SCOTTISH airline group Loganair has taken over seven routes operated by national carrier British Airways.
The company said it expected the new routes would add almost 20 million to its turnover and would reinforce its position as the biggest operator of internal flights in Scotland.
By securing the seven routes - including Edinburgh to Belfast - from BA subsidiary British Airways CitiExpress, Loganair said passenger numbers would also be boosted from current levels of 315,000 to about 585,000.
The Glasgow-based carrier said turnover would rise from 30m to about 48m on the back of its expanded service.
The agreement, which will see Loganair lease four aircraft from BA, as well as utilising an additional aircraft, also extends the group’s external network.
New external routes will take Loganair to Belfast and the Isle of Man, adding to external routes which already include Derry and Cork, in the Republic of Ireland, and Manchester. The seven routes the company has acquired are: Glasgow to Stornoway, Benbecula, Belfast, the Isle of Man and Aberdeen; Aberdeen to Shetland, and Edinburgh to Belfast.
Loganair, which was founded in 1962, is Scotland’s largest internal flights carrier, operating 33 routes within the mainland and to the Western and Northern Isles.
The company also operates a number of so-called "lifeline" inter-island services and is a major provider of air ambulance cover in Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides.
Loganair chairman Scott Grier said: "I believe that, with our long and unique experience of operating safe and successful air services throughout the Highlands and Islands, the future of these lifeline routes is in good hands.
"It must be good news for our customers in these remote communities, as well as for our employees. It was crucially important that these lifeline routes be safeguarded while remaining within the BA worldwide scheduled service network."
Under the route takeover deal - effective from March 1, 2004 - Loganair will operate all of the internal Scottish routes currently served by BA CitiExpress.
The carrier will take over the new routes from March 1 next year and for a 12-month period, so as to maintain continuity, will operate with BA aircraft and crews.
Earlier this year, Loganair, which employs 210 staff, also renewed its franchise partnership with BA for a further five years.
Loganair - which was founded in 1962 as the air taxi service of the Logan Construction Company - was the subject of a management buy-out led by Mr Grier from the British Midland Group in 1997.
Mr Grier, chief executive Jim Cameron and the management team have steered the company back to profitability following the life-saving buyout after much of the carrier’s business was transferred to other companies within British Midland.
The management that spearheaded the buyout later secured the BA franchise deal.
Looking ahead, Mr Grier said: "The past few years have been a difficult time for the aviation industry in general. Loganair has not been immune to those difficulties but has continued to make progress."
But he added that with the help of the airline’s latest business scoop "the company will be in a stronger position than it has ever been".