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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 (46)

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  • Nick says:

    I see that Thyme Opco Limited has already changed it’s name to Flybe Limited, which was given at Companies House on Tuesday (13th April).

  • 1ATL says:

    BBC South ran a report on the subject earlier in the week. 1 plane has been leased to date by the new airline with no information released as to where it’ll be based, many of the Dash 8’s from the original fleet have been sold on already. Amongst them a few have gone to Canada as forest fire fighting aircraft and won’t return to passenger service. Their LHR slots were cited as potentially the real asset behind the relaunch. I would definitely question the motives behind the relaunch of the BE bread. Is it really worth saving? I suppose tugging at the heartstrings of a minority is marginally more successful than launching a new brand from scratch. Not sure I’d have the confidence to book travel with them for the time being at least.

  • Chaz says:

    Launch a couple of route from Southampton, fly them a few times whilst selling the lucrative Heathrow slots, then pack up again?

    Just a thought.

    • 1ATL says:

      Or Birmingham, or Exeter, or Manchester, or Edinburgh, or Belfast, or Norwich, or any other ex BE base and then pretty much what you’ve eluded to – that’s my pessimistic view

    • Rob says:

      Heathrow slots need to be flown for 3 years. They can then be sold must only for European flights.

      • ADS says:

        But if new Flybe claims to be the true successor to old Flybe … then new Flybe presumably only has to complete the 3 years that old Flybe started … rather than the clock starting from zero !

        • Nick says:

          Personally, I’ll join the cynics club here! I’ve been around a long time, and seen it all, with the likes of hedge funds, and other company financial gymnastics! As always, only time will tell!

        • Rob says:

          That will be one for the lawyers, I think.

  • Mike White says:

    The NQY route has not been announced yet. Heavily subsidised so an easy launchpad that keeps LHR slots.

    • Rob says:

      The PSO Newquay deal is off. Council chose not to award the contract.

      • Alex Sm says:

        They will have to come back to that as this route cannot be not flown

        • Rob says:

          BA is flying it anyway in the Summer. The PSO gets revisited before the Winter kicks in I believe.

    • Nick says:

      You mean under the PSO that has officially been dropped by Cornwall Council? Hmmm somehow don’t see them taking up a contract that’s no longer available to be taken.

  • Brighton Belle says:

    The 90 days in 180 days EU stay rules have destroyed the possibility to enjoy long sunny summers on the continent for British second home owners.You just can’t remain long enough. I have property owning friends that voted for Brexit and didn’t realise this would change their lives. They’re selling…. but not to Brits. Quite how Easyjet will sustain the EU traffic with one main customer group squashed will be interesting.

    • Nick says:

      Can’t they apply for residency visas? Or just don’t want to?

      • ChrisC says:

        They had years to apply for proper residency yet chose not too. And if they apply now they may not meet the requirements on things like income.

        Actions (or lack thereof) have consequences.

        • Lady London says:

          There is another type of visa for longer visits that can be applied for. The risk then is to beware of falling into that country’s tax net which I think could be triggered by 183 days in any one year (calendar)

    • Steve says:

      Voted for Brexit and now forced to sell their second homes in the EU. Honestly. My heart bleeds. Why would you take such a gamble?!

      • Tariq says:

        That’s the irrational emotion that surrounds Brexit!

      • Lord Doncaster says:

        A few votes wouldn’t have made much difference…

      • Londonsteve says:

        They honestly thought that Britain would get its way and all aspects of their life were immune from change. I suspect that most couldn’t quite believe that British exceptionalism was a mirage and the rest of the EU hung the UK out to dry when push came to shove. They had no allies in Europe, beyond one or two rabble rousing countries in the East who seek any excuse for a fight with Brussels and even those friendships only exist because they are momentarily convenient.

    • ADS says:

      But the reduced number of second home owners might be partially / wholly offset by the remaining ones flying more frequently. So instead of going for a month at a time – they go for two weekend every month!

    • The real John says:

      How is 90 days not long enough?

      • Lord Doncaster says:

        I really don’t believe there are many 2nd home owners who want to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in their 2nd homes in the blazing sun.

        They really will be in the minority.

        • ChrisC says:

          I think most spend the autumn and winter in spain and rented the appartnemts out in the summer.’

          Whenever they stayed they are still under the 90 in 180 limit

    • Joe says:

      You could just become a dual resident

  • Jan M says:

    Cardiff is still without FlyBE’s connections to Dublin and Paris… It would be great if those could be brought back.

  • Ken says:

    I think they were in favour of having their cake and eating it.
    Residency has become more difficult and also introduces the complication of where are you tax resident.
    I think the effect on EasyJet and the likes will be negligible though.

  • 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.

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