When we think of air travel in the UK now days, we think of “no frills”, “buy on board”, “pre-paid seats”, “hold baggage” and more notably, “easyJet”. Starting from humble beginnings out of London Luton Airport, easyJet has expanded dramatically since it’s inception in 1995, having grown out of a number acquisitions and consumer demand for low-cost air travel. The colour orange has been synonymous with easyJet’s brand identity and livery from day one and that sea of orange continues to spread across Gatwick’s apron like an open ocean as new routes are continuously added and the aircraft fleet is updated and expanded, making Gatwick the airline’s largest base.
However, easyJet was not the first orange bird to grace Gatwick with their presence, if anything easyJet follows a legacy of expansion and development from a predecessor whose orange tails dominated Gatwick’s South Terminal by the early nineties and set the tone of what air travel was to become by the twenty-first century. It’s hard to know where to begin with this now legendary airline, its name itself has come to represent a whole industry that has since tried to match its excellence, so it’s probably best to simply start there – Air Europe.
Like easyJet, Air Europe started out in humble beginnings with three Boeing 737-200 aircraft (the same aircraft type easyJet set up with) in May 1979. The airline’s main supplier of charter seats was for package holiday tour operator, Intasun which grew and expanded in the eighties. And just like easyJet, Air Europe soon grew to become Gatwick’s dominate scheduled short-haul operator (along with Dan-Air, following British Caledonian’s take-over). Air Europe acquired 45% of Gatwick’s take-off and landing slots, not bad for an airline still in its infancy. Once again, just like easyJet, Air Europe became a pan-European airline, setting up subsidiaries elsewhere in Europe: Air Europa of Spain (which still lives on today) and Air Europe Italy. Air Europe also acquired two smaller domestic airlines, which in turn formed the nucleus of a new Air Europe Express regional airline subsidiary and by the end of the eighties, having over taken stalwart Dan-Air, Air Europe became Gatwick’s largest operator.
Sadly, Air Europe’s success was to come to an abrupt end. The airline’s parent company, International Leisure Group (ILG) ran in to financial difficulties and this was heightened more by the Gulf War and the recession of the early nineties. Air Europe went bankrupt in March 1991, ending just 12 short years of rapid success.
It would be a further 11 years before Gatwick would see any drop of orange again. Already slowly rising over the past 7 years, 2002 saw easyJet move in to Gatwick to test out the “no-frills” concept of air travel in one of the airline’s biggest moves. Having acquired GO (a low-cost airline set up by British Airways) and later GB Airways, easyJet quickly grew in the noughties; dominating both North and South Terminals; the sea of orange was back in a new form. No longer an ocean spreading, this was a tsunami hurdling towards its competition. Where Air Europe failed, easyJet was to succeed; adopting a cost-cutting measure such as not selling connecting flights or providing complimentary snacks on board. The key points of this business model are quick turnaround times, charging for extras such as priority boarding, hold baggage, and of course, food and drink.
And so, as another decade draws to a close, its easyJet that now carries the torch as Gatwick’s dominate airline. Flying to over 100 destinations and carrying more than 16 million passengers per year, it’s hard not to think of Air Europe and what they started almost forty years ago, for if it wasn’t for Air Europe would easyJet even exist today? One thing is for certain, the sea of orange is not going anywhere anytime soon and although troubled waters have swept ashore this past year with the demise of Monarch Airlines and Air Berlin, the Orange Ocean continues to deepen.
Air Europe was founded in May 1979 and ceased operations in March 1991. easyJet began operations in March 1995 and continues to fly today.