Struggling regional airline Flybe is in talks to raise vital funds by selling runway slots at London Gatwick airport in a move which could hand a further boost to budget carrier easyJet.
The potential sell-off sent Exeter-based Flybe's shares soaring more than 20% on hopes of a much-needed cash injection of up to £20 million, should it sell all its 25 take-off and landing slots at Gatwick.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
The airline confirmed it is in sale talks with a "number of parties" - reported to include easyJet. A successful deal would bolster easyJet's presence in the London market and help fuel its booming growth.
Flybe has endured a torrid time since floating on the stock market at the end of 2010, hammered by soaring fuel costs, falling passenger numbers and higher airport duty.
It is axing around 10% of its 3,000-strong UK workforce to cut costs by at least £35 million and is also reviewing its network of 13 UK bases, which include Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster, Edinburgh and East Midlands.
Selling all the slots would see Flybe quit its main London hub, although it also flies a small number of planes from Luton airport.
Flybe flies to destinations including Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Guernsey, Jersey, Newquay and Paris from Gatwick.
Flybe said: "Discussions are ongoing and there can be no certainty as to whether any transaction will be forthcoming." Flybe is expected to post another year of losses for the year to the end of March.
EasyJet is due to report further growth when it posts half-year results on Wednesday, helped by Britons heading overseas to avoid the UK's weather misery. The group's loss for the seasonally quieter first half is expected to roughly halve to between £60 million and £65 million, compared with £112 million a year ago.
The carrier has consistently beaten City expectations for profits, propelling it into the FTSE 100 Index. EasyJet declined to comment.
The top 10 Fortune 500 companies
Flybe mulls sale of Gatwick slots
Wal-Mart Stores, or Walmart, is a retailer that runs chains of discount department and warehouse stores around the world. Founded by Sam Walton in 1962, it is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas and has around 8,500 stores in 15 countries, under 55 different names.
Exxon Mobil Corporation, or ExxonMobil, is an oil and gas corporation formed on November 30, 1999 by the merger of Exxon and Mobil. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, it has 37 oil refineries in 21 countries.
Chevron Corporation is an energy company headquartered in San Ramon, California. It is active in more than 180 countries and is engaged in every aspect of the oil, gas, and geothermal energy industries, including exploration and generation.
Phillips 66 is a holding company - created when ConocoPhillips spun off its downstream assets - that only began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on May 1, 2012. Headquartered in Houston, Texas, the company has approximately 14,000 employees worldwide.
Berkshire Hathaway, controlled by legendary investor Warren Buffet, is a multinational holding company headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. The company wholly owns GEICO, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom and Helzberg Diamonds, as well as half of Heinz and significant minority holdings in American Express and The Coca-Cola Company.
At number 6 on the list, it's highest ever position, is iPhone and iPad manufacturer Apple. And Fortune managing editor Leigh Gallagher told CBS News that the computer giant could be even higher up the list if companies were ranked differently. Apple breaks into the top 10 for the first time this year," Gallagher said. "But if you were to rank the Fortune 500 by profits not revenues, it would be number two behind Exxon."
General Motors Company, or GM, is a multinational automotive corporation headquartered in Detroit, Michigan. It employs more than 200,000 people and manufactures the Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and Vauxhall brands, among others.
General Electric Company, or GE, operates in four segments: Energy, Technology Infrastructure, Capital Finance and Consumer & Industrial. Its foundation dates back to 1889, when Drexel, Morgan & Co. helped Thomas Edison to merge his many electricity-related companies to form Edison General Electric Company.
Valero Energy Corporation is the world's largest independent petroleum refiner and marketer. It has 16 refineries and 10 ethanol plants stretching from the US West and Gulf coasts to Canada, United Kingdom and the Caribbean.
Ford Motor Company (also known as Ford) is headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Founded by Henry Ford in 1903, it is still controlled by the Ford family, which now has a minority stake.