds a 40 per cent stake, now has 55 planes, some 600 delivery trucks and 4,600 employees. Former RAF pilot and five-times British aerobatic champion Meeson grew the business after buying Guernsey-based Channel Express Group in 1983. It distributed flowers and fresh produce to the mainland and began flying passengers in 2001, sowing the seeds for the launch of Jet2 two years later. It also flies night mail for the Royal Mail. Dart includes Jet2Holidays and the Fowler Welch distribution company.
Jet2 transports 600,000 passengers through Edinburgh and Glasgow and sees no slowdown in the holidays market. Growth in the airline and the package holiday business were mainly responsible for a 26 per cent rise in turnover from £543 million to £683m in the year to the end of March.
But profits lifted only marginally from £26.2m to £28m, partly because of higher fuel prices.
Meeson has gained a reputation as something of a maverick, having hit the headlines for the wrong reasons for his rants against striking French air controllers and even those working for the company. In 2006 he described the French strikers as “lazy frogs”, saying afterwards that it was meant only as a “bit of fun”. Three years later police were called to Manchester Airport where he was accused of berating check-in staff for processing passengers too slowly. Police were called and he was issued with a warning under the Public Order Act.
Reflecting last week on the check-in row he said he had been frustrated by the sight of a long queue while staff appeared not to be doing anything. At the time he admitted using “the odd swear word” but said none was aimed at anyone in particular, “just about life in general”. The incident urged him to take the work in-house. “I was not happy,” he said. “The staff were not our own and now they are, and we now have our own staff in Scotland.”
In another embarrassing episode it was a Jet2 aircraft flying from Manchester to Rome last summer that an 11-year-old boy boarded, dodging five checkpoints without a ticket or passport.
Jet2 competes with low-cost rivals such as EasyJet, Monarch and Ryanair, but Meeson prefers to describe Jet2 as a “cost-conscious leisure airline”.
He peppers his conversation with a flow of glowing references to the business and its competitiveness but can boast a record of growth built on his personal passion for customer service. “We are a family-oriented airline,” he said.
The company owns all but three of its planes and finances growth from within its own resources, though it has raised funds three times from shareholders who include Schroder Investment Management and J O Hambro Capital Management.
Meeson believes the holiday business will continue to thrive despite the economic downturn because people are looking for an escape from the gloom and are attracted to the good deals on offer.