26 MARCH 2018

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Article from BTNews 26 MARCH 2018

COMMENT: What now, Flybe?

The history of British domestic air travel has been littered with failures.

Who these days remembers Brymon Airways, Dan Air and Gill Air? Somehow, for the most part, the routes have staggered on and even today in mainland UK we have a good extent of point-to-point connections between the major conurbations. 

The airline exception is of course Loganair, founded in 1962, for the most part Scottish focused, and now part of the well-founded ‎Airline Investments Ltd group, which includes BMI Regional.  

The possibility of a bid by Stobart Group, headed by ex-easyJet executive Warren Brady, for Exeter-based Flybe was seen as a good move by investors at the London Stock Exchange. Here was a major infrastructure organisation with a fine track record. Stobart works closely with Flybe, leases its aircraft, and hosts the airline at Southend Airport. However, in recent times it has been working closely with Loganair and it is with that carrier it has formed a partnership to reintroduce Carlisle Airport. (See in this issue)

Flybe's CEO is Christine Ourmières-Widener, a former Air France manager who headed up CityJet when that carrier was part of the national French airline. It too has sought domestic affiliations and has in recent times introduced a franchise operation with Eastern Airlines, based at Humberside, covering 14 routes. 

Flybe also operates flights from Heathrow to both Aberdeen and Edinburgh and announced a bid to replace the current private jet operation at RAF Northolt with various regional destinations not connected to Europe’s busiest airport. A decision by the MoD to close Northolt for up to a year for runway resurfacing seems to have been delayed. Flybe does have an air marshal on its board.

This is what Flybe has to say:

“The Board remains highly confident in the prospects of Flybe and believes that the Group continues to have an exciting future as an independent company, delivering the Sustainable Business Improvement Plan as set out in June 2017. This plan is focused on driving sustainable profit and cash generation and will see the fleet size reduce to an optimum level for the number of identified profitable routes and make the business demand-driven rather than capacity-led”.

The London Stock Exchange is not so confident, with Flybe shares that once stood at 341p now hovering around the 35p mark.

A sustained domestic air network is vital at this time with the road network coming under increased pressure and HS2 a long way off, and even then only connecting the major cities. The government has recognised this by support in various ways on particular air routes.

Can Flybe be pulled out of the fire? Is there another management team with the skills and enterprise to undertake the task? Or is Stobart a real predator just waiting to grab the morsels that have meat on them?

The UK needs a healthy domestic air network.

What happens now?  

The Flybe financial year ends 31 March with the results published in early June.

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