Collapse of Flybe would be ‘significant’ for UK airports

The collapse of regional airline Flybe would have a “significant impact” on several UK airports, an industry expert has warned.

Aviation consultant John Strickland told the PA news agency that airports such as Exeter and Southampton rely on the carrier for a large chunk of their business.

Flybe bosses have been engaged in talks with the Government in a bid to save the airline.

Discussions were held with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Transport (DfT) to see whether they could provide or facilitate emergency financing, PA understands.

CITY Flybe
CITY Flybe

Mr Strickland said the failure of Flybe would have “a significant impact in certain communities”.

He said: “At a market level it doesn’t look like very much.

“But if you look at the regions (Flybe serves), it’s dramatic.”

Flybe operates most domestic routes between airports outside London, including connections between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Strickland believes there is unlikely to be “a political will to get involved” in offering financial support to the carrier, as no taxpayers’ money was given to stop Thomas Cook or Monarch from collapsing.

He added that regional aviation is “a difficult sector” due to a series of issues, including competition from road and rail transport, Air Passenger Duty and rising fuel costs.

Flybe continues to provide great service and connectivity for our customers while ensuring they can continue to travel as planned. We don’t comment on rumour or speculation.

— Flybe ✈ (@flybe) January 12, 2020

A Flybe spokeswoman said: “Flybe continues to focus on providing great service and connectivity for our customers, to ensure that they can continue to travel as planned.

“We don’t comment on rumour or speculation.”

Around 2,000 people are employed by the airline.

The Exeter-based carrier was bought by a consortium consisting of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital in February 2019 following poor financial results.

The consortium, known as Connect Airways, paid just £2.2 million for Flybe’s assets but pledged to pump tens of millions of pounds into the loss-making airline to turn it around.

The holding of rescue talks with the Government indicates the financing requirements have become greater than expected.

If Flybe collapses, it would be the second UK airline to fail in four months, following Thomas Cook going bust.

MPs on the BEIS select committee were scathing of the department for its handling of Thomas Cook’s demise.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom was particularly criticised for not playing a more active role in discussions between bosses and the Government – with the negotiations and discussions taking place at the DfT.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, said he was “appalled” that the future of another airline “is being discussed in secret with no input from employees or their representatives”.

He urged the parties involved to “stop hiding and talk to us”.

Flybe is Europe’s largest regional carrier, flying around eight million passengers a year to 170 destinations across the continent.

Connect Airways chief executive Mark Anderson said in October that the airline would be renamed Virgin Connect and he wanted it to become “Europe’s most loved and successful regional airline”.

Flights operated as normal on Monday.

Spokesmen for BEIS and the DfT issued identical statements which read: “We do not comment on speculation or the financial affairs of private companies.”

The airline began as Jersey European Airways in 1979, operating regional flights from Jersey.

Its route network grew and it was re-branded British European in 2000, before becoming Flybe in 2002.