What Happened To UK Regional Carrier Air Southwest?

In the realms of modern commercial aviation, most of us will, quite understandably, link the name ‘Southwest’ with Dallas-based low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines. However, this compass point also gave its name to a lesser-known regional carrier in the UK, known as Air Southwest. But what exactly happened to this small de Havilland Dash 8 operator?

Air Southwest Dash 8-300
Air Southwest commenced operations in October 2003. Photo: Liam McManus via Flickr

Where did Air Southwest fly?

The goal of Air Southwest was to replace British Airways in markets from airports in the southwest of England. This came about after the UK flag carrier elected to withdraw its domestic services from the region. Having been established by Sutton Harbour Holdings in May 2003, Air Southwest began operating revenue-earning services that October.

The regional carrier was based at Plymouth City Airport in Devon, from which it launched its first route. This saw it serve London Gatwick via nearby Newquay in neighboring Cornwall. Shortly afterward, Air Southwest also introduced a route from Plymouth to Manchester via Bristol, from which it also later began serving the Channel Island of Jersey.

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Air Southwest Dash 8-300
Air Southwest was based at Plymouth City Airport. Photo: Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia

In the years that followed, Air Southwest established a comprehensive regional network despite its small fleet size. For example, 2009 saw it launch London Oxford Airport‘s first-ever scheduled services, in the form of a weekly rotation to Jersey.

Aside from a raft of destinations in England and the Channel Islands, the carrier also served Ireland (Cork, Dublin), Scotland(Aberdeen, Glasgow), and Wales (Cardiff). It even reached mainland Europe with a seasonal service from Newquay to Grenoble, France.

The end of an era

Air Southwest established a partnership with fellow UK regional carrier Eastern Airways in February 2010. By the end of the year, Eastern had taken the partnership a step further by purchasing Air Southwest. However, with the latter having experienced a £600,000 ($835,000) profit drop, the end was nigh for the Plymouth-based carrier.

Air Southwest Dash 8-300
Air Southwest entered a partnership with Eastern Airways in 2010. Photo: Pete Webber via Flickr

According to the BBC, low demand had caused the airline’s routes to become financially unviable. As such, Air Southwest announced on July 14th, 2011 that it would be ceasing operations by the end of September that year. A gradual closure followed, with flights from its Plymouth base being the first to cease, on July 28th. This ultimately led to the closure of Plymouth City Airport, which took place on December 23rd, 2011.

September 14th then saw Air Southwest cease its operations from Glasgow, Guernsey, Jersey, and Manchester. The final airports to serve the airline’s flights were Aberdeen, Bristol, Cork, Dublin, and Leeds Bradford. Air Southwest flew its last services from these airports on September 30th, 2011, ending just under eight years of operational history.

Air Southwest Dash 8-300
Air Southwest’s collapse led to the closure of Plymouth City Airport. Photo: Dale Coleman via Wikimedia

The fates of its aircraft

According to Planespotters.net, Air Southwest operated five 50-seat de Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprops during its eight-year existence. Of these, two were with the airline from the start, in October 2003. The others joined in October 2004, May 2005, and March 2006. After the airline’s collapse, three of the five aircraft were transferred to Eastern Airways.

Another (G-WOWD) went straight on to fly for Australian carrier Skytrans Airlines. Meanwhile, the last (G-WOWC) returned to its Canadian lessor, Avmax Group. Incredibly, despite now being around 30 years old, four of the five ex-Air Southwest Dash 8-300s remain active to this day. They presently ply their trade back in their Canadian homeland, at carriers such as Air Inuit, North Cariboo Air, and Perimeter Aviation.

Did you ever fly with Air Southwest? How did you find it compared to other UK-based regional carriers? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.