DALLAS – Today in Aviation, UK regional operator Air Southwest (SZ) ceased operations in 2011. The airline, based at Plymouth City Airport (PLH), commenced operations on October 26, 2003. It was established by PLH owner Sutton Harbour Holdings to fill the gap left after British Airways (BA) decided to withdraw operations from the facility.
Three 50-seat Dash-8-300s were purchased from BA, with flights initially focusing on the key link to London Gatwick (LGW) via Newquay (NQY). Additional routes were added to Bristol (BRS), Manchester (MAN), and Jersey (JER). In the first 18 months of operation, the airline carried 200,000 passengers.
Steady expansion followed. A new hub was opened at NQY in April 2005 followed by BRS a year later. The airline also gave London Oxford Airport (OXF) its first scheduled service with a weekly link to Jersey in 2009. At the same time, Dublin (DUB) and London City (LCY) were added to the network.
Eastern Airways Takeover
Despite a major rebranding program, SZ was already struggling financially. Profits fell by £600,000 in 2009. Spiraling costs, plus the closure of UK airspace due to the volcanic ash cloud in April 2009, led the owners to put the carrier up for sale in May 2010.
On February 1, 2011, the airline dropped its lucrative LGW service citing ongoing losses and competition from Flybe (BE) who ran a parallel route from Newquay. The route had been one of the few making a profit until LGW raised its landing fees by 20%, instantly wiping out any profit the carrier was making.
Eastern Airways (T3), which had formed a strategic alliance with SZ in that same month, became the buyer. For a time, the two airlines continued to operate separately. However, financial losses mounted and the new owners made the decision to close the airline down.
Air Southwest’s demise also spelled the end for PLH, which closed its doors to the public on December 23, 2011.
Featured image: G-WOWA was one of three Dash 8-300s originally sourced from British Airways after the carrier ended operations from PLH. Photo: By Arpingstone – Own work, Public Domain