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our history

Our success at providing quality products and services has been recognised by the airline industry as we've received over 50 industry awards since 1990.

history in brief

From humble beginnings nearly 70 years ago, bmi today operates 1,700 flights per week over a network of 36 airports in the UK, Europe, India, Saudi Arabia and transatlantic to the USA and Caribbean.

Below you will find a summary of the bmi group history through the decades.  In our complete history section we have provided downloads that detail our history in full.

1938-1970 (the early years)

bmi began life in 1938 as Air Schools Ltd, specialising in RAF pilot training. In 1949 the company becomes known as Derby Aviation, diversifying operations to include passenger and cargo charter services.

In the 1950s the company ceased training RAF pilots but expanded passenger routes across the UK and Europe and cargo routes worldwide.

In 1959 the company became known as Derby Airways and during the 1960s established itself as a pioneer of the rapidly growing package holiday flights industry.

The company became known as British Midland Airways in 1964 and moved from its home at Burnaston near Derby to the newly opened East Midlands Airport in 1965 before merging with Invica Airways in 1969.


British Midland Airways further expands domestic and international passenger services including long haul destinations through the 1970s.

British Midland Airways Leasing for ‘instant airlines’ is created in 1974, leasing a variety of long and short haul aircraft types to 25 worldwide carriers, providing a highly successful service and earning the company the Queens Award for Export Achievement.

In 1978 a consortium of British Midland Airways directors: Michael Bishop, John Wolfe and Stuart Balmforth obtain a principal shareholding.

The company celebrates a landmark in 1979 when over one million passengers are carried for the first time in a single year.


Over the decade the airline enjoys further service expansion and growth on domestic and international routes challenging established flag carriers with vigorous competition.

The company establishes its headquarters at Castle Donington near East Midlands Airport in 1982.  In the mid-80s a record 25,000 calls are received in one week at the British Midland telephone reservations centre and passenger carryings are recorded at 1.8 million.

A new distinctive red white and blue livery is introduced in 1986 as the airline changes name to become known as British Midland.

Chairman, Michael Bishop receives the CBE in the Queens Birthday Honours list.

The first frequent flyer scheme for British Midland passengers, called Diamond Club is launched in 1987.

In 1989, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) purchase a 24.9% stake in the airline at a cost of £25 million.


The 1990s see further growth by British Midland and a continuation of the ‘challenger’ status enjoyed by the airline. British Midland continues to bring vigorous competition to UK and European services and campaigns against the restrictive air service agreements between the UK and USA.

By the end of this decade British Midland enjoy passenger carryings of over 6.5million a year.
In 1991 British Midland chairman, Michael Bishop CBE is knighted in the Queens Birthday Honours list.

Scandinavian Airlines increases its share in British Midland to 35% in 1992, later increasing this to a 40% stake.

A non-smoking policy is adopted across all BM scheduled flights in 1993.

The early 1990s also see three significant industry ‘firsts’ by British Midland. In 1992: becoming the first airline to offer a vegetarian option to passengers on UK services; in 1993 becoming the first European carrier to offer a separate business class cabin for business travellers; and in 1995: becoming the first airline to offer a booking service with payment over the internet.

In the late 1990s British Midland places an aircraft order, worth $1bn, with Airbus Industrie for 20 new A320 and A321 type aircraft. The first delivered A321 aircraft goes into service in April 1998.

In 1999 Lufthansa acquires a 20% stake in British Midland from the 40% owned by Scandinavian Airlines.


British Midland joins the Star Alliance on 1 July 2000.

The turn of the century also marks new growth and optimism as first-ever scheduled services between Manchester and Washington DC and Chicago are announced and begin in Spring 2001.

Chairman Sir Michael Bishop also unveils the new company name – bmi british midland - and a fresh new livery and brand for the 21st century. In early 2003 the company reverts to the name bmi.

A low-cost subsidiary with its own unique brand – bmibaby – is announced and launched in 2002. By 2005, after just 2 full years of flight operations, bmibaby is carrying over 3 million passengers a year and operating 700 flights a week from 5 UK airport bases.

History is made in August 2004 when one million passengers are carried for the first time in a single month. 

Route history is made on 14 May 2005 when bmi’s first ever long-haul service from Heathrow takes off for Mumbai, India. Further long-haul routes from Heathrow to Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia follow in September 2005 and May 2006 respectively.

In August 2005 a radical change is made to domestic and European services at Heathrow with the introduction of a new business model. A single-class service, simpler fares, e-enabled facilities, internet check-in and quicker processes at airports are introduced. Core business routes to/from Heathrow continue to retain a separate economy and business class cabin service – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Brussels.

In 2006 bmi celebrates five years of transatlantic flights between Manchester and Chicago, a second long haul route to Saudi Arabia is inaugurated – London Heathrow to Jeddah and bmi announces its first ever medium haul route is to take off in autumn 2006 – London Heathrow to Moscow Domodedovo.

In 2007 bmi launched a new route from Heathrow to Jersey, the first direct connection between the island and the world’s busiest international airport for six years. Meanwhile bmi regional launched six new routes: Manchester-Lyon; Leeds Bradford-Lille; Aberdeen-Brussels; Edinburgh-Zurich; Leeds Bradford-Copenhagen; Aberdeen-Kristiansand.

British Midland plc, the holding company of bmi announced that it had acquired BA franchise operator BMED, giving it access to 17 medium haul routes to the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

bmi introduced a new business traveller-focused initiative, with an improved offering and product for the airline’s most loyal customers – diamond club members.

bmi group financial results for year end 2006 showed an operating profit increase of 85 per cent to £10.2 million.

bmi’s subsidiary airline, bmibaby celebrated its fifth birthday.

On 10 July bmi announced the acquisition of ten additional aircraft to add to its current fleet. Five additional Airbus A330s valued at around $500 million will join the three existing A330 aircraft currently in service, with the new aircraft being delivered from spring 2008.

bmi will also take delivery of five new Airbus A321s valued at $250 million, catering for an expanded medium haul network created through the integration of BMED.

On 18 July, bmi announced the launch of a new route from Heathrow to Cairo. The daily service is to launch on 04 November 2007. The new competitive service will be operated by an Airbus A320 aircraft in a two class business and economy configuration.

On 4 September, bmi announced the largest-ever expansion of its route network, with the opening of sales to 17 new destinations, including Baku, Tehran, Beirut, Amman, Almaty and Yerevan. The new routes, starting 28 October 2007, will operate from Heathrow's Terminal 1 with an improved timetable for business travellers and with a new enhanced in-flight product.

The move marks the completion of the integration of BA destinations that were operated by BMED under a franchise agreement. BMED was purchased by bmi in February 2007.