BUDGET airline easyJet is to begin flights from Manchester as part of a massive expansion of its services in the north west.
Planes carrying the airline's famous orange and white logo are set to lift off for foreign destinations from the airport for the first time late March.
Bosses at easyJet say the move, which is subject to approval by regulators, will make it the north west's biggest operator.
By 2010 it aims to be carrying nearly four million people a year from the region including about 1.4m from Manchester to about 40 destinations.
The move, predicted by M.E.N Business in October, follows easyJet's swoop for GB Airways, which operated a British Airways franchise from Manchester.
The announcement also marks a massive coup for Manchester Airport chiefs , who have been in talks with the low-cost carrier.
Rowena Burns, commercial director of the Manchester Airports Group, said: "We have been talking to easyJet for two years, and they have been keen to start services for a while.
"They offer a fantastic range of services for passengers and they have always been impressed by the quality of our operation.
"Manchester Airport is the jewel in the crown of the North West's economy and this announcement reinforces our position as the premier airport outside London."
Ms Burns, who announced last week she is moving to a senior role in the private sector after more than a decade at MAG, added that easyJet coming to Manchester was "very special" and "very dear" to her heart.
GB Airways operates six routes from Manchester including Tenerife, Cyprus, Malta and Crete. It employs 79 staff at the airport and carries 290,000 passengers a year.
Its two planes based at Manchester would be re-branded in easyJet colours and three more aircraft would be added by the low-cost carrier by 2010.
GB Airways will continue to operate all routes under the British Airways brand until 29 March.
Then, subject to regulatory approval, the GB flights will start to operate under the easyJet brand.
All customers who have booked to travel with GB Airways next summer will be given the choice of flying with easyJet at the same times or else receive a refund.
Passengers are expected to see the biggest benefit next winter when these five aircraft are expected to starting tapping into the wider easyJet network.
GB Airways will be fully integrated into the easyJet business model by then, subject again to regulatory clearance.
Bosses at easyJet, founded by the entrepreneur Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, plan to carry up to 1.4m passengers a year from Manchester on about 15 routes by 2010.
They are also planning to increase the number of easyJet aircraft based at Liverpool John Lennon Airport from eight to ten over the next three years.
By then, easyJet will have 15 aircraft in total operating from Manchester and Liverpool, offering flights to the 8m people living within an hour's drive of the two airports. The airline hopes to provide a total of 4,000 jobs across the region following the expansion.
Mike Campbell, easyJet's people director, said the airline recognised the "strong demand" for low cost services from the North West.
He added: "The GB operation at Manchester provides us with a great base on which we can build to tap into a new market.
"easyJet remains committed to our base at Liverpool and, by launching additional operations from Manchester, we can make it even easier for everyone in the North West to access easyJet's services from their local airport, giving customers the opportunity to explore Europe for less."
Willie Walsh, BA's chief executive said in October that the company's franchise system had outlived its purpose and said the airline had turned down the chance to buy GB Airways.
BA will also end a similar arrangement with Loganair from next October and begin a codeshare agreement with the Scottish carrier.
Flybe acquired British Airways' regional airline business, BA Connect, in March this year.