Plymouth airport's owner takes to the skies

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The owner of a regional airport is founding a new airline that will link the South-west of England to London after British Airways decided to shake-up its regional operations and axe routes to Plymouth and Newquay.

Air Southwest will be run by Sutton Harbour, which owns Plymouth City Airport. The airline is expected to start offering flights from October. Malcolm Naylor, who heads the group's aviation arm, said talks with BA CitiExpress about taking over the routes and its Gatwick landing slots were at an "advanced" stage. Air Southwest would take over the Plymouth to Gatwick and Newquay to Gatwick routes, making four round trips a day.

Mr Naylor said the group hoped to expand Air Southwest by adding other routes within the UK and to the Continent. "We cannot be a one-route airline," he said, adding that would be "very little competition". Only Ryanair, the low-cost carrier, flies between London and Newquay at the moment.

He said it was "not normal" for airports to own airlines but insisted that Air Southwest would be ring-fenced from the rest of the group. The new airline would lease an unspecified number of turboprop aircraft, he added. He declined to comment on how much it would cost to set up Air Southwest or how much Sutton was paying BA.

The announcement came as Sutton Harbour reported pre-tax profits for the year to end March of £1.54m, flat on the previous year.