Belfast not the only airport to lose out in demise of Flybe

Regional airline’s problems went far beyond coronavirus

A grounded Flybe aircraft  at Exeter airport in the UK. The collapsed airline operated 14 routes from  Belfast City Airport. Photograph: Bloomberg

A grounded Flybe aircraft at Exeter airport in the UK. The collapsed airline operated 14 routes from Belfast City Airport. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

No sooner had analysts gloomily predicted this week that coronavirus would spell the end for “some weaker European airlines” than Flybe obliged by announcing its grounding.

Covid-19 might have given Flybe that final nudge over the edge, but the reality is that the airline was in trouble and seeking a bailout from the British government long before the virus had afflicted anyone in Europe.

Flybe had landed between a rock and a hard place. It was trying to sell flights to an overcrowded market where prices were falling while coping with rising costs. Without a helping hand from Westminster or somewhere else, it was going to close.

Coronavirus is simply adding to already tough conditions for aviation. That is not to play down its impact. The International Air Transport Association calculates that the outbreak will cost the industry $113 billion in lost sales this year, sending yet more airlines through the departure gates.

Yet all this is academic for the passengers and airports hit by Flybe’s exit. From an Irish point of view, the big loser was Belfast City Airport, which lost 14 routes when the carrier announced it was ceasing operations. Loganair will take the Aberdeen and Inverness services, but that leaves 12 other vacancies, including flights to Birmingham and Manchester.

Ironically, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill asked the same British government that failed to aid Flybe to help Belfast City Airport cope with the fallout from the airline’s closure.

However, Belfast City will be competing for whatever support is forthcoming with regional airports including Newquay in Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Flybe’s failure could yet end up shedding light on where Northern Ireland really sits on British prime minister Boris Johnson’s list of priorities.

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