Major UK Regional Airline, Flybe, Collapses

(Photo: Flybe)

The UK Airline, Flybe, ceased flight operations late on Wednesday March 4 after its last services of the day had landed. The airline’s website was shut down immediately afterwards. More than 2,000 jobs are thought to have been lost due to the company’s failure.

The Exeter-based airline seemed set to close down in January until its new consortium of owners, Connect Airways, said it would inject £30m into the company to keep it flying as it was transformed into a new identity, Virgin Connect. The consortium subsequently asked the government for additional financial support and, initially, the Prime Minister appeared ready to support the airline, but it is still unclear what help, if any, was received.

The recent coronavirus outbreak made a bad situation even worse as travel bookings are estimated to be down by about 40% compared to this time last year.

Flybe was a major operator at several UK regional airports and provided more than a third of the country’s domestic flights. The ripple effects of its demise will have an immediate impact upon the UK’s route network.

Examples

Anglesey has all of its scheduled services operated by Eastern Airways using Flybe flight numbers. These are government subsidised public service obligation (PSO) routes and are currently – March 5 – unaffected, but Eastern Airways has tweeted that “further updates for flights next week will follow”.

Approximately 95% of the Southampton airport’s scheduled passengers flew with Flybe, representing some 15,000 flights per annum. The airport tweeted its regret about the airline’s collapse and advised passengers to seek advice from the Civil Aviation Authority’s website. Services operated on by Blue Islands and Eastern Airways remain unaffected for the time being.

Some 77% of Belfast City Airport’s flights were by Flybe but the airport’s CEO, Brian Ambrose, was confident about the airport’s future. He said: “We are extremely disappointed at this news. Our first thoughts go to the Flybe employees and passengers affected.

“From Belfast City Airport, Flybe had operated a strong and profitable base of 14 routes to key regional destinations across the UK. The airline was a significant economic driver for the region, carrying 1.6 million passengers to and from Belfast in 2019.

“I am confident that these well-established routes, coupled with our city centre location and recent £15m investment in terminal facilities, will prove an attractive option to airlines. Negotiations with a number of carriers are already underway.”

Exeter Airport was Flybe’s headquarters and about 78% of the airport services were operated by it. Also in the southwest, about 65% of Cornwall Airport NQY’s flights were flown by Flybe or Stobart Air. All have been cancelled with immediate effect.

The impact could be spread throughout the UK, as Wick, Jersey, Cardiff, Guernsey, Isle of Man and Teesside all relied on Flybe for between 40-50% of their services, while Humberside, Aberdeen and Birmingham have all had more than 30% of their flights affected. It is hoped that some services that are operated by other airlines using Flybe’s flight numbers will be able to continue after alternative booking websites are in place.

Birmingham Airport issued the following the statement: “It is with regret to receive the news that Flybe has collapsed and therefore ceased trading with immediate effect.

“Our priority now is to support passengers who were scheduled to travel from Birmingham over the coming days by providing onsite customer support and information.

“A number of routes operated by Flybe are served by other carriers from Birmingham, and we already have arrangements for two airlines to replace five of its routes in the next few weeks. We will continue to engage with other airlines to replace the remaining capacity for our region and customers.”

All affected airports are asking passengers not to travel to the airport and are directing passengers to visit the Civil Aviation Authority’s website www.caa.co.uk/news/ for further information and advice.