Photographer: Juha Remes/Getty Images

U.K. Carrier Jet2 Challenges Ryanair Amid Brexit Retreat

  • Flights will commence next March, serving 21 destinations
  • Move comes as Irish rival slows U.K. growth after vote on EU

British discount airline Jet2 will station six new Boeing Co. 737-800 jetliners at London Stansted airport, taking on Ryanair Holdings Plc in its own backyard.

Jet2 will serve 21 European destinations from Stansted, its first base outside the northern U.K., putting it on a par with EasyJet Plc as the leisure hub’s second-biggest operator. The first flights will commence March 30, the Leeds-Bradford airport-based carrier said Wednesday.

Stansted becomes the ninth base for Jet2, which has previously operated from locations such as Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne. Ryanair, for which Stansted is its biggest hub, has said it will deploy 50 jets due for delivery this year to markets outside the U.K. in light of an anticipated travel slump following Britain’s vote to quit the European Union.

“We’re putting more capacity on the routes that need it,” Jet2 Chief Executive Officer Steve Heapy said in an interview. “We haven’t seen a significant downturn in demand. There’s a little bit of uncertainty about, but at the end of the day people that live on this rainy and cold island want to get out to the Mediterranean and have a couple of weeks in the sun.”

Shares of Dart Group Plc, Jet2’s parent, rose 3.4 percent and traded 2.4 percent higher at 425.25 pence as of 12:09 p.m. in London. That pares the stock’s decline this year to 28 percent, valuing the company at 630 million pounds ($819 million).

Growing Fleet

Jet2 last year placed an order for 30 737-800s with a list price of $2.9 billion, the first of which arrived this month. The airline had a fleet 63 planes this summer, comprising 737s and long-range 757s. It will start looking at options for replacing the latter model in the next few months, Heapy said.

Jet2 had planned to enter Stansted long before the Brexit vote and will provide a boost to the airport by offering traditional package holidays, of which there’s a “definite lack” there, the CEO said. Dublin-based Ryanair is run as an airline rather than a tour operator and doesn’t have its own holiday arm.

The majority of Jet2’s Stansted flights will also be at off-peak times, helping to fill gaps in the daily schedule, according to the airport.

Ryanair’s 10 percent annual growth rate at Stansted over the last three years will likely dip following the Brexit vote, and the carrier is also paring frequencies on routes where winter load factors are not so strong, Andrew Cowan, the airport’s managing director, said in an interview.

“There is some uncertainty around Brexit and what that would mean for them, but we expect them to grow,” Cowan said. “Exactly what that growth profile will look like is still to be determined.”

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