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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Go Fly
In the 1990s, the low-cost market in Europe was booming. Both Easyjet and Ryanair were experiencing success in offering low-cost, no frill flights. This success began to effect the performance of full service carriers in Europe. British Airways decided to fight this competition by starting its own low-cost airline separate from its main brand.
Allegedly, then CEO of British Airways, Bob Ayling, had approached Greek entrepreneur Stelios Haji-loannou, founder of Easyjet, about the low-cost formula. Stelios apparently showed Ayling his business plan for Easyjet. This meeting lead to the creation of Go in 1997. The low-cost airline would be based at London Stansted and would be run as a separate subsidiary of British Airways.
The airline was set up in early 1998 under the trading name of Go Fly. Initially, Go Fly operated with three leased Boeing 737-300’s, with more being added as the airline progressed. Even before being launched, the airline was facing stiff competition from Easyjet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, which at the time operated European routes.
The airline’s first flight was on May 22, 1998 from London Stansted to Rome Ciampino. This was followed later in the day with the airline’s second flight to Milan. In opposition to the launch of Go, Easyjet founder Stelios Haji-loannou and nine other Easyjet employees purchased seats on the inaugural flight, and wore bright orange boiler suits on the flight.
The airline soon operated routes to Copenhagen, Lisbon, and Bologna in addition to Milan and Rome. By the end of the year, the airline had added routes to Glasgow, Munich, and Venice. Flights to Malaga, Faro, and Madrid was added in the second year of operation. The early years of the airline saw a fluctuation in routes with a shift to vacation routes, such as Alicante in the summer and Lyon in the winter.
In 2000, the founder of the venture, Bob Ayling, left British Airways. As Go had been his brainchild, the airline’s future was in doubt from the day he left. Later that year, British Airways announced its intentions to sell Go. The full-serve carrier was looking to boost its profits, as well as fighting off concerns that Go was drawing passengers away from the parent airline.
The valuation for Go varied as British Airways sought a buyer. In June of 2001 the airline was sold to a cooperation of the 3i equity firm and a management buyout, and valued at £100 million. British Airways was hoping for more as it had believed it was valued at £200 million, before settling for the price with 3i.
The year of the sale, Go saw a 57% increase it the amount of passengers carried from the previous year. However, the ownership group lasted less than a year. In May of 2002 it was announced that Go had been purchased by main competitor Easyjet. The deal was worth £374 million, £274 million more than the 3i group had purchased Go for.
Easyjet had been looking to quickly expand its own operation, and saw a prime opportunity with Go. For the next year the Go brand continued to operate under the Easyjet operators certificate. The brand was absorbed into Easyjet in April 2003, with the Go name disappearing into the history books. At its end the airline operated 27 aircraft, a significant expansion from the three initial aircraft. Towards the end of 2003, former manager of Go, Barbara Cassani, wrote Go, An Airline Adventure, documenting the history of the airline.
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