Flybe says it is ready and able to do business here
On Thursday, Flybe chief executive Jim French began a charm offensive to persuade us about the merits of the UK regional carrier taking over half of Aer Lingus’s short-haul routes as part of a Ryanair takeover of its Irish rival.
It includes a visit to the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva this weekend.
French confirmed that the €100 million being provided by Ryanair to capitalise the new Flybe Ireland business will not legally be ringfenced for the company here. In theory, its UK parent could dip into the pot for other purposes.
“It’s very much earmarked for the Irish business,” is how French characterised it to me. He also acknowledged that Flybe has yet to do due diligence on Aer Lingus, as this is a hostile takeover by Ryanair.
Flybe will be allowed to terminate between 5-10 per cent of routes a year without penalty, albeit that it will have to retain the same capacity within the network for the first three years.
Why should the European Commission consider splitting up a profitable, well- capitalised and long-established airline like Aer Lingus and handing over the different parts to Ryanair, Flybe and British Airways?
Such a decision might benefit the three suitors but it is in the best interest of consumers or Aer Lingus staff?
“That’s not for us to determine,” was French’s swerve. “That’s for Ryanair or the European Commission.”
French said that as far as he was concerned, Flybe’s costs were lower than Aer Lingus although higher than Ryanair.
Its average fare is €80 – or €95 when ancillary fees are included.
This is important if it is to compete with Michael O’Leary in the long term.
French was also keen to stress that it recognised trade unions and that a substantial percentage of its employees had been with the airline for a decade or more – and its pension scheme was in surplus, so staff at Aer Lingus had nothing to fear from Flybe.
Flybe Ireland would have its own distinct management team.
Would he hire Christoph Mueller to run the unit, after the German tossed around various colourful claims about Flybe on Wednesday?
“Sadly, I don’t understand some of things Christoph said about us. I suspect he probably woke up and regretted the silly things he said.”
Finally, will the Scot be cheering for Ireland or England on Sunday?
“I’ll be wearing a T-shirt saying ‘I support Scotland or any other team that plays England bar France’,” he said.
O’Leary has nothing on this guy.