Flybe has suspended all operations and has formally entered into administration.
The airline which was acquired by the Connect Airways consortium, comprising Cyrus Capital Partners, Stobart Air and Virgin Atlantic, has collapsed.
Flights operated by Flybe franchise partners Blue Islands and Eastern Airways are not affected and continue to operate. These airlines have now set up their won booking engines
The professional services firm EY has been appointed as administrator, as per a notice on the Flybe website. It formally announced its appointment in the early hours of Thursday morning once the last remaining Flybe flights had landed.
This has followed weeks of press reports that Flybe was in talks with the UK Government to secure state support by deferring payments of Air Passenger Duty and a loan on “commercial terms”.
According to reports the Government was unable to offer loan as Flybe was unable to offer any assets to be secured against a loan. There have also been claims that Flybe owes significant sums of money in unpaid fees to suppliers.
Flybe’s deteriorating financial position had been exacerbated by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak which has caused a substantial fall in passenger numbers and forward bookings for all airlines.
The Collapse Of Flybe
Flybe was acquired by the Connect Airways consortium for £2.8m.
At the time of the acquisition, it announced an intention to invest a total of £100m in Flybe by providing a bridging loan of £20m and investing a further £80m in the airline. This was to include a rebrand of the airline as “Virgin Connect”.
For Flybe, which was founded in 1979, this marks the end of an airline that once had an ambition to a major pan-European regional airline. A little under ten years ago it floated on the stock exchange, with a closing share price on its first day of trading of 341¼p, valuing the airline at £249m.
The reasons for its downfall are many. In part, it was due to an over-ambitious order for Embraer regional jets, which it had since sought to shed. It did not have the best reputation for operational reliability. Arguably, it had a confused strategy doing many things. This included operating point-to-point regional routes and feeding long-haul airlines at London Heathrow, neither of which are financially rewarding.
Questions will now be asked about the sale of Flybe to the consortium, which had ample time to do due diligence on an airline with well publicised financial difficulties. The sale was also controversial due to the fact that it was effected by a sale of Flybe’s assets, rather than the whole group, in order to circumvent the need for shareholder approval.
The closure of Flybe does have a significant impact on many UK regional airports such as Exeter and Southampton where Flybe is by far the most dominant airline.
It also represents, after the closure of Virgin Little Red, a second failed attempt by Virgin Atlantic to create a short-haul feeder operation at London Heathrow.
In London, it does leave BA even more dominant at London City airport. There is also the question of the bmi remedy slots at Heathrow which Flybe had acquired from BA. Whilst Flybe had certain grandfathering rights in respect of these slots, these should revert back to BA.
Flybe is to launch a new route from London Heathrow to the Isle Of Man.
The new daily service launches on Sunday 21 April 2019.
Launching at relatively short notice, this will be the only direct link between Heathrow and the Isle Of Man. Whilst the timings and frequencies are not ideal for long-haul connections at Heathrow, it is a better option than having to traverse across London to take a connecting flight at Gatwick or London City.
This is yet another new route for Flybe at Heathrow. It is due to transfer its service to Newquay from Gatwick to Heathrow, and launch a new route from Heathrow to Guernsey, on Sunday 31 March 2019.
London Heathrow – Isle Of Man
Flight BE2156 Depart London Heathrow 17:05 – Arrive Isle Of Man 18:25 (Daily) Flight BE2155 Depart Isle Of Man 13:50 – Arrive London Heathrow 15:10 (Daily)
Flybe has confirmed this evening that the airline has been sold to the Connect Airways consortium which comprises Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and Cyrus Capital.
The sale has been effected by the sale of Flybe plc’s operating subsidiaries. This was not as originally intended and had been done to circumvent the requirement for shareholder approval. This is much to the fury of Flybe shareholders, some of whom had threatened legal action to block the sale. This now means that Flybe plc is a shell company with no assets.
As far as Flybe’s operations are concerned it is business as usual for now.
As the airline is now owned by a privately owned consortium there will not be much way of formal updates on its business plans.
However we do have a flavour of what to expect:
– Flybe aircraft and routes will progressively operate under a Virgin brand. This is most likely those that serve Heathrow and Manchester. Virgin will naturally be conscious of risk to brand perception so any painful or politically unpopular decisions will be made before rebranding.
– Flybe has already sold its slots at Gatwick so will withdraw from the airport when its last remaining route to Newquay transfers to Heathrow on Sunday 31 March 2019.
– Flybe will also launch a new route from Heathrow to Guernsey from 31 March 2019.
– It will not be possible to earn or redeem Avios on Flybe flights from Tuesday 30 April 2019.
Given the poor state of Flybe’s trading and the need for the consortium to provide a bridging loan, quick action will be taken to improve Flybe’s performance. It is inevitable that some routes may be cut.
Flybe is to launch a new route from London Heathrow to Guernsey.
The new daily service launches on Sunday 31 March 2019. It will initially operate daily and for the summer season only. However, this may be extended.
Whilst the timings and frequencies are not ideal for long-haul connections at Heathrow, it is a better option than having to traverse across London to take a connecting flight at Gatwick.
Whilst this announcement has been made before the Connect Airways consortium has purchased Flybe, it does give an indication of what may be to come if the transaction completes tomorrow, Friday 22 February.
It is plausible that the slots of this route have been sourced from Virgin Atlantic’s own portfolio, which have previously been leased to other airlines.
Flybe continues to do battle with its major shareholders over its takeover by the Connect Airways joint-venture between Cyrus Capital, Stobart Air and Virgin Atlantic.
Whilst the completion of the transaction is far from certain, Flybe is taking steps to move forward.
Flybe has been an Avios partner for some years. Flybe and Avios have confirmed that it will not be possible to earn or redeem Avios on Flybe from Tuesday 30 April 2019.
Unlike BA or Iberia, Flybe doesn’t have its own frequent flyer programme per se. Rather, it uses a shared Avios “platform”, which is also used by Aer Lingus and Vueling for their frequent flyer programmes.
Whilst this move was expected, there are specific steps some Avios collectors will have to take to avoid forfeiting their Avios balances.
If you opened an Avios account via Flybe, before 30 April 2019 you will need to open an Executive Club account with BA (if you do not already have one) and use the “Combine My Avios” tool to move your Avios balance to your Executive Club account. Affected members should receive an e-mail directly from Flybe to advise of this.
Avios can be earned and redeemed on Flybe as normal until 30 April and all existing reward bookings will be honoured.
A full list of Frequently Asked Questions has been published on the Avios and website.
Whilst there is three months’ notice of these changes, it’s obviously better to deal with this sooner rather than later in case of any IT gremlins.
24 hours have passed since the Connect Airways joint-venture between Cyrus Capital, Stobart Air and Virgin Atlantic has confirmed it is bidding to buy Flybe.
For Flybe’s shareholders, this is an absolute stinker of a deal, valuing their shares at just 1p. They duly responded by crashing the share price from 16.4p to 3.75p on Friday. For Flybe’s long-suffering employees, there is at least some certainty as to the future. The alternative would have been a fairly disorderly and undignified winding down of the airline.
In terms of what happens next, there are still a number of unknowns. However, the Ministry for Speculation and Guesswork has been consulted with the following thoughts:
1. The announcement was interesting for what it didn’t mention.
The announcement made much of the scope to grow short-haul connectivity to Virgin Atlantic and Delta’s long-haul flights and London Heathrow and Manchester.
Apart from Southend airport, which is owned by Stobart Group and Stobart Air operates a Flybe franchise, much less was said about other UK airports.
One airport that won’t feature in the consortium’s plans is Gatwick. Flybe announced on Friday that it has sold its last remaining slots to Vueling for £4.5m.
Nothing was also said about the impact on other Flybe franchise operators such as Blue Islands which flies from London City to Jersey, or Eastern Airways.
There are also other airports which, apart from routes to Virgin hubs and those of Virgin’s forthcoming transatlantic partner Air France-KLM, offer little to the consortium. A cursory scan of the departures board for many airports such as Exeter and Southampton shows that these airports would not be viable without Flybe’s operation. Any significant cuts to Flybe’s schedules at these airports will be politically sensitive.
2. This is high risk for the Virgin brand.
Although the new airline will be operated independently from Virgin Atlantic by a consortium, which is a challenge in itself, in the eyes of the public it will be Virgin Atlantic.
As much as Virgin will try to add a bit of fizz, regional short-haul flying is a painfully unglamorous business. As is the thankless task of feeding passengers to long-haul flights where there is a high risk of missed connections and mislaid baggage.
Virgin Atlantic will be the target of opprobrium for any service failings.
3. There are mixed results for BA and International Airlines Group.
Ultimately, if International Airlines Group wanted to buy Flybe it could have submitted a bid.
It is highly likely that IAG has its sights on bigger “transformational” deals. However, there are some downsides for BA and other IAG airlines.
There is now not a chance of the 12 Heathrow bmi remedy slots that BA has had to make available to Flybe ever returning to BA. The new airline will soon be able to make full use of these for short-haul services in perpetuity. It will also n doubt continue Flybe’s ambition to add more routes in the event of a third runway at Heathrow.
BA made a strategic decision over ten years ago to withdraw from regional short-haul flying. It has also shown no interest in franchising the brand in the UK, having withdrawn from all UK franchise agreements some years ago.
Indeed, much of Flybe today comprises the former “BA Connect” regional operation which BA effectively paid Flybe to take off its hands. BA also sold its 15% stake in the airline. When BA sold BA Connect, it turned its attention to BA CityFlyer at London City, which performs extremely well for the airline. Should Flybe downsize at London City, this will give more scope for BA CityFlyer to grow.
Flybe currently uses Avios as its frequent flyer currency. It is inevitable that Flybe will withdraw from the Avios scheme. This will reduce Avios coverage in UK regional markets. Passengers will be able to earn Virgin Flying Club miles. Virgin Atlantic is due to relaunch its frequent flyer programme this year. This, combined with earning and redemption opportunities on Air France-KLM, will make Virgin’s frequent flyer programme a much more competitive rival to the BA Executive Club.
Aer Lingus does rely on Flybe to operate codeshare routes from some UK regional airports such as Exeter and Southampton to Dublin, and these may well cease.
IAG CEO Willie Walsh will no doubt offer some “forthright” views on the merits of the deal when IAG announces its annual results next month.
A consortium including Virgin Atlantic has made an offer to buy the airline Flybe.
Flybe announced last year that it had put itself up for sale and Virgin Atlantic had made known its interest in the airline.
The consortium also includes Stobart Aviation, which operates flights under the Flybe franchise, and Cyrus Capital Partners. Stobart Group had launched an unsuccessful takeover bid for Flybe last year.
Cyrus Capital will be the single largest shareholder, owning 40% of the consortium. Stobart Aviation and Virgin Atlantic will each own 30% of the consortium.
The transaction is subject to approval by Flybe’s shareholders. In theory, another bid could be forthcoming. However, this is unlikely. Any bid by International Airlines Group would require competition remedies at London Heathrow and BA seems happy with the performance of BA CityFlyer at London City.
This bid offers little to Flybe’s shareholders. On its first day on the stock exchange in December 2010, Flybe’s share price closed at 341¼p, valuing the airline at £249m. Yesterday, Flybe shares closed at 16.4p, valuing the airline at £36m. This offer is for substantially less, at 1p a share, valuing the airline at £2.2m. However, it does provide for a relatively dignified and orderly exit.
As part of the transaction the consortium will also acquire Stobart Air. The combined Flybe and Stobart Air operation will operate under the Virgin Atlantic brand. However, it will remain an independent airline from Virgin Atlantic. Operating under the Virgin brand is not without risk if there are issues with reliability and punctuality.
The consortium has also agreed to provide a £20m bridge loan to support Flybe’s operations pending the acquisition and to invest £80m of further funding after the acquisition.
Stobart Air does provide wet leased aircraft to other airlines, including rivals of Virgin Atlantic, and this will continue to operate.
Whilst the offer document makes much of the ability to feed Virgin Atlantic at London Heathrow and Manchester, and grow short-haul flights at London Southend, it says much less about operations at other UK regional airports which are heavily dependent on Flybe for traffic. Flybe is by some margin the single largest airline at many UK regional airports, including Exeter and Southampton. Continue reading “Virgin Atlantic Consortium Bids To Buy Flybe”
Following Sky News’ exclusive report on Thursday evening, Virgin Atlantic has confirmed it is in discussions about a possible bid to buy Flybe.
Flybe announced a little over a week ago that it had put itself up for sale and has appointed advisors to manage the process.
At the outset there are some caveats.
When a business announces it is up for sale, it is to be expected that many parties will come forward to have a good look at the books. Few will ultimately submit a bid.
Ordinarily, their identities are supposed to be confidential. When prospective purchasers are leaked to the media, it is usually deliberate and for a reason. More names may appear in the press this weekend.
Given Virgin’s existing codeshare relationship and the potential impact of a change in ownership it is to be expected that Virgin will take an active interest in the process.
With Virgin’s track record you could be forgiven this was simply a means of generating press coverage. When Lufthansa sold bmi seven years ago Virgin made a lot of noise about making a bid. It was not seen by Lufthansa as anywhere near as credible as the bid by International Airlines Group. So much so that the only alternative was liquidating the airline.
However, the fact that Virgin has appointed Rothschild to advise suggests it is serious in its intent.
Why would an exclusively long-haul airline want to buy a regional airline that barely touches the airports it serves?
Virgin Atlantic and Flybe
Virgin Atlantic does have an existing codeshare relationship with Flybe.
It relies on Flybe to provide short-haul feed, principally at Heathrow and Manchester. Flybe’s routes from Heathrow to Aberdeen and Edinburgh use remedy slots released by BA as a condition of its merger with bmi. Virgin tried unsuccessfully to use these slots itself, wet leasing aircraft from Aer Lingus under the brand “Little Red”. Should Flybe withdraw from Heathrow for any reason, these would revert back to BA.
There is another factor: Air France-KLM. It is due to take a stake in Virgin next year. Air France-KLM and Virgin will combine their respective transatlantic joint-ventures with Delta into one to compete more effectively with American Airlines and BA. Air France relies on Flybe to provide feed to Paris Charles de Gaulle from some UK regional airports. Flybe’s UK regional network could be optimised to feed all four airlines.
That said, there are a lot of things that don’t make sense.
Virgin is loss-making and has much else to do next year. Long-haul and short-haul regional operations are radically different. Flybe has substantial operations at airports of little strategic interest, Cardiff, Exeter, London City, Norwich, Southampton. A lot of politically unpopular decisions would have to be made. If Virgin wants to acquire more short-haul feed at Heathrow and Manchester – and this is the dilemma facing any potential purchaser – there are other ways to go about it than buying Flybe.
Expect this to run and run over the next few months.