Flybe collapses as coronavirus outbreak takes toll

Europe’s biggest regional airline, Flybe, has collapsed. All flights have been cancelled, wrecking the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers, and more than 2,300 staff face an uncertain future.

The Exeter-based airline, with over 2,000 employees, was bought a year ago by a consortium headed by Virgin Atlantic, and involving Stobart Group and the US hedge fund Cyrus Capital.

The owners put in at least £100m, but Flybe was making such heavy losses that the money ran out.

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The consortium had asked the government for a loan, and to defer its payment of Air Passenger Duty.

The continued spread of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, has hit airlines around the world as people stop travelling.

While the coronavirus crisis will be blamed for hastening the demise of Flybe, its business plan has been derided by competitors. 

Some of those rivals are now expected to set up short-notice replacement flights, especially for links to and from Belfast City airport – which is heavily dependent on the failed carrier.

Flybe was selling tickets up to 10pm, despite aircraft already being impounded earlier in the evening.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) reacted angrily to the news. The general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “A year ago Flybe was taken over by new owners with promises of funding for a bright future.

“Six weeks ago, when the ownership consortium lost confidence, the government promised a rescue package, apparently at that time recognising the value of Flybe to the regional economy of the UK. 

“Throughout, pilots, cabin crew and ground staff have done their jobs brilliantly, while behind the scenes the owners and, sadly, Government connived to walk away.  Flybe staff will feel disgusted at this betrayal and these broken promises.”

Almost 1,000 staff were based at Flybe’s Exeter headquarters, with Birmingham, Manchester and Southampton important bases. 

It operated 119 routes, but the vast majority of its services connected UK airports.

The collapse is the fourth notable failure of a UK airline in less than four years. Monarch went out of business in October 2017, Flybmi in February 2019 and Thomas Cook Airlines in September 2019.

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