It’s a sad time when the largest regional air carrier in the U.K. shuts down. Flybe handled 40% of domestic U.K. routes keeping smaller cities around the U.K. connected by air. There was the hope that Connect Airways was going to fold Flybe into their operation and transform the airline into Virgin Connect.
40 Years of Service
Flybe began as Jersey International Airways back in 1979. They were a regional carrier that expanded through the U.K. providing critical air links to 36 airports in the U.K. They expanded outside of the U.K. to many countries in western Europe. Flybe, for the most part, was a successful airline employing 2,000 people. They flew a large fleet of regional aircraft mainly using E-195, E-175 and Q400 aircraft with bases in Exeter, Birmingham and Manchester.
What Happened to Flybe?
Operating an airline is a highly risky enterprise. When everything goes right, making a profit can be brutal. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Airways, Virgin Records and the like was asked this question at a Q and A:
Question: Richard, what is the fastest way to become a millionaire?
Answer: Start as a billionaire and open an airline.
An airline can have the best management in place but factors outside of the airline’s control will take their toll on finances. Here are the factors that took down Flybe:
- Seasonal flying. Regional airlines in Europe make their money during the summer and hope that those profits will carry them through the winter months when traffic volume is down.
- Brexit. What happened with Brexit is that it devalued the British Pound. When your company’s currency is the GBP and the value falls, this affects the company’s cash flow.
- Coronavirus. The airline was already in the winter traffic downturn when the Coronavirus hit.
My friend Petter from Mentour Pilot is a 737 line and training captain for a large European airline. He shares his thoughts in this video:
Connect Airways to the Rescue
As I wrote last October, Connect Airways was supposed to come in, right the ship and rebrand Flybe as Virgin Connect. This relationship never came to fruition and Flybe was left on its own. What happened with Connect Airways and why didn’t the deal get completed?
Final Attempts to Save Flybe
Flybe appealed to the U.K. Government for assistance. One of the solutions they sought was a temporary relief from the U.K. air passenger duty. The government was inclined to do so but they realized that if they did this for Flybe, they would have to do this for other carriers as well. They also requested a bridge loan of 100 million GBP which was turned down.
Flybe Was a Champion for Women in Aviation
As important to the U.K. as a regional airline, Flybe was much more than that. They had a passion to hire and promote women in aviation at Flybe. Here are some of the women at Flybe telling their stories:
This is another sad day in aviation. The failure of Flybe comes on the heels of the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook Airways. Flybe flew for over forty years and for the most part, was well managed. This airline was truly a champion for women wanting to follow their passions to work in aviation.
There are the people of the U.K. in small cities that depended on Flybe to connect to other cities as well as connections to major carriers. The coronavirus was just too much for Flybe to handle. Other carriers that are in financial straights like El Al and Cathay Pacific are also struggling for survival amid the coronavirus.