XL Airways UK

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XL Airways
XL Airways logo.png
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded1994 as Sabre Airways
Ceased operations12 September 2008
Hubs London Gatwick
Focus cities Newcastle
East Midlands
Fleet size27
Parent company XL Leisure Group
Headquarters Crawley, England
Key people CEO Phil Wyatt
Chairman Peter Owen
Website www.xl.com

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. From its three bases at London Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow, the airline provided short-haul and long-haul charter services, predominantly to leisure destinations.


The airline also operated services from Newcastle, Bristol, East Midlands, Birmingham and Ireland West.[ citation needed ] Two other airlines (both now also defunct as of 2019) within the group used the XL Airways branding: XL Airways France and XL Airways Germany, and were not at the time affected by the insolvency of the XL Leisure Group. [1]


Sabre Airways operated this Boeing 727 between March 1995 and the airline's renaming as Excel on 16 January 2001. Boeing 727-276 G-BNNI Sabre RWY 23.07.95 edited-3.jpg
Sabre Airways operated this Boeing 727 between March 1995 and the airline's renaming as Excel on 16 January 2001.
An Excel Airways Boeing 737-400 departs Bristol Airport, (2005) Excel Airways B737-4Q8 (TF-ELY) departing Bristol International Airport.jpg
An Excel Airways Boeing 737-400 departs Bristol Airport, (2005)
One of XL's 767-300ERs departs London Gatwick Airport XL767-g-vkng.jpg
One of XL's 767-300ERs departs London Gatwick Airport
Air Malta Airbus A320-200, operated on behalf of XL Air.malta.xl.a320-200.arp.jpg
Air Malta Airbus A320-200, operated on behalf of XL

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. [ citation needed ] 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. They were the first examples of the latest variant of the Boeing 737 aircraft to operate in the UK when delivered in May 2008.

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

On 30 October 2006, members of the management purchased XL Leisure Group from Avion Group. XL Leisure Group consisted of Excel Airways Group in the UK, Star Airlines France and Star Europe in Germany.[ citation needed ]

As part of a major brand relaunch in November 2006, the XL.com website and aircraft branding was adopted by the Excel Airways Group. Sister airlines in Germany and France were also re-branded.

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 its website, that on 12 September 2008, 11 companies associated with the group had been put into administration, including XL Airways UK Limited. That 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]

The airline's demise 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 from 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 3:00 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:

Boeing 737-400 (in old livery) takes off Excelairways.b737-400.tf-elv.bristol.arp.jpg
Boeing 737-400 (in old livery) takes off
Boeing 737-800 in final livery Xl b737-800 g-oxlc arp.jpg
Boeing 737-800 in final livery

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.


XL Airways Headquarters, Crawley XLManorRoyal01.jpg
XL Airways Headquarters, Crawley

The XL Airways UK fleet included the following aircraft: [11]

AircraftOperatedFrom / ToNotes
Airbus A320-200 12006-2008Leased from Air Malta
Airbus A330-200 12008-2008Leased from XL France
Boeing 737-400
Boeing 737-800 152006-2009Parked under XL Airways UK registrations before going to different airlines in early 2009
Boeing 737-900ER 22008-2008
Boeing 757-200 32006-2008leased from Air Finland
Boeing 767-200ER 22006-2007
Boeing 767-300ER 32006-2009Parked under XL Airways UK registrations before going to different airlines in early 2009
Boeing 747-300 42006-2007Acquired from Air Atlanta Europe
McDonnell Douglas MD-83 12006-2007


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]

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  1. Press report from XL Airways Germany
  2. "In quotes: XL collapse". BBC News. 12 September 2008. Retrieved 12 September 2008.
  3. "XL demise leaves thousands abroad". BBC News. 12 September 2008. Retrieved 12 September 2008.
  4. Starmer-Smith, Charles (29 August 2008). "Holidays under threat as XL cancels flights to Caribbean". The Daily Telegraph . London.
  5. 1 2 "Further Progress On CAA Repatriation Flights Following XL Collapse". CAA. 14 September 2008. Archived from the original on 17 September 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2008.
  6. 1 2 "Stranded Britons returning to UK". BBC News. 13 September 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  7. Trend, Nick (12 September 2008). "XL collapse comment: Passenger protection needs a shake-up". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  8. "Report No: 3/2006. Report on the serious incident to Boeing 737-86N, G-XLAG, at Manchester Airport on 16 July 2003". UK AAIB. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  9. "Boeing 767-204, G-SATR and Boeing 737-37Q, G-ODSK". UK AAIB. Retrieved 3 June 2007.
  10. "World 2007". World Travel Awards. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  11. Civil Aviation Authority Aircraft Register
  12. West Ham United - Club Partners Archived 15 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "West Ham end shirt sponsor deal". BBC News. 12 September 2008.