A Brief History of London European Airways

On Monday February 25, 1985 a small new airline known as London European Airways (UQ) operated its maiden flight from London’s Luton Airport (LTN) bound for Amsterdam (AMS). 

London European (LEA) was established in late 1985 with a view to commencing flights from the then under-utilised LTN. Management wished to target high-yielding business passengers on flights across Europe and an application was made to the Department for Transport (DoT), for a twice-daily service to Amsterdam (AMS).

Early Days

On February 8, 1985 a Vickers Viscount 800 was purchased from British Air Ferries (BAF). The aircraft, appropriately re-registered G-LOND, could trace its history back to 1958 when it entered service with British European Airways (BEA) as G-AOYI.

LEA’s maiden aircraft G-LOND cruising over the English coastline. (Photo: Christian Volpati Collection)

The Viscount would also serve with Cambrian Airways, British Airways, Guernsey Airways and BAF. G-LOND remained with LEA until March 1986. It would eventually be retired from airline service in June 1988 and later scrapped in February 1993.

G-LOND pictured at Birmingham International Airport in August 1985. (Photo: Rob HodgkinsCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Approval was subsequently granted by the DoT for the twice-daily service, with convenient flight times which would appeal to the business passengers the airline was targeting. 

However, another LTN based carrier Euroflite (EO), immediately appealed the decision. EO operated four British Aerospace BAe Jetstream 31s and also operated the LTN-AMS and LTN-Brussels (BRU) routes. To quash the appeal, LEA subsequently purchased Euroflite for £300,000.

Euroflite operated a fleet of four BAe Jetstream 31s. (Photo: Steve Ryle)

An additional five times per week route to Brussels (BRU) soon followed but sadly, neither service lived up to expectations. Coupled with the considerable cost of purchasing Euroflite, the London European was forced to suspend its operations on February 17, 1986, after authorities temporarily removed its operating licence.

A Shorts 330 (G-BITV) was leased in to provide additional capacity in 1986. (Photo: McMeiken)

Ryanair Rescue

But the struggling airline caught the eye of another burgeoning carrier Ryanair (FR). The Irish airline had commenced operations in 1985.

Management, wished to expand its network outside of Ireland and become a pan-European carrier. This was however, before the European Open Skies agreement of 1992. Therefore, individual governments had their say on which airlines could operate what routes. The Irish government refused Ryanair’s request, wanting to protect the interests of its flag-carrier Aer Lingus (EI). 

A Ryanair ROMBAC 1-11 EI-BVH. (Photo: Ryanair)

Seeing an opportunity with LEA, Ryanair bosses planned a takeover. They would then offer connections for passengers at Luton off its Dublin rotation and on to London European’s AMS and BRU routes. 

Cathal Ryan, son of Ryanair founder Tony Ryan and one of the airlines first pilots, proposed a rescue package of £630,000 for an 85% stake in LEA. Shareholders, desperate to see a return on their investment, immediately agreed. Mr Ryan would become the airline’s new Chairman. 


Keeping its London European Airways name, the airline was relaunched in April 1987. It also joined the jet-age, introducing its first One-Eleven 500 (G-BNIH) in August 1987. The aircraft, named ‘The Spirit of Europe’ was a Romanian built ROMBAC example, leased from TAROM Airlines (RO).

The arrival of the first jets also coincided with the arrival of a smart new livery. (Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons)

Services to Brussels and Amsterdam recommenced on May 22, 1987. 

As Ryanair expanded its operations, LEA losses continued to mount. Cathal Ryan decided to rebrand the carrier as Ryanair Europe on January 25, 1988. Further BAC One-Elevens were delivered, and five of the type would subsequently join the fleet, including the smaller -400 series (G-AZUK). 

A year later in January 1989, LEA ended its all of its scheduled flights, and began instead, to operate charter services for Ryanair.

G-BNIH with Ryanair Europe titles and the LEA logo on its tail. (Photo: Carl Ford Flickr)

In 1991 the London European name had returned. LEA’s One-Elevens could be seen at destinations across the UK and Europe including – Alicante, Amsterdam, Belfast, Brussles, Deauville, Dublin, Düsseldorf, Edinburgh, Exeter, Faro, Glasgow, RAF Gütersloh, Ibiza, Isle of Man, Le Havre, Mahón, Málaga,  Manchester, Marseille, Montpellier, Murcia, Naples, Newcastle, Oporto, Palma, Paris-Le Bourget, Reus, Stuttgart, Southend and Verona.

But at Ryanair, losses continued to mount. The airline announced in early 1991 that it would be transferring its London operations from Luton to Stansted (STN).

G-BNIH with LEA title on the engine and Ryanair’s original logo on the tail. (Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Wikimedia Commons)

The move immediately cast doubt over the future of London European, and management decided to fully integrate the carrier into mainline Ryanair.

This subsequently led to the closure of London European Airways on May 1, 1991.

Fleet List

RegistrationAircraft TypeNotes
G-LONDVickers Viscount 800
G-BIVT Shorts 330 Short term lease to add capacity.
G-BNIHROMBAC 1-11-500‘The Spirit of Europe’
G-AZUKBAC 1-11-400To Ryanair Europe
G-DJOSBAC 1-11-500To Ryanair Europe
G-EKPTBAC 1-11-500To Ryanair Europe
G-FLRUBAC 1-11-500To Ryanair Europe

N.B. The author does not own the rights to any of the images included in this article unless otherwise stated.

© Jet Back In Time by Lee Cross.

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