Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Flybe Names Ex-CityJet Head as New Chief to Lead Heathrow Push

  • Christine Ourmieres-Widener hired after Hammad’s sudden exit
  • Flights from Europe’s busiest hub airport start next year

Flybe Group Plc, Europe’s biggest regional airline, appointed Christine Ourmieres-Widener as its chief executive officer, succeeding Saad Hammad, who stood down in October after struggling to lift earnings.

Ourmieres-Widener, an executive at Air France before she ran fellow regional operator CityJet Ltd. between 2010 and 2015, takes over Jan. 16, Flybe said in a statement Tuesday. She’ll lead the carrier’s expansion into London Heathrow airport, where it has been handed operating slots forfeited by British Airways.

Regional airlines generally lack the efficiencies of discount specialists such as Ryanair Holdings Plc, flying smaller aircraft between minor cities. Under Hammad, Flybe abandoned plans to act as a consolidator for the sector across Europe, cutting routes, firing hundreds of workers and canceling plane orders to focus on U.K. services and code-sharing deals with other carriers.

Ourmieres-Widener, who at CityJet ran the biggest operator at London City airport, where Flybe also has an expanding presence, becomes a rare female airline chief, though the second at a major U.K. carrier alongside EasyJet Plc CEO Carolyn McCall.

She joins from American Express Global Business Travel, having spent less than two years as head of global sales at the corporate bookings provider.

Ourmieres-Widener “brings extensive experience of aviation and travel, as well as deep knowledge of the U.K. regional aviation market,” said interim CEO Simon Laffin, who resumes his role as Exeter, England-based Flybe’s chairman.

Flybe will commence flights from Heathrow to Edinburgh and Aberdeen next March using slots that IAG SA’s BA relinquished to stop it having a monopoly over the services following the takeover of the former British Midland.

Other than meeting landing and passenger charges, the regional operator won’t have to pay for the positions, which were initially utilized by Aer Lingus on behalf of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. under the Little Red brand before the plan was dropped.

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