Belfast City Airport says talks to replace Flybe underway

Fears for connectivity to the North after ‘simply devastating’ airline collapse

Belfast City Airport says it is in talks to replace Flybe, the collapsed airline that operated about 80 per cent of scheduled flights from the airport.

Its chief executive Brian Ambrose said it was a “difficult day”, but that “a number of airlines” had expressed interest in taking over the routes operated by the British regional airline, which has gone into administration.

Flybe was a significant driver of economic activity to the North, carrying 1.6 million passengers in and out of Belfast last year.

Flybe’s website wasn’t working Thursday morning. The airline had three direct routes operating twice daily to Dublin, three to Ireland West Airport Knock, one to Cork and 14 to Belfast.


While the viability of other airports in the UK is expected to be under pressure as a result of Flybe’s failure, business leaders and industry bodies have warned that its collapse is “devastating” for the North.

“Following Flybe’s collapse, our thoughts are with their employees and passengers trying to get home,” said the CBI’s Northern Ireland director Angela McGowan.

“Understandably they will be looking for reassurances today - addressing their concerns must be a priority.”

Ms McGowan said it was “encouraging” that negotiations with other airlines were underway. “Government must support these talks, help protect those who’ve lost their jobs and secure vital regional connectivity.”

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said the “simply devasting” news for the North would have a knock-on effect on pubs, restaurants and hotels at a time when coronavirus is compounding the sector’s problems.

“The regional connectivity that Flybe offered was vitally important to tourism and our wider hospitality sector here. Without it there will be a huge impact on visitor access.”

Knock reaction

A spokesman for Knock airport, from which Flybe had about 15 flights a week to the UK, said: “We regret the loss of Flybe, which has played an important role over the last ten years in providing important access to the West of Ireland with flights to and from Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester and our thoughts are with Flybe staff whose jobs have been affected by today’s news.”

He added that access to the North West of England and the Midlands region will continue to be provided by Ryanair through its year-round services to Liverpool and East-Midlands Nottingham.

Flybe went into administration after the failure of last-ditch talks on a government bailout and pressure from the coronavirus outbreak left the country’s biggest domestic carrier with no alternative.

“As a result of insolvency proceedings, Flybe has ceased to trade and is no longer able to fly or accept bookings,” administrator EY said in a statement on Thursday. “Unfortunately it has been necessary to make the majority of the workforce redundant.”

Flybe, owned by the Connect Airways group that includes Virgin Atlantic Airways, staved off liquidation in January only after the government came out in support of state intervention and its owners injected extra cash.

It was seeking to secure a £100 million state loan intended to keep it afloat through a restructuring programme, and cuts to the UK flight tax in this month’s budget.

However, prospects for a turnaround dimmed as the coronavirus outbreak swept the globe, leading to a sharp pullback in travel. While Exeter-based Flybe’s owners were seeking to gauge whether a virus-related bailout might be possible, no agreement could be reached.

“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.

“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.”

The North's economy minister Diane Dodds said she had personally raised the importance of Flybe to Northern Ireland with UK prime minister Boris Johnson and was "deeply disappointed" that the January agreement had not been able to secure the survival of the company.

Passenger assistance

The UK Department for Transport said government staff would be on hand at affected UK airports to assist passengers. It said the majority of Flybe routes are served by different transport options and that bus and train operators have been asked to accept Flybe tickets. It also asked other airlines to offer reduced rescue fares.

"We are working closely with industry to minimise any disruption to routes operated by Flybe, including by looking urgently at how routes not already covered by other airlines can be re-established by the industry," department spokesman Jack Short said in a statement.

Flybe, which employs 2,400 people, has struggled for years with the narrow margins on regional routes, where demand is lower, together with fluctuating fuel prices and uncertainty around Brexit. The coronavirus compounded its woes, as demand for travel slumped worldwide and airlines cut capacity in an effort to contain the outbreak.

"This is a sad day for UK aviation and we know that Flybe's decision to stop trading will be very distressing for all of its employees and customers," UK Civil Aviation Authority chief executive Richard Moriarty said in a statement. – Additional reporting: Bloomberg