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Delays are defended by holiday operator; Airline says it must put passenger safety first.

Byline: By Chloe Griffiths

AIRLINE bosses defended their safety record last night after their only plane flying out of Newcastle was grounded for the third time in as many months.

Over the last three months passengers travelling on the only Flyjet plane at Newcastle International Airport have been stranded for a total of nearly 70 hours.

But yesterday Flyjet bosses, whose 17-year-old plane is subcontracted by a range of tour operators, insisted their reliability record was no worse than any other airline.

They claimed there had only been three delays from more than 250 flights, and said the problem was spotlighted because the company had just one aircraft rather than a fleet.

The company spoke out after the latest incident, which saw more than 200 holidaymakers stuck at the airport for 14 hours after the plane suffered technical difficulties.

The travellers were expecting to take off at 10am on Tuesday on flight FJE 604. But part of the engine lining was sucked into the engine as it landed from its previous flight and bosses had to find a new plane. The holiday-goers eventually set off at 12.20am yesterday, with the knock-on effects meaning those waiting for the return flight were stuck at the airport on the Canary Islands for close to 10 hours.

The problems come after 222 passengers faced a 24-hour ordeal after the same plane was grounded because of an engine fault.

The knock-on effect meant people bound for Lanzarote the next day, also with Flyjet, were left without a plane for 12 hours.

And just a month before that, on May 13, passengers heading to Sharm El Sheikh had an eight-hour delay after a catalogue of disasters.

A technical fault caused a two-hour delay, but after that was resolved travellers spent a further six-hours at the airport after a discrepancy in the passenger numbers caused a security scare.

Yesterday the Flyjet spokesman said: "Our record of reliability is no different from any other airline.

"An airplane is obviously a complex piece of machinery and we will not fly with an unsafe aircraft. But while other airlines have many crafts, we just have the one so when there is problem we have to take it on the chin, rather than just switching things about."

The spokesman also dismissed claims Flyjet had lost a contract as result of the problems, insisting their existing agreement simply runs out in October, when the holiday season draws to a close.

He said: "As far as we are concerned it is business as usual. Our contract finishes in October and we will renegotiate as usual."

Yesterday airport executives also moved to reassure the public, insisting Flyjet's record should not cause concern.

Head of planning and corporate affairs Graeme Mason said: "They have done hundreds of flights out of Newcastle and only three have caused delays. We are nevertheless concerned that passengers are being delayed, which also causes disruption to our operations."


GROUNDED: Flyjet hit by delays.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2007
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