April 2016: Pat Byrne, executive chairman, CityJet

Business Person of the Month | Wed 4 May | Author – Business & Finance Pat Byrne CityJet

In a deal with Intro Aviation, Pat Byrne and a group of investors have bought the airline he founded in 1992.

In late March, news broke that Pat Byrne has bought CityJet – the company that he founded in the early 1990s. It is a hugely significant move for Byrne, the airline and the industry itself in this part of the world.

The deal involves Byrne and a group of private investors buying the airline from German group Intro Aviation, which had bought it from Aer France KLM two years ago. Byrne had returned to serve as executive chairman in February 2015.

“The change in ownership will give us access to the necessary capital to allow CityJet to move forward and continue the transformation,” said Byrne, reported in The Irish Times. “There are lots of profitable emerging opportunities in the European regional aircraft segment and CityJet is now well placed to take advantage of these.”

Byrne set up CityJet in 1992 after making his name with Savings & Investments, which sold to Woodchester Investments and later became Cornmarket Group. Serving as CEO of the short-haul CityJet for eight years, Byrne sealed a deal with Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic – turbulent times recounted in his autobiography. The very title of the book, Fuelled By Belief, offers its own insight. He exited in 2000, and the airline became a wholly owned subsidiary of Aer France.

GAME CHANGER

Now back at the helm, Byrne has mooted the possibility of a stock market listing as “the ideal way to go” in an interview with the Irish Independent. “I think it’s two-and-a-half or three years away. You have to have momentum and forward contracts. A listing is probably more likely than a trade sale,” he said.

The wider aviation industry is also adapting to further change at Stobart Air, which operates the Aer Lingus Regional turboprop services. Stobart is up for sale and its chairman has been replaced amid reports of boardroom tensions. A potential deal with CityJet has been speculated upon in the media.

All that is for the future, though. In October CityJet signed a deal to buy 15 Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100 aircraft. Each hosts 98 passengers and is configured with five-abreast seating, with four aircraft due this year and 11 next year. It also has options on 10 further aircraft.

“We are very excited to be the very first airline in Europe to order this ‘game-changing’ aircraft that delivers a level of comfort, plush interior design and cabin capacity that is far superior to all of its competitors,” said Byrne. “This is a very versatile new-generation jet which will fulfil our requirements with a capability to operate at smaller airports such as our hub at London City Airport and offer significant advantages in fuel efficiency, emissions ratings and noise reduction.”

Furthermore, the company announced that it has won a major wet lease contract from SAS to operate regional routes from Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm using eight Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft. “The SAS contract has immense strategic significance for CityJet’s growth and development, strengthening its market position across Europe and facilitating ongoing investment and growth. Securing this contract with SAS is a major vote of confidence in our team and in our expertise, and will help support future business expansion,” said Byrne.

It has thus been a transformative few months at CityJet – with an exciting time ahead for the Swords-based airline and its new co-owner, the returned founder Pat Byrne. 

CV highlights

• Bray man Pat Byrne co-founded and built insurance/investment house Savings and Investments, selling to Woodchester in 1987 and serving as MD until 1991

He established CityJet in 1992, specialising in short-haul hops to destinations such as London City Airport and working under franchise with Virgin Atlantic

He remained as CEO until 2000, with the airline being bought by Air France and then German Group Intro Aviation.

Byrne moved into consulting and then set up airline software business Rainmaker before returning to CityJet as executive chairman.

He and a consortium bought CityJet from Intro Aviation this year.