Photo: Thomas Saunders

MIAMI – Exeter-based regional carrier Flybe (FY) is set to return in 2021 after administrators confirmed it reached an agreement with investors to reopen the airline. According to the administrators, the airline’s brand and remaining properties had been sold to Thyme Opco, a Cyrus Capital affiliate business that was part of a Virgin Atlantic-led rescue attempt last year.

After running into financial trouble in January, FY collapsed just before the lockdown struck in March, with mounting losses that forced it to approach the government to seek emergency financial help to no avail. Coupling that with the pandemic, the airline collapsed into administration after a 40-year run.

In the aftermath of the collapse, Loganair (LM) took 16 of FY’s routes and the UK CAA revoked the airlines’ operating and route licenses.

Now, the agreement with Thyme Opco, headed by hedge fund executive Lucien Farrell, could see FY reopen as a regional airline, albeit on a smaller scale. Administrators said that to plan for a return, they would consult with the new owners and the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

FlyBe Bombardier Dash8-Q400 Photo: FlyBe

Comments from Both Parties

Simon Edel, a joint administrator said the re-launch of the iconic brand, once the largest regional airline in Europe, would improve aviation employment, regional connectivity, and local economies.

A Thyme Opco spokesperson added that although planning to start smaller than before, the company expects to build valuable jobs in the airline industry, restore vital regional connectivity in the UK and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the country’s economy.

Before COVID-19, FY moved around 8 million passengers annually between 81 UK and European airports. When a consortium—Virgin, Stobart Air, and Cyrus Capital—took over the airline in 2019, fresh investment was promised. However, plans to make it a feeder airline for Virgin Atlantic’s Manchester-London long-haul route, with a rebranding of the airline, never came to fruition.

Photo: Flybe

FlyBe’s Importance in the Regional Market

Before 2020, FY provided between 46-52% of all UK regional airline seats with easyJet (U2) only offering 37%, LM and British Airways (BA) with 15%, and Ryanair (FR) less than 2%. As Stuart Mitchell, the Chief Pilot of Flybe between 2017 and 2020 as well as Jon May, who was the Head of Crew Training for the carrier between 2016 and 2019, told Airways back in July:

“Thousands of jobs are dependent on the Regional Aviation sector. Apart from the 2300 people directly employed by Flybe, the airline supported a vast number of businesses and employees in and around the regional airports it served.”

For summer 2020, the airline was scheduled to serve 24 regional airports, compared with 18 for U2 and 15 for BA. Additionally, nine UK airports relied on Flybe for more than 10% of its operations.

Flybe turned from Purple and Orange into red with the Virgin Connect move. Photo: Staff

A Sign of Hope

While there is a lot of money invested in the project, there is still no word on the actual amount involved in the deal, which is subject to certain confidential conditions, and what will happen to the carrier’s former Exeter headquarters.

Regardless, the news is welcomed by Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, who noted that “having Flybe back will add greatly to the transport infrastructure of the South West.”

Featured image: Flybe Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 G-JEDP seen departing runway 15 at Birmingham (EGBB, BHX). Photo: Thomas Saunders.

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