Orion Airways

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Orion Airways
Orion airways logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 1979
Ceased operations 1989
Hubs East Midlands Airport
Secondary hubs
Fleet size 21
Destinations charter
Company slogan The scheduled airline for un-scheduled travellers
Parent company Horizon Travel
Headquarters East Midlands Airport

Orion Airways (known simply as 'Orion') was an airline based in the United Kingdom with its head office on the grounds of East Midlands Airport in Castle Donington, North West Leicestershire.[1] It was created as the charter airline of Horizon Travel and went on to successfully develop scheduled services. The airline operated a fleet of Boeing 737-200s, Boeing 737-300s and Airbus A300s between 1979-1989.


Horizon Travel created Orion in 1978 to support Horizon's package holiday business at a time when there was a shortage in capacity provided by charter airlines. Orion began operation with three Boeing 737-200s on 28 March 1980.[2]

Over the next few years, Orion gradually expanded its fleet, operating 11 737-200s by the summer of 1984, and from 1985, beginning to replace them by more modern Boeing 737-300s.[3] From 1984, the airline began to diversify, taking on charter work from other tour operators, while in 1986, Orion successfully gained permission to fly scheduled services from East Midlands Airport and Birmingham airport to various holiday destinations.[4]

The airline quickly won a reputation for its quality of service, punctuality and distinctive look. The competition was fierce but Horizon’s destinations continued to increase, correlating with Orion’s increased route-network and fleet growth.

Boeing 737-200 of Orion at Basle Airport in April 1984

In 1987, the Horizon group, including Orion was bought by Bass the large brewing and hotels group.[5] As a successful holiday tour operator and integrated airline it was an appealing, tidy, and importantly a 'no-strings' package ripe for sale to a competitor. In 1988, Bass accepted an offer from the ever-expanding Thomson Travel Group. When the news was released that Orion was to be integrated into Britannia during 1989, it came as a surprise to the industry and public alike. The last flight took place on 26 January 1989 and it was not long before the familiar livery and titles disappeared from aircraft and buildings at East Midlands Airport because the new owner understandably intended to concentrate its activities at its Luton Airport base. Naturally the scheduled licenses were transferred to Britannia without interruption, but at the end of the 1990 summer season, the airline decided to withdraw from this market in favour of its charter work. Ironically, in 2005, TUI UK (owner of Thomson Travel Group) made big expansion plans into the scheduled market.

In the meantime, the previous management of Orion had formed 'TEA UK' in association with TEA (Trans European Airways of Belgium). Under the takeover agreement, they were not allowed to base any operations at East Midlands Airport so they choose nearby Birmingham Airport although the airline went on to establish a relatively large presence at East Midlands Airport.


An Orion Airways Airbus A300 at Faro Airport in 1987.

The Orion Airways livery was a traditional white body with a grey underbelly separated by a triple cheatline in an unusual combination of gold, orange and chocolate-brown. The distinctive chocolate-brown tail bore a large stylized orange 'O' (see image).


At the time of the merger, the fleet consisted of:

Orion Airways Fleet
Aircraft Total Passengers Notes
Boeing 737-200 12 136 Fleet contained 737th Boeing 737 ever built
Boeing 737–300 7 146 Only 5 were merged into the Britannia Airways fleet. Remaining two were sold to Southwest Airlines[6]
Airbus A300B 2 375
Total 21


  1. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. 29 March 1986. 114.
  2. ^ Wright 1988, pp. 240–241.
  3. ^ Wright 1988, p. 241.
  4. ^ Wright 1988, p. 242.
  5. ^ Wright 1988, p. 243.
  6. ^ http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/Mms_Results.aspx?Mmstxt=1384608&conVal=0&PageNo=1
  • Wright, Alan J. (May 1988). "Orion 'on charter'". Aircraft Illustrated. 21 (5): 240–243. 

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