Flybe’s bright purple livery may not be soaring in the skies above Southampton for much longer, as the airline is at risk of collapse, according to reports emerging this week.
The airline, which is due to be rebranded anyway after Virgin backed Connect Airways’ purchase of the airline last year. Virgin Connect will be the new brand from ‘early 2020’, unless Flybe collapses. It means that the Sir Richard Branson-owned company will be back as a major domestic transport company in the UK after it lost its franchise on the InterCity West Coast franchise to Avanti West Coast last year.
Whilst things are on the up for Virgin, the same cannot be said for Flybe who, despite the sale going through to Connect Airways last year, have struggled financially and are struggling to secure fresh finances, according to Sky News.
The government are reported to be considering short-term funding to save Flybe, which – if collapse did happen – would become the second major airline to collapse in less than six months, after Thomas Cook’s failure last autumn.
It has also been suggested that the airline could be exempt from air passenger duty (APD), or see a cut to their APD bill in measures which Green Party MP Caroline Lucas says are “utterly inconsistent with any serious commitment to tackle the climate crisis”. Air Passenger Duty is an additional charge for passenger flights departing from UK airports (bar a few in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands).
What’s the plan?
It has already been announced that there will be some closures, including the announcement that London Heathrow to Guernsey will no longer be a route from 28 March 2020. During the General Election campaign, the now-majority Tory government promised to improve “regional connectivity”, which now puts the government under pressure to support the airline, at least until the Virgin takeover officially begins later this year. Connect Airways are planning to invest £30m further into the business, as well as the potential reduction of APD and/or a short term loan, with the Financial Times reporting that the owners of Flybe are seeking a loan of £100m.
How might this affect you in Southampton?
Primarily, Southampton Airport is a hub for Flybe’s domestic and, in some cases, international routes, too. Flybe flies from Southampton to Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds, with some flights to Amsterdam and France. There are also seasonal flights to parts of Italy, Spain and Switzerland, but are mainly known for their domestic flights.
If you use Southampton Airport, prepare to essentially not to in the event of Flybe’s collapse. 95% of departures from Southampton Airport were operated by Flybe in 2019, with only Anglesey Airport being served by more flights. The likelihood is that Southampton Airport would have to close, having an impact on the local economy. This is all amid plans of expansion at the local airport, which has drawn its own criticisms.
It would also mean the 8.5m passengers flying with Flybe would need to find alternative flights or travel solutions. It’ll make it much more difficult if you want to nip up to see mates in Manchester, or off on a good weekend to Geneva. There is potential to make airports like Heathrow and Gatwick busier, and perhaps see more people travelling by car.
Not only, then, will we see the local economy hit, but it might just make those last-minute getaways much more difficult.