AIRCRAFT naming ceremonies are rare, but 300 guests witnessed just such an event in a hangar at Bournemouth Airport last night.

Emblazoned with the name ‘Palmair’ in bright red along the fuselage and proudly carrying the Union Flag on the tail fin, the country’s smallest airline spectacularly unveiled its new plane amid smoke, balloons and music.

But the naming of the £8m Boeing 737-500 was special for one over-riding reason – it’s called ‘The Spirit of Peter Bath’ in honour of Palmair’s late founder.

The aircraft also has the registration number G-PJPJ – after the nickname ‘PJ’ by which Mr Bath was affectionately known.

Mr Bath died in 2006 and the ceremony was performed by his widow, Liz.

Son Stephen Bath, joint managing director of Bath Travel told the guests: “This aircraft honours a very special person.

“Without him, there would have been no Palmair for the past 51 years and no airport either, because for six years, the only operator here was Palmair.”

He joked: “Personalised number plates for cars costs hundreds. For an aircraft it’s only £75!”

Mr Bath added: “This is the best aircraft we’ve ever had, but it’s the people who work for the company that make it what it is, especially our award-winning cabin crew.”

The ex-BA Boeing 737 is being operated in association with Astraeus Airlines, who delivered it in record time.

Palmair managing director David Skillicorn said the plane’s longer range would allow the company to operate routes “we would never have dreamed of”.

He added: “You’ll notice a website address painted on the side,, but that doesn’t mean we are losing our traditions. We won’t charge passengers for baggage, for providing a meal or for using the toilets!”

He told the Echo: “This is a major investment by Palmair at a difficult time for the aviation industry as a whole. It shows we mean business.”