19 October, 2020

Is flybe about to make a comeback?

Is Flybe about to make a comeback, less than a year after spectacularly collapsed after a failed rescue deal by Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and Cyrus Capital.

According to industry experts, the regional air carrier could be flying again as early as the second quarter of next year, after a former shareholder stepped in to buy remaining assets of the firm. 

Investment company Thyme Opco,  51%-owned by Mr  Lucien Farrell, who also runs European operations of  Cyrus Capital, purchased the assets for an undisclosed amount. A spokesperson said the airline would "start off smaller than before".

The spokesperson added, "The airline is not only a well-known UK brand, it was also the largest regional air carrier in the EU, so while we plan to start off smaller than before, we expect to create valuable airline industry jobs, restore essential regional connectivity in the UK, and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the country's economy."

Thyme Opco will take on FlyBe's brand, website,  intellectual property, stock and equipment, all much needed to reinvigorate the carrier. However,  the big question is whether the FlyBe operators licence from the Civil Aviation Authority - CAA will still be valid.  Part of the licence includes various slots are the busiest airports in the UK - at least before the coronavirus pandemic, including London's Heathrow and Gatwick, as well as Manchester and others.  A number of the slots have been passed to other airlines to use, at least for the time being. The jury is still out on whether the CAA will reinstate the licence to the new owners and allow a new version of FlyBe fly again.

On balance,   with a lot of negotiation,  I think the Flybe name will grace the skies again, at least for a while.  The market is changing fundamentally, not least because of the current health crisis, but also because the profitable former Flybe routes have already been taken over by the likes of Eastern and Loganair.  The USP of Flybe was the skinny thin regional routes from smaller local airports.  With demand so low from even the major airports,  could there be enough passengers from the smaller regional airports to make a service viable?  I have my doubts,  although,  I really hope I'm wrong, it would be great to see the Flybe name on a plane or two next year,  yet I won't put money on it still being around in two years after starting up!  

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