easyJet Didn’t Have An AOC For Its First 2 Years Of Flights

All around Europe, but particularly in the UK, low-cost carrier easyJet has a conspicuous presence. This is partly due to its bright-orange livery, but also owing to the size that the airline has grown to since commencing operations more than 25 years ago. However, its beginnings were rather more humble. Indeed, it even spent its first two years with no AOC.

easyJet Boeing 737-300
easyJet did not obtain an AOC until 1997. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

What is an AOC?

In commercial aviation terms, AOC stands for ‘Air Operator’s Certificate.’ These licensing documents are granted by aviation authorities to allow operators to fly their aircraft commercially. Their purpose is to ensure that the operator in question has the correct working practices in place to ensure that employees and the public are kept safe.

Airlines are among the most obvious candidates for requiring such documentation. However, other operators also require AOCs. These include companies that use their planes for aerial advertising (such as flying banners), photography, and pilot training. They also apply to airborne emergency services, such as air ambulances or firefighting aircraft.

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Plane Pulling Banner
Even aircraft whose commercial purpose is to display advertising banners, such as this one for a Romanian bank, are required to be covered by an AOC. Photo: Alexandru Panoiu via Flickr

Aviation authorities require companies to fulfill numerous criteria before their AOCs can be granted. These include the operator’s planes being deemed airworthy, training and safety protocols that meet certain standards, and proof of sufficient finances.

easyJet’s early years without an AOC

Despite the stringent standards that AOCs are put in place to uphold, easyJet was able to legally do without one for its first two years of operations. This was because, rather than flying its own aircraft, easyJet’s first Boeing 737s were instead operated on the airline’s behalf by other carriers. These included the likes of GB Airways and Air Foyle.

As such, instead of obtaining its own documentation, easyJet was legally able to operate under these carriers’ AOCs. However, the time eventually came for the airline to take the next step. It was awarded its own AOC in October 1997, two years after its first flights.

GB Airways Boeing 737
GB Airways operated some of easyJet’s flights in its early years, meaning that the Luton-based low-cost carrier didn’t need its own AOC. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Flickr

easyJet’s website states that this documentation helped the airline to be “recognized as a financially viable airline.” October 1997 also saw easyJet lay the foundations for its future UK-wide operations by opening a second base at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

A new certificate for a new subsidiary

In recent years, easyJet has also gone through the bureaucratic process of obtaining an AOC for a new subsidiary airline. Specifically, it began basing aircraft in Austria under the easyJet Europe brand in 2017. It did so after the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

By applying for an AOC in an EU member state, the carrier hoped to avoid any potential new restrictions that might have arisen as a result of Brexit. As such, it can continue to operate its services between EU member states with an extra layer of security. Today, Planespotters.net reports that the easyJet Europe fleet consists of 119 aircraft.

Did you know about easyJet’s curious AOC situation in its early years? Perhaps you flew with the airline during this time? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!