The British Airline That Had A Stately Home For Its Head Office

The majestic stately home of Donington Hall could easily be the setting of a high-budget period drama. With its striking Gothic features and immaculately maintained gardens, few would guess it was once the head office of an airline. British Midland International, also styled as BMI, called it home for over 30 years before it ended up in the hands of a local motorcycle company.

British Midland International became the third-largest in the UK by the mid-2000s. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

A history of British Midland International

British Midland International was founded way back in 1938 under the name of Air Schools Limited, starting off as a military training school. By 1964, the airline changed its name to British Midland Airways and was operating a small number of regional flights. The company soon acquired jet aircraft and expanded its operations, flying on routes across Europe.

The British Airline That Had A Stately Home For Its Head Office
The airline was acquired by IAG in 2012 and integrated into British Airways. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

After another rebranding in 2001, this time adopting the name BMI, the airline grew to become the third-largest in the UK by 2005 and flew as far as India and the United States. Lufthansa became the majority stakeholder in 2009, before selling the airline off to IAG in 2012. While the airline is essentially defunct now, it still technically exists under the name of British Midland Airways Limited registered at British Airways HQ.

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Head offices fit for a king

Few airlines can claim their head offices are anywhere near as remarkable as Donington Hall. Built in 1826 for the Marquess of Hastings, the manor house is set on grounds of over 80 acres in North West Leicestershire. After passing through a couple of generations of the Rawdon-Hastings family, the home fell into a state of disrepair by 1868 before it was sold off at the turn of the century.

The British Airline That Had A Stately Home For Its Head Office
Donington Hall has a long and interesting history. Photo: John Warner via Wikipedia

With brief spells under military control during both world wars, including as a prisoner of war camp throughout World War I, British Midland International purchased the manor in 1976 and began renovations. After mass layoffs announced by parent company IAG in 2012, the stately home was sold to the Norton Motorcycle Company, which went into administration in 2020. Today, the manor is rented out for events and recently went up for sale at a guide price of £13,050,000.

What happened to the airline?

British Midland International was doing very well for itself by the mid-2000s, operating on popular routes across the world. The airline was bringing in revenues of over £1bn in 2007 and 2008 before the Lufthansa takeover precipitated a sharp decline in fortunes. After reporting losses exceeding £150m through 2008, BMI never fully recovered and was eventually integrated into British Airways after it was purchased by IAG in 2012.

BMI Regional remained operational before filing for administration in 2019. Photo: Getty Images

A subsidiary of the airline, BMI Regional, continued to operate after BMI’s takeover and integration. Flying to over 20 destinations across Europe and the U.K, the airline rebranded as flybmi in 2018 before collapsing just a year later. The airline had a fleet of 17 Embraer planes at the time of entering administration, the majority of which made their way to Scottish regional carrier Loganair.

Did you ever fly with British Midland International?