First Choice Airways is a charter airline of European tour operator TUI Travel PLC, based in Crawley, England. It flies to more than 60 destinations worldwide from 14 UK and Irish airports. 70% of the airline's services are operated for its parent company, rising to 85% in the summer season, with the remainder on behalf of some 120 other tour operators. It also operates scheduled year-round leisure routes to Cyprus and the resorts of Spain and Portugal. Its main bases are Manchester Airport and London Gatwick Airport, with its main hub being Manchester Airport. The long haul services are sold only by internal companies such as First Choice Holidays, Eclipse Direct, Sunsail, Sovereign, Hayes and Jarvis and Unijet. The company also operates luxury 'Around The World' flights each winter on behalf of TCS Expeditions.
The company holds a Civil Aviation Authority Type A Operating Licence, permitting it to carry passengers, cargo and mail on aircraft with 20 or more seats.
The airline started operations on 11 April 1987, launched by the Owners Abroad Group under the name Air 2000 (ICAO=AMM), with two Boeing 757 aircraft and a flight from Manchester to Málaga. The fleet doubled a year later, with one aircraft being based at Glasgow International Airport. In the same year, the airline set up a subsidiary in Canada, to be called Air 2000 Airline Ltd. This subsidiary lasted only a few days before the Canadian government suspended its licence. The second attempt was more successful and became Canada 3000.
Long haul services to Mombasa in Kenya were introduced during the 1988/89 season. The 757s were re-equipped for extended range and flights to the United States began in 1989. The airline was granted a licence for scheduled operations by the CAA in 1992, which commenced in 1993, initially between London Gatwick and Paphos, in Cyprus.
Expansion saw new bases in the UK established, with Dublin becoming the airline's first overseas hub in 1996. Leisure International Airways was fully integrated after the acquisition by First Choice of Unijet in June 1998. This included the entire fleet of aircraft, and an order for four Airbus A330-200 aircraft, which First Choice immediately cancelled in favour of the rival Boeing 767-300 aircraft. Air 2000 received a new colour scheme which is still in use, however in March 2004 the Air 2000 branding was removed and First Choice Airways branding added.
The airline carried 6.5 million passengers during 2002. The 2005 total was 6.0 million - fifth highest passenger figures of any UK airline. In 2004 it announced plans to refurbish another six Boeing 767-300 aircraft to expand its long haul operations. The airline was the first in the UK to use the Boeing 777-style interior on their 767 fleet. The company now has six aircraft flying long haul in 2007, in a two class layout, 63 Premium, 195 Economy. All seats feature Panasonic seat back entertainment and mood lighting in Star Class Premier.
On 23 April 2007, First Choice confirmed it is to close its bases at London Luton Airport and Cardiff from 1 November 2007, however due to the merger with Thomsonfly who also operate from these bases, the combined airline will still operate from these bases. First Choice Airways is to establish a new permanent base at Exeter Airport.
Austria: Salzburg, Innsbruck
Bulgaria: Bourgas, Sofia, Varna
Cape Verde: Sal
Cyprus: Larnaca, Paphos
Egypt: Hurghada, Luxor, Sharm El Sheikh, Taba
Ireland: Dublin, Cork, Shsnnon
Italy: Naples, Verona
Greece: Chania, Corfu, Heraklion, Kefalonia, Kos, Preveza, Mytilini, Rhodes, Santorini, Skiathos, Thessaloniki, Zakinthos
Portugal: Faro, Funchal
Spain: Almeria, Alicante, Ibiza, Fuerteventura, La Palma, Las Palmas, Lanzarote, Malaga, Mahon, Palma, Reus, Tenerife South
Turkey: Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman, Izmir
Antigua and Barbuda
Barbados: Bridge Town
Cuba: Cayo Coco, Holguin, Varadero
Costa Rica: Liberia
Dominican Republic: Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, Samana, La Romana (From Dec 08)
India: Goa, Trivandrum
Jamaica: Montego Bay
Mexico: Cancun, Cozumel, Puerto Villarta
Sri Lanka: Colombo
USA: Orlando Sanford
The First Choice Airways fleet includes the following aircraft (at May 2008):
|Aircraft||In Service||On Order||Seats|
As of May 2008 the average fleet age is 10.2 years.
The airline will be UK launch customer for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The airline placed a firm order for six aircraft in February 2005, with an option for a further six. The airline will be the first UK company to receive the B787. In December 2006, the airline announced the purchase of a further two 787 Dreamliners, taking its order to eight aircraft. In March 2007 First Choice Airways announced it was converting all four remaining options to orders, bringing the total to 12 aircraft.
Although planned to enter service in summer 2009, delays to the Boeing 787 programme mean that First Choice Airways will not be able to introduce the aircraft to the fleet until summer 2010.
Each B787-8 will replace a B767-300 on long haul routes as they are delivered. The deliveries are expected to take around two years. Moreover, it is expected that 6 aircraft will be based at Manchester Airport, and the other remaining 6 will be based at London Gatwick Airport.