Jim French CBE (b. 1953) is the Scots-born former chairman and CEO of the airline Flybe, and is credited with turning it into Europe’s largest regional airline.
Jim was educated at Ayr Academy and Strathclyde University before beginning his aviation career as a clerk for Caledonian Airways in 1970. He rose through the ranks and joined Air UK Limited in 1980, holding senior roles in commercial, planning and marketing areas. In 1990, he joined Jersey European Airways, which later became British European. Throughout the 1990s, he held the posts of commercial director and later, Deputy Chief Executive. Jack Walker, the airline’s owner, died in 2000 and Jim became CEO just months before the 9/11 terror attacks in the US. The airline was in danger of going under at this time, but Jim persuaded the Walker family to rebrand British European as a no-frills operator, resulting in the birth of Flybe.
It was in 2002 that Jim developed the plan which transformed Flybe into Europe’s largest regional airline. He began a period of major expansion, launching new services and acquiring BA Connect. He was appointed Executive Chairman of the Flybe Group in 2005, and the business was floated on the stock market in 2010, a year in which it carried 7.2 million passengers, approximately half of whom were business travellers. In recent years, the Group has operated more than 180 routes to 65 European airports and has grown to become Europe's largest regional airline. Jim stood down as Chairman in 2013.
Jim has, uniquely, twice been voted “Airline Executive of the Year”, in 2002 and 2004, by Regional Airline World. He was awarded a CBE in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to aviation.
Jim was honoured by the British travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame in 2011.