Flybe to relaunch this summer after 2020 failure

Industry experts question whether there is room with all but four of its former domestic routes filled

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 14 April 2021 16:43 BST
Distant dream: a Flybe aircraft at Newquay airport before the airline collapsed
Distant dream: a Flybe aircraft at Newquay airport before the airline collapsed

A year after Flybe collapsed, the failed regional airline is set to make a comeback this summer. 

But with 90 per cent of former routes now covered by other airlines, industry experts have questioned whether the carrier can succeed.

The Exeter-based airline closed down on 5 March 2020, just as fears of a global pandemic had emerged.

More than 2,400 staff lost their jobs, while hundreds of thousands of passengers sought refunds for grounded flights.

A spokesperson for the resurrected carrier said: “Today’s news represents a critical first step in our mission to accomplish the first-ever rescue of an insolvent British airline.”

At the time of its collapse, Flybe had been losing money for several years. It had been bought in 2018 by a consortium headed by Virgin Atlantic, and involving Stobart Group and the US hedge fund Cyrus Capital.

The new owners pumped in at least £100m in a bid to keep Flybe afloat. But the cash soon ran out and appeals for government help went unanswered.

After the failure, the chief executive, Mark Anderson, said “significant funding challenges” had been “compounded by the outbreak of coronavirus”.

Now, though, a new company affiliated with Cyrus Capital has bought Flybe’s business and assets. It will be known as Flybe Limited and is expected to fly many of the previously operated routes.

The airline spokesperson said: “Subject to further success with vaccinations and relaxation of travel restrictions, we plan to launch a new and much improved Flybe sometime this summer on many of our former routes where there remains a critical need for a strong, reliable, and customer-focused airline.

“While our company will initially be smaller than before, we intend to grow, create valuable jobs, and make significant contributions to essential regional connectivity in the UK and EU.”

Flybe’s main market was UK regional links. At the time of its collapse, it operated on 46 routes. But all but four are covered by other airlines.

The leading carrier is Loganair, with 17 former Flybe routes – including a newly announced link between Exeter and Norwich.

Loganair’s chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “The fact that 42 of Flybe’s 46 lost domestic routes have now been restored shows the resilience and the importance of supporting the UK’s domestic airlines.”

Aer Lingus Regional covers six former Flybe routes, with Aurigny, Blue Islands, British Airways, Eastern Airways and easyJet filling the rest.

Alex McWhirter, consumer editor at Business Traveller Magazine, tweeted: “Flybe will then find all the best routes have already been taken over by others.”

Sean Moulton, a UK airline schedule analyst, concurred, saying: “I’m not convinced there’s a market for Flybe as all but four domestic routes are already taken and you have to think why those routes haven’t been taken.”

Two of the unfilled routes are from Edinburgh: one to Manchester, which has good rail links from Scotland direct to the airport, and the other to Cardiff – which could be restored if Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights is reduced. The same applies to Cardiff’s other lost link, to Jersey, which is thought viable as a summer-only route.

The remaining unserved link, between Exeter and London City airport, is a distance of only 160 miles and competes against hourly trains taking as little as two hours 10 minutes.

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