CityJet Eyes Fleet Expansion For Post COVID-19 Recovery

Dublin-based Irish regional airline CityJet is looking to increase the size of its fleet in preparation for a post-COVID-19 recovery in Europe. The airline focuses on charter flights and the wet leasing of aircraft for larger airlines. Since August 2020, CityJet has been operating wet lease services on behalf of Scandinavian Airlines from its hub at Copenhagen Airport, Kastrup (CPH).

CityJet operates flights on behalf of SAS. Photo: Getty Images

A wet lease is an arrangement whereby one airline (the lessor) agrees to use its aircraft and crew on behalf of another airline (the lessee). The lessor is responsible for the maintenance and insurance of the plane and is usually paid by the lessee based on the aircraft’s operational hours. According to CityJet CEO Pat Byrne, the wet lease specialist is involved in talks with as many as five different European airlines.

CityJet expects to add between five and ten aircraft to its fleet

As airlines emerge from what has been the most significant downturn in aviation history, some of the more prominent European carriers are struggling to fill seats on specific routes. The problem is that the planes they operate are too large for passenger demand. A Boeing 737-800 operated by Ryanair has seating for 189 passengers, while an easyJet Airbus A320 has room for 180 passengers.

In comparison, CityJet’s fleet of 12 Bombardier CRJ-900s have only 88 seats making it a much better option on shorter routes where passenger demand is too low to warrant a larger aircraft like a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. The CRJ is also advantageous because of its very low fuel burn.

CityJet CEO Pat Byrne. Photo: CityJet

When speaking to the Irish daily newspaper the Independent about CityJet’s desire to acquire more aircraft, Byrne said:

“We’ve found ourselves in a niche almost by default. We are seeing an understanding by the legacy carriers that regional jets are actually a very good tactical weapon. We anticipate opportunities arising, so we are getting five to 10 more CRJs and, more long term, also potentially looking at three to five Embraer aircraft, although that is not as certain.”

CityJet had to layoff 800 staff

CityJet’s talk of fleet expansion and new business opportunities comes after a period brought about by the pandemic that saw the airline layoff, 800 employees as it entered examinership.

“It has been very rough,” Byrne told the Sunday Independent. “It’s been very rough on the people in Dublin that we have had to let go and on the people in the bases around Europe that we have had to close.”
“It has been a question of keeping the faith and keeping the head and working our way through very dark days. At one stage, we were down to flying just four airplanes. But we’ve managed to come through the examinership smaller but stronger, with a far better balance sheet and free of debt. Our intention all the time was to survive because we believed there would be a lot fewer regional carriers around like us when this is all over. So there are fewer players pursuing the opportunities that are now out there.”

CityJet held onto its contract with SAS

Registered in Ireland and headquartered in Dublin, CityJet currently has 140 employees but no longer operates any flights out of the Emerald Isle after losing its contracts with Aer Lingus, France, and others during the pandemic. Before the medical emergency, CityJet had a fleet of 34 aircraft. Now, following the examinership, it has been whittled down to 12. On the bright side, CityJet managed to hold onto its agreement with SAS and operates flights for the Scandanavian carrier out of Copenhagen.

“We have been ramping up slowly again with SAS, and we anticipate that our fleet will rise to 15 aircraft in November and increase again with them for next summer. We’re in dialogue with other airlines in Europe as well as they pull out of their hibernation.”

CityJet plans to add between five and ten planes to its fleet. Photo: CityJet

Despite planning to relocate its Dublin offices to a smaller property, Byrne said CityJet would hire more staff in the coming months.

“We’re hiring crews now for the ramp-up process that is underway with SAS, and we are also hiring crews too for what we anticipate are the opportunities that are out there.

“There is an element at the moment of trying to win back some lost business from before, but most of what we are looking at will be genuinely new business we haven’t had before,” he said.

It is good to see that new business is on the horizon for CityJet. If you have any guesses about which airlines Byrne is talking about, please share them with us in the comments.

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