Today, Irish carrier Ryanair is one of the world’s largest low-cost airlines. As is the case with many LCCs, it operates a single-type fleet of Boeing 737s to increase its operational flexibility. But did you know that, in its earlier years, Ryanair’s fleet was far more diverse? It even flew a handful of turboprop aircraft, which we shall now explore in greater detail.
Embraer EMB 110 ‘Bandeirante’
The airline commenced its operations on a significantly smaller scale to how we know the airline today. Having been founded in 1984 as Danren Enterprises, it soon changed its name to Ryanair. This reflected the presence of Tony Ryan among its founders, who had also founded Guinness Peat Aviation. Within a year, it had flown its first service.
Ryanair’s first aircraft was an Embraer EMB 110 ‘Bandeirante.’ The name is a Brazilian-Portuguese term meaning ‘pioneer’ or ‘trailblazer,’ and refers to explorers from Brazil’s colonial era. The 15-seat plane made its maiden revenue-earning flight for Ryanair on July 8th, 1985. The airline’s inaugural service connected Waterford, in south-east Ireland, with London Gatwick.
The aircraft, registered as EI-BPI, was the only EMB 110 that Ryanair ended up operating. According to Planelogger.com, it flew for the carrier between 1985 and 1989. EI-BPI was eventually scrapped in 2005, having most recently been owned by Steenberg Aviation.
Hawker Siddeley HS 748
The next turboprop aircraft that Ryanair added to its fleet was the Hawker Siddeley HS 748. This model offered the airline significantly improved capacity compared to the smaller EMB 110. Ryanair began flying the aircraft in 1986, which coincided with the launch of its second route, from Dublin to London Luton.
— Dublin Airport (@DublinAirport) April 25, 2020
Flying between Dublin and London saw Ryanair face off against the corridor’s existing Aer Lingus/British Airways duopoly for the first time. Being such a competitive route, investing in the extra capacity of the larger HS 748 over the existing EMB 110 was an astute decision.
Ryanair ultimately flew two examples of this aircraft between 1986 and 1990. Interestingly, Planelogger.com reports that one of them went on to fly for Necon Air in Nepal. It arrived there in 1992, and Aviation Safety Network reports that it was written off following a runway excursion in 1997. It even struck another HS 748, although, thankfully, there were no fatalities.
By the late-1980s, Ryanair had begun operating its first jet aircraft in the form of the BAC 1-11. Nonetheless, it still operated one further turboprop model before its fleet became solely jet-powered. This was the French-Italian ATR 42-300, of which Planespotters.net reports that Ryanair operated four examples between 1988 and 1992.
The ATR 42 was a far more modern design at the time than the HS 748. As such, it represented a logical next step in terms of modernizing Ryanair’s small turboprop fleet. Of the four examples that it operated, three bore names, such as Spirit of Kerry. The only one not to do so was a short-term lease from Inter Canadien that the airline only operated for a month in 1989.
Ryanair also provided sponsorship for a Short S.25 ‘Sandringham’ flying boat in 1989. However, this aircraft never flew any revenue-earning services for the carrier. Looking at Ryanair’s fleet today, it is difficult to imagine that it once featured such an interesting range of turboprop aircraft. However, these planes show that starting small can lead to greater things.
Did you know that Ryanair used to operate turboprop aircraft? Perhaps you flew on one yourself? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!