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‘New’ Flybe gets 86 weekly Heathrow slots from British Airways – is it really back?

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The ‘new’ Flybe looks like it will be heading to London Heathrow Airport, as the rescued airline picks up 86 weekly slots from British Airways.

These will be used for:

25 flights per week to Edinburgh

18 flights per week to Aberdeen

43 flights per week requires 86 slots, of course, given that each flight has to take off and land.

Grab a coffee, it’s a long story ….

This is one of the longest sagas in UK aviation.  It has been running since 2012 and shows no sign of being concluded for good at any time soon.

We last covered this topic in March 2020.  At that point, British Airways had just been given back 12 x daily slot pairs for the Heathrow Summer season.  They had reverted to BA following the bankruptcy of the original Flybe.

The story behind all this goes back to the acquisition of bmi British Midland by British Airways.  The European Commission insisted that British Airways release a number of Heathrow slot pairs to any competitor which wished to begin services on selected routes where bmi competed with British Airways at Heathrow.

The routes with competition concerns were Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Nice, Cairo, Riyadh and Moscow.

Virgin Little Red

Little Red, Virgin Atlantic’s short haul airline, was the first airline to ask for – and receive – slots.   It used them to fly to Aberdeen and Edinburgh.   Little Red also flew to Manchester but this used spare Virgin Atlantic slots.

When Little Red folded, the slots returned to British Airways.

The slots were then requested by Flybe, again for use on Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

There were two carrots in the rules for whichever airline came in:

after one full year of operation, the airline could ask for additional slots from British Airways which could be used on ANY European short haul route as long as not all of the 12 daily slot pairs to be divested had been allocated (this is how Flybe got slots for some of its other Heathrow services)

after three full years of operation, the airline could stop serving cities on the prescribed list (ie Edinburgh and Aberdeen, in Flybe’s case) and start serving other European destinations instead

It is not fully clear what happens now.

The agreement between IAG and the European Commission is here.  I cannot see any obvious reference to it ‘timing out’ and, given that Flybe has now been given the slots back by British Airways, it may not have a deadline.

Here is the Airport Coordination form, dated 26th April, which shows the transfer back from BA to Flybe.

There is another catch

As you see from the Airport Coordination form, Flybe has only received ‘rescue’ slots for the Summer season.

Summer and Winter airport slots are separate entities although most airlines have, over the years, managed to ensure that their Summer and Winter portfolios match up.

My understanding …. and I have not got official confirmation of this …. is that the matching Winter slots had vested with the ‘old’ Flybe.  They had been operated for three years – unlike the Summer slots – and so Flybe got to keep them.

It isn’t clear if the new owner of Flybe inherited the Winter slots when it bought the airline, or if the administrator had already sold or surrendered them.  If the ‘new’ Flybe has Winter slots then it is well placed to run a year-round service to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.  If it doesn’t, it will have a problem.

Small aircraft and Heathrow Airport don’t mix well

The Flybe slots indicate the use of a Dash-8 aircraft, as used by the ‘old’ Flybe.

Little Red and ‘old’ Flybe both used Terminal 2, although Flybe did not physically use a gate (here is my review of a Flybe flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh).  I’m not sure that a Dash-8 can use any of the gates at Terminal 2, so bussing to and from aircraft may continue.  (EDIT: Whilst I have been bussed, comments below suggest that a Dash-8 can use certain gates in Terminal 2.)

Terminal 3 at Heathrow cannot handle the segregation of domestic passengers and it is unlikely that British Airways will be welcoming Flybe to use Terminal 5, so we should assume that the flights will use Terminal 2.

Will it ever happen?

There is, of course, still a lot to be done before flights can resume.  ‘New’ Flybe needs a few aircraft for a start.

There is also the small issue of demand.  With the oil industry still in the doldrums, the Aberdeen market is far weaker than it was.  Edinburgh is not exactly badly served, and anyone connecting to a long-haul British Airways flight won’t take Flybe to Terminal 2.

Can Flybe make a point-to-point service on a bumpy Dash-8 with bus connections and no loyalty scheme work?  Tricky ….

On the other hand, if it can strike codeshare deals with the Star Alliance carriers in Terminal 2 then it becomes more interesting.  Interest may increase if Edinburgh does not get all of its long-haul routes back post-covid.

If Flybe can operate Edinburgh and Aberdeen for a year, it will presumably qualify to receive the additional four daily Heathrow slot pairs from British Airways.  With no restriction on which European airports can be served, Flybe would find these more valuable.

After three years, of course, it can swap the Edinburgh and Aberdeen services for any other European destination.  The slots will also permanently vest to Flybe at that point, albeit with a caveat that they are for short-haul.  There is value here for Flybe’s new owner if it can survive to that point.

Whatever happens, it’s unlikely we will get a clear picture until coronavirus has passed.

PS.  Thinking about it, under the terms of the EU deal, is it still possible that an airline can request Heathrow slots from British Airways to fly to Nice, Cairo, Riyadh or Moscow?  I wonder if Air France got the slots for its new Heathrow to Nice service this way?

Comments (33)

  • tony says:

    The Dash 8 *did* use gates at T2. On arrival from Guernsey we parked next to an Aer Lingus plane and walked straight into the terminal, presumably following the same passenger flow as an RoI arrival.

    For whatever reason on the way out, that didn’t happen and we were bussed, but the plane was again on pretty much the same stand – one of the last ones over towards T3.

    This may also be of interest – https://www.acl-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Pike-ACL-Proposed-Text-W21-clean.pdf Specifically “… potential applicants showing interest are advised of the fact that the rights to these slots on offer are subject to an ongoing dispute and therefore may ultimately not be available for applicants or be subject to return by any successful applicant.”

    Which means this could still come unstuck, but IAG will struggle to defend the allocation if the airport isn’t at capacity.

  • Julian Phatarfod says:

    A really good morning read! Love these pieces 🙂

  • Bill says:

    I was also just about to comment that I landed in LHR T2 from IOM and we walked to the gate using the steps. No busses involved

  • Alan says:

    Plenty of bus connections with BA from T5 on the EDI route, don’t worry! A T2 option when connecting to long haul there was nice but sadly Little Red couldn’t get enough business so I can’t see Flybe managing it.

  • Graeme says:

    For me, codeshares would be key for this to work. Currently from ABZ-LHR you have BA which rules out a through ticket with every other airline from LHR. If Flybe can get codeshares for Virgin in particular and also Delta, United for the US and others to the east, then it could work. Point to point, unlikely to work in my view.

    Virgin still don’t codeshare for ABZ-MAN which rules them out as an option entirely. Which leaves BA via LHR, KLM (to KLM or Delta) via AMS or if desperate AF via CDG or a mix of these 2.

  • David S says:

    Odd that morning times on the Air Co-ordination form are shown as 745 and 845 rather than 0745 and 0845.

    • Rob says:

      I was surprised it was typed – most of the ones I see are hand-written!

      • Memesweeper says:

        They also have the seat numbers and aircraft type back to front?

    • john says:

      Excel probably stripped out the leading zero’s and they couldn’t figure out how to fix it 🙂

  • Paul says:

    When British Midland existed there was very real competition on the domestic routes. Primarily it focused on punctuality/regularity and there was a running competition between the BA and BM for the yearly honour of being the most punctual /regular domestic carrier. In flight service was secondary as when you flight is an hour long the differential is whether you leave / arrive on time or indeed the service operate at all.

    The demise of BM not only saw the demise of service standrads on the routes but with the loss of competition saw BA abuse its monopoly position with appaling levels of punctuality and cancellations at the drop of a snowflake.

    I welcome any competition on the domestic routes as a long term, and long suffering passenger; someone needs to take on BA. You just need to look at the scheduling to Glasgow in recent months with 2 morning services to that city per day and no evening returns forcing overnights stays .

    • Janos says:

      easyJet has the biggest domestic capacity in the UK, I’m wondering why no one considers them a competitor to BA? Well, they’re not flying from LHR, but practically every other major British airport…

      • Richie says:

        BTW BACF couldn’t compete with easyJet at Manchester and Stansted, which is why they’re hoping to fly from post flyMayBe non-easyJet Southampton.

        • John says:

          BACF stopping MAN/STN has nothing to do with Easy. They don’t even fly from Stansted anymore. It’s the airline having the ability to maximise yield away from LCY on a weekend that drove the move

      • Rob says:

        You are confusing flight cost with total cost. For the majority of London-based business travellers, Heathrow is nearer and cheaper to get to than Gatwick. easyJet isn’t a realistic option.

        For most trips my wife does, the taxi to Heathrow and back is already more than the flight costs in many cases. If she flew from Gatwick it would be 2-3 times given the 70-90 minute drive at peak times. The lack of status benefits with easyJet at Gatwick also makes it hugely unpopular with the premium business market.

        • Janos says:

          Why would you take a taxi, to get stuck in traffic? The train is much more convenient and much faster. Take the Gatwick Express, for businesses based near Victoria, nothing can beat it. Or the Thameslink to Gatwick (and actually, Luton) from the City (Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, London Bridge, etc.)!

          • Alex Sm says:

            +1
            And one can read and work on the train unlike the car where people get car-sick straight away

        • Richie says:

          Does easyJet need to do a good membership benefits flyer programme?

  • Jonny Price says:

    Aware this is all very complicated with what they can and can’t do with the slots – but are we sure this isn’t just an attempt by the administrators of Flybe to make some money out of the sale of some valuable assets (in this case LHR slots)? To “own” the LHR slots they have to have an airline to own them with… but what is stopping them selling the slots, making some cash, then shutting down the new Flybe they have just created?

    Call me a cynic but I just can’t see a reincarnated Flybe making any money. It is notoriously difficult for regional carriers to make money – generally speaking, the only ones in the world that do make money are franchise/subsidary operators of larger flag carriers with sizeable long haul networks to feed.

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      The slots won’t have much value initially due to the restrictions on use. If an airline wanted to buy them to serve the likes of EDI they would have done so directly, not bought them off Flybe

    • Lady London says:

      @Jonny Price exactly what I thought.

      Combination of private equity (the new name for asset strippers sorry Rob) planning this asset grab and executive management – who also stand to have a job and likely incentivised in this event) joining forces and going for just that

      • Rob says:

        You will need deep pockets to run Flybe for 3 years though. Short haul slots are also not hugely valuable vs long haul.

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