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Brymon Airways - history and photo archives
Brymon Airways was the far South West's original airline, successfully developing niche air routes in the South West and beyond for 30 years, until being absorbed into British Airways' regional business. This special feature records the history of this remarkable little airline, and includes links to a wealth of photos and related information.
Brymon Airways started life in 1970 as Brymon Aviation Limited. The co-founders were New Zealander Bill Bryce and racing driver Chris Amon (hence the name Bry-Mon). In the early years, scheduled services were started from Plymouth and Newquay to the Channel Islands, the Isles of Scilly, and Brittany, using 9-seat Britten-Norman Islander aircraft.
In the 1980’s, Brymon became the first UK operator of the revolutionary four-engined, 50-seat De Havilland Dash 7 – an aircraft specifically designed for STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) performance. The Dash 7 allowed Brymon to secure a lucrative contract for Chevron Oil, ferrying oil workers between Aberdeen and Unst in the Shetland Islands (where the aircraft’s STOL capabilities were used to their full advantage on Unst’s short runway).
Dash 7's Join the Fleet
Brymon Airways was key to the development of London City Airport, in London’s developing docklands area. The airline partnered with Mowlem Construction in developing the plans for the airport, and even landed one of its Dash 7’s on the disused Heron’s Wharf close to what is now London City Airport, to demonstrate the capability of the aircraft in operating from a short landing strip in a built up area.
Pioneering at London City Airport
In 1992, Brymon merged with Birmingham European Airways to form Brymon European Airways, an arrangement which saw Brymon European colours appearing on the BAC 1-11 and Jetstream 31 aircraft previously operated as Birmingham European. During this time, the company’s main operating bases were Plymouth, Bristol and Birmingham. The head office functions during this time were split between Brymon European House on the Coventry Road in Birmingham (including commercial, finance and general management departments) and Plymouth City Airport
The late 1990’s and into the new Millennium saw an exciting time for Brymon Airways.
A brand new fleet of Dash 8-Q300 aircraft was acquired – “Q” standing for “Quiet”, as the aircraft were fitted with an innovative electronic noise-cancelling system which kept cabin noise levels to a new low level.
British Regional Airlines (BRAL), a British Midland subsidiary operating as a British Airways franchise, saw Brymon as an ideal acquisition opportunity. British Airways (owners of Brymon) considered the approach from BRAL, but decided that the best way forward would be for it to acquire BRAL, and merge it with both Brymon Airways and British Airways Regional (a BA operation, flying from Birmingham and Manchester). BRAL sister-company Manx Airlines was also to be included in this merger.
The result was a new major regional airline BA CitiExpress, operating a diverse fleet including Dash 8’s, Embraer regional jets, the British Aerospace ATP and BAe146, and Airbus A319. However, the integration of the various diverse businesses into this new airline proved a difficult process, including the harmonisation of employee terms and conditions and integration of head office and operational functions. This all took time (some industry commenters said took too much time) in a period when the new breed of low-cost carriers were creating a growing competitive challenge. The result was that the new BA CitiExpress found itself engaged in endless rounds of regional route cuts in an attempt to create a sustainable business model. The final throw of the dice was the transformation of BA CitiExpress into BA Connect, a short-lived venture which was ultimately acquired by competitor airline Flybe.
The rationalisation of the BA CitiExpress network in 2003 included a withdrawal of services from Plymouth and Newquay. The Sutton Harbour Group, owners of Plymouth City Airport, saw the opportunity to start their own airline, Air Southwest, operating a number of routes previously operated by Brymon Airways from Plymouth and Newquay. With its expanding network of service to and from Devon and Cornwall, Air Southwest quickly developed strong presence in the region, with its fleet of Dash 8 turbo-prop aircraft serving routes from Plymouth and Newquay to London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The Brymon European Era
Rapid Expansion in the 1990's
The Final Years
Reviving Devon and Cornwall Airlinks
Having been central to the development of the initial concept for London City Airport, the airline soon found itself at the centre of a controversial route licensing hearing with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, with fledgling airline Eurocity Express (a subsidiary of British Midland Airways) bidding to fly identical routes from London City Airport to those identified by Brymon. The CAA ultimately offered licences to both airlines on the same routes (initially to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels), and both airlines started services from the new airport when it opened in 1997.
(where Revenue Accounting and Operations departments were based).
This was a short-lived and ill-fated merger, lasting only a year or so. In 1993 the airline was de-merged, with the Birmingham operation becoming Maersk Air (wholly owned by Denmark’s giant Maersk group) and the Bristol and Plymouth operations once again becoming Brymon Airways, owned by British Airways and flying under a BA franchise.
In 2000, Brymon created a new head office in the seemingly unlikely location of Worle, near Weston-super-Mare (convenient for the airline’s growing operation at nearby Bristol Airport). The new head office – “Meridian” – was revolutionary for its time, with all open-plan working, the latest IT systems, and a suite of classrooms to meet the airline’s growing training needs. Meridian was officially opened by Lord Marshall, then chairman of British Airways, during a visit by the British Airways main board to Bristol in 2000. The opening event was combined with an official unveiling of a BA Executive Lounge in the newly-opened terminal at Bristol Airport.
Also in the year 2000, Brymon started to introduce 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145 Regional Jets, which were used on its own growing scheduled route network from Bristol, on weekend charter services to destinations including Verona, and operating on behalf of British Airways Regional from Birmingham to destinations in the UK and mainland Europe.
It was a successful period for Brymon, with rapid growth and strong profitability.
the insiders' guide to everything that's great about Devon and Cornwall!
In 2011, rising costs coupled with new competition on the airline's biggest route (Newquay-London Gatwick) led to the sale of Air Southwest to fellow UK regional airline Eastern Airways, followed quickly by the airline's closure altogether. With the loss of its only scheduled airline, Plymouth Airport also found itself in a position where it was no longer viable, and despite strong local campaigning the airport closed on the 23rd December 2011, bringing to an end a long history of commercial flying from Plymouth.