Excel Airways

Excel Airways

This article is about the former British airline, known both as XL and Excel. For the former Dutch airline Air Exel, see Air Exel.
XL Airways
Founded 1994 as Sabre Airways
Ceased operations 12 September 2008
Hubs London Gatwick Airport
Manchester Airport
Glasgow Airport
Focus cities Newcastle Airport
Bristol Airport
East Midlands Airport
Birmingham Airport
Fleet size 18
Parent company XL Leisure Group
Headquarters Crawley, England, United Kingdom
Key people DFO James Scott
CEO Phil Wyatt
Chairman Peter Owen

XL Airways was a British low-cost charter and scheduled airline, which ceased operations when it went into administration on 12 September 2008. Its headquarters were in Crawley, West Sussex, near London Gatwick Airport. It was part of the XL Leisure Group. XL Airways is a trading name for XL Airways UK Limited. The airline provided short-haul and long-haul charter services predominantly to leisure destinations from its three bases at London Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow.

The airline also operated services from Newcastle, Bristol, East Midlands, Birmingham, Ireland West Airport Knock. Two other airlines within the group use the XL Airways branding; XL Airways France and XL Airways Germany are not affected by the insolvency of the XL Leisure Group.[1]


The airline was established in 1994 as Sabre Airways and started operations on 17 December 1994. The name Excel was adopted following the acquisition in November 2000 of a 67% stake by Libra Holidays Group, and subsequently increased. In March 2004 the Avion Group (now Eimskipafélag Íslands) completed the purchase of 40.5% of the Excel Airways Group. As a new charter airline, Excel concentrated on flights from Gatwick and Manchester to holiday destinations including Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Spain, the Canaries, St Lucia and Egypt.

In March 2006 Excel Airways signed an agreement with GE Commercial Aviation Services for the lease of two Next-Generation Boeing 737-900ER (Extended Range) aircraft. These were the first examples of the latest variant of the Boeing 737 aircraft to operate in the UK when delivered in May 2008.

The airline acquired three Boeing 747-300 aircraft following the merger of sister company Air Atlanta Europe in May 2006. The aircraft were operated for Travel City Direct between the UK and Orlando, however they left the fleet in November 2007 following expiration of their leases.

On 30 October 2006, members of management bought-out XL Leisure Group from Avion Group. XL Leisure Group consists of Excel Airways Group in the UK, Star Airlines France and Star Europe in Germany.

The XL.com website and aircraft branding was adopted by the Excel Airways Group in November 2006 as part of a major brand relaunch. Sister airlines in Germany and France were also rebranded.

Cessation of operations

On 11 September 2008, parent company XL Leisure Group filed for administration, although for some time the group's website continued taking bookings. The group later announced via their website that on 12 September 2008, 11 companies associated with the group had been put into administration, including XL Airways UK Limited. This did not affect the German and French divisions of the company's operations. The company issued the following statement: "The companies entered into administration having suffered as a result of volatile fuel prices, the economic downturn, and were unable to obtain further funding. The joint administrators cannot continue trading the business and therefore all flights operated by the companies have been immediately cancelled and the aircraft grounded;"[2] XL Airline Germany and XL Airlines France have been bought out by another company and may come back in to full operation.

The airline left around 90,000 stranded passengers in 50 destinations across Europe, USA, the Caribbean and Africa.[3][4] 63,000 of the stranded passengers were on package holidays, so were covered by the ATOL bond, which ensures paid-for repatriation. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) chartered a number of aircraft from a variety of British airlines.[5] One widely-reported Astraeus flight to Sharm el-Sheikh was flown by Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson.[6] Passengers who had booked direct, and were therefore not ATOL-protected, had to arrange their own flights home, but in some cases were offered special fares by airlines,[6][7] or were offered spare seats on CAA-organised flights at a reasonable cost.[5]


On 26 August 2008, XL Airways announced the cancellation of the Caribbean long haul programme until further notice from 3 November 2008 due to high fuel prices and declining passenger numbers. Routes cancelled were: St Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago, St Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, Barbados. The airline's destinations prior to ceasing operations were:

XL Airways Ireland

From May 2007 XL Airways operated flights from Dublin, Cork and Knock which were marketed through XL Holidays as XL Airways Ireland. The inaugural flight operated from Dublin to Palma on 1 May 2007. Flights were offered to the following destinations prior to the airline ceasing operation:

From Dublin:

From Cork:

From Knock:

Incidents and accidents

On 16 July 2003, an Excel Airways Boeing 737-800 (G-XLAG) with 190 passengers and seven crew took off from Manchester Airport while vehicles were working near the end of the runway. Despite the crew being told the runway was operating at reduced length, they took off from a runway intersection with reduced length using a reduced thrust setting calculated for the assumed normal runway length. The aircraft lifted off over the vehicles, missing them by 56 feet (17 m), according to the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch report. Six safety recommendations were made.[8]

On 4 November 2004, the left wing of an Excel Airways Boeing 767-200 (G-SATR) struck the right horizontal stabiliser of a stationary Bmibaby Boeing 737-300 while both aircraft were awaiting departure from Manchester Airport. The investigation concluded that the Excel 767 Captain, who bore primary responsibility for collision avoidance, misjudged the available separation due to a combination of physiological limitations, distractions and a false assumption regarding his Air Traffic Control clearance.[9]


The airline won a number of awards, including Best Charter Airline 2006, World's Leading Charter Airline 2004, 2005 and 2007,[10] Best Charter Airline 2004 and 2005 and UK Charter Airline Punctuality Awards for Summer 2002 - Runner Up.


The XL Airways UK fleet included the following aircraft (as of June 2008):[11]

Aircraft Number in Fleet Notes
Airbus A330-200 1 Leased from XL France
Boeing 737-800 12
Boeing 737-900ER 2
Boeing 767-200ER 1
Boeing 767-300ER 2

Retired Fleet:

Aircraft Notes
Airbus A320-200 Leased from Air Malta
Boeing 737-400
Boeing 747-300 Acquired from Air Atlanta
Boeing 757-200


For the 2007-2008 football season, XL Airways were the sponsors of West Ham United F.C. West Ham only received £2.5 million out of the planned £7.5 million sponsorship deal, which they cancelled on 12 September 2008 when the XL Leisure Group went into administration.[12][13]


External links

Aviation portal
  • Sabre Airways Fleet
  • Sabre Airways Stewardess uniforms