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Is Flybe really going to return this Summer?

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13 months after its collapse a new management team is declaring that Flybe will restart flights this summer. Or will it ….?

The road to this point has been a rocky one. It involves the acquisition of Flybe’s remaining assets by Thyme Opco, a holding company controlled by Cyrus Capital. Yes, the same Cyrus Capital that previously held a 40% stake in Flybe before its collapse.

It now has access to Flybe’s brand, remaining airport slots and other assets. The acquisition price is unknown.

Will flybe restart flights in 2021?

Is it all a trick?

Earlier this month, Thyme Opco (now renamed Flybe Limited) named 76-year old Kevin Hatton as a director. Hatton retired from British Airways in 2000.

If the name sounds familiar it’s because, as The Telegraph notes, Hatton was involved in the BA versus Virgin Atlantic “dirty tricks” campaign in the early 90s which made it all the way to the High Court before British Airways settled. Hatton was one of those accused of setting up a special unit in BA to discredit Richard Branson just as Virgin Atlantic was moving into Heathrow.

Since his stint at BA, Hatton had a role at TUI followed by one at GB Airways, which was sold to easyJet in 2008. It’s not clear what he’s done since then, so his appointment in 2021 is a curious one – the airline market has changed significantly.

Thyme to fly

Flybe hopes to relaunch this summer:

“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.”

If the new Flybe thinks it can simply slide into its old routes it may be in for a bit of a shock.

A lot has changed in the past 13 months. Amidst the pandemic, Blue Islands and Eastern – two former Flybe franchisees – have begun to fly many ex-Flybe routes under their own branding.

Loganair has also been picking off plenty of former Flybe routes. Just this week it announced it would add flights between Norwich and Exeter, claiming that 42 of Flybe’s “lost 46 domestic routes” are now back.

will flybe relaunch in summer 2021

This doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the new Flybe, even if it is smaller than before. A patchwork of regional airlines have effectively pulled the rug from under its fleet.

A new entrant with a low cost base will always find some opportunities, of course. Two potential ideas are:

  • focusing on flights between the UK and EU, mainly smaller airports in France – this was a strong Flybe niche, and its domestic competitors seem happy sticking to domestic flights. Flying into the EU also reduces Air Passenger Duty liabilities.

The snag is that neither of these has a long-term future. As we will cover tomorrow, Southampton Airport now has permission for its runway extension. Within 18 months, it will be able to handle Ryanair, easyJet or Jet2 aircraft.

The UK Government is also keen to halve APD on domestic flights, removing any tax advantage from focusing on flights between the UK and Europe. The market for second homes in Europe is also under pressure from new residency rules which stop UK citizens from spending more than 90 days out of every 180 days in the EU.

Slots away….

Slots are not the only obstacle in Flybe’s way. Before it can even contemplate launching flights it will have to persuade the Civil Aviation Authority to reinstate its operating and route licences. Flybe is now appealing to the UK transport secretary Grant Shapps directly after the CAA attempted to remove its licence.

In fact, a number of Flybe slots at Heathrow are already on the market despite the fact that ownership is being contested by Thyme Opco / Flybe. These are the former bmi slots that are available for specific routes and which Flybe was using for Heathrow flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Let’s see what happens. The Flybe brand still has recognition, which counts for a lot. How much damage was done from customers losing money in the receivership last year, or from all the press coverage about it closing down? There are plenty of route pairs which easyJet and Ryanair cannot take on, due to low demand or short runways, and if Flybe avoids head to head competition with rivals it may find a niche.

Comments (47)

  • Gavin says:

    Living near Exeter I would be pleased to see more flights from the airport, but I really question if there’s enough demand in the region which can’t be met by Bristol.

    I wouldn’t mind flights to Dublin to enable connections to North America but seriously doubt there’s enough demand even in a non-covid environment.

  • ADS says:

    Loganair’s claim that 42 of Flybe’s 46 domestic routes have been reinstated isn’t the whole story.

    Some of these routes are now only flown a few times a week, where as Flybe flew them daily.

    And of course lots of flights to Ireland and continental Europe haven’t been replaced.

    • Rob says:

      What people are ignoring is that Loganair, Eastern and Blue Islands didn’t have huge numbers of unused aircraft which they could suddenly switch to these routes. Frequencies are a fraction of what they were, and I would imagine those three airlines have dropped other routes in order to take up potentially more lucrative ex-Flybe routes. Opportunities will remain.

    • marcw says:

      I don’t think you can ask in the middle of a pandemic, lockdowns, travel ban, the same amount of frequencies.

  • Andrew says:

    Edinburgh to London-Oxford would be handy. It was amazing when Minoan operated the service.

    I believe there is subsidy funding available.

    • Lord Doncaster says:

      Seems an exceptionally niche route?

    • Aston100 says:

      How on Earth did an airport north of Oxford get to have London in its name?

      • kitten says:

        Probably the same way Gatwick did. It’s nearer to Brighton, than London.

        • AJA says:

          Same thing with Stansted which is closer to Cambridge than it is to London. Also think Southend Airport now has London in its name which I also find odd.

          • Alex Sm says:

            This is not purely London phenomenon. Stockholm Skavsta and Stockholm Västerås are even more grotesque than Stockholm Arlanda. And sometimes it’s only for international market. In Japan Narita is known as Narita while only Haneda is called Tokyo. For international flights Narita is called Tokyo-Narita…

        • Rupert one says:

          Cardiff international Airport should be Barry Island Airport!

    • pigeon says:

      Oxford is an hour from Heathrow, Birmingham and Luton, and any one of these airports will have frequency that Oxford will not be able to compete with.

      • Andrew says:

        It had a decent loading for an unknown airline running a route that was only advertised in the local press.

        There’s a coach every 30 minutes to Heathrow normally. But it’s a 3 hour trip to Luton by public transport. The train to Brum is hourly.

        It was great when it lasted. I do hope it comes back.

  • TimM says:

    Possibly ‘London-Manchester Airport’ would be more popular, if it were not for the MAG management.

    This looks like a direct but minor incursion on BA’s business. Perhaps Kevin Hatton is using the new Flybe as the special unit tasked with annoying BA?

  • Eligold says:

    Will the new Flybe have any connection to Virgin, or has that ship sailed?

    • Rob says:

      Unless it opens a base at Manchester or Heathrow it is no use to Virgin.

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