Flybe Halts Operations, Enters Administration

Credit: Flybe

LONDON—Europe’s largest regional airline Flybe has gone into administration.

Operations ceased at 11 p.m. local time on Mar. 4 with the airline’s website closed just before 11 p.m, the last flight, a service from Manchester to Aberdeen, landing just before midnight.

The carrier confirmed its status in a statement, saying "all flights" had been grounded and its UK business "ceased trading with immediate effect."

Added the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA): "Flybe, which operated regional services from airports across the United Kingdom, has entered administration. All Flybe flights, and those operated by Stobart Air, are cancelled."

The agency added that Flybe passengers "are urged to make their own alternative travel arrangements via other airlines, rail or coach operators." Passengers with tickets on partners Eastern Airways and Blue Islands were told to contact those carriers directly.

Hours before the CAA announcement, several Flybe aircraft were impounded at Manchester and Glasgow airports for non-payment of airport fees, signaling the beginning of the end of the carrier.

The Exeter, UK-based airline has been battling against financial struggles even in the wake of the carrier’s purchase by the Connect Airways consortium, made up of UK long-haul carrier Virgin Atlantic, regional aircraft franchise operator Stobart Air and investment fund manager Cyrus Capital Partners. 

“We are deeply disappointed that Flybe has been unable to secure a viable basis for its continuing operations and has therefore entered administration,” Virgin Atlantic said in a statement.

The company said the Connect Airways consortium had invested more than £135 million ($173 million) over the last 14 months to keep the airline flying. Virgin officials said this includes approximately £25 million of the £30 million committed in January 2020, alongside a Time to Pay arrangement with HM Treasury for Air Passenger Duty to the value of £3.8 million.

“Sadly, despite the efforts of all involved to turn the airline around, not least the people of Flybe, the impact of COVID-19 on Flybe’s trading means that the consortium can no longer commit to continued financial support,” Virgin said.

Franchise operator Blue Islands said it would continue to operate despite the collapse of Flybe and was working to re-establish control of its dynamic booking tools. 

Earlier in the year, Flybe’s management had gone to the government to request a deferral in its air passenger duty payments or a government loan, but both were denied, and triggered a backlash from competing carriers arguing that taxpayer’s money should not be used to prop up a rival.

“The proposed rescue deal would have been a short-term fix, not a long-term solution,” said Loizos Heracleous, an aviation industry expert from Warwick Business School.

“Holding onto money-losing routes was not a good strategy. Flybe needed to make significant changes to its business model to become sustainable in a fiercely competitive environment,” Heracleous added.

However workers’ unions have reacted angrily, questioning why the government was not able to help keep the airline flying like with other European governments.

“It is simply outrageous that the government has not learned the lessons following Monarch and Thomas Cook’s collapses; the much-promised airline insolvency review has still not materialized,” said Unite union official Oliver Richardson. “While other European countries are able to introduce measures to keep airlines flying when they enter administration, the UK remains unable or unwilling to do so.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which represents all Flybe pilots, expressed dismay over the airline's demise.

“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 recognizing the value of Flybe to the regional economy of the UK," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said. “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.

“What happened to shareholders’ promises of a bright future as  Virgin Connect? What happened to the government rescue deal?" Strutton continued.

The impact of the airline’s collapse is likely to be felt at regional airports across the UK. The airline had been providing the majority of air services at Southampton, Belfast City and at Exeter, and around half of the services to the island of Jersey and at Cardiff Airport, Wales. Indeed, many of the airline’s regional routes in the UK are not flown by any other carrier. 

Flybe now joins a growing list of UK airlines which have gone out of business over the last three years, with leisure airline Monarch collapsing in October 2017, regional airline flybmi going into administration in February 2019 and Thomas Cook shutting down in September 2019. 

See our interactive map of Flybe's route network and where the fleet is now parked.


Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.