Remembering Flybe

In 2019 Flybe celebrated its 40th birthday after a rather chequered few months and years. But at the time the future seemed brighter for the Exeter based airline, following the take over by Connect Airways consortium in February 2019.

However on March 5, 2020 Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline went in to liquidation leaving over 2,400 staff out of a job. 

The company can trace its history back to 1979 and the formation of Jersey European Airways (JEA) following a merger between Jersey-based Intra Airways and Bournemouth-based Express Air Freight. 

In 1983 the airline was purchased by businessman Jack Walker, merging JEA with his own airline Blackpool-based Spacegrand, before moving its headquarters to Exeter Airport in 1985. 

JEA went from strength to strength within the UK, launching its first flights to London in 1991 between Jersey and Guernsey to Gatwick, using their newly delivered Fokker F27 turboprops resplendent in their updated livery. 

As expansion continued the carrier introduced a business class in 1993, giving Jersey European the honour of being the first domestic airline to offer two classes on board. 

Four BAe 146’s joined the fleet in 1993 and the airline went on to win “Best UK Regional Airline” two years in a row. 

In June 2000 Jersey European had a short lived name change to British European, as the carrier expanded its network and strengthened their partnership with Air France. 

But following the global aviation struggles due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the airline decided to reposition itself as a low-cost airline to better compete in this growing market.

So in July 2002 Flybe was born. 

Flybe became the launch customer for the 118-seat Embraer E-195, receiving the first of an eventual 14 in late 2006. 

During 2007 the airline acquired BA Connect, the ailing low-cost regional arm of British Airways. It vastly expanded Flybe’s network and enabled it to become Europe’s largest regional airline. 

But the following years were tough. 

In 2010 the carrier was floated on the London Stock Market, raising £215 million and allowing an order for 35 Embraer E-175 jets to “underpin” its ambitious pan-European expansion.

Sadly the Embraer jets proved to be more of a hindrance and Flybe struggled with overcapacity in the ever changing aviation industry. 

easyJet took up the airlines valuable Gatwick slots in 2013 for an estimated £20 million pounds. But their woes continued. Saad Hammad became the airlines new CEO in mid 2013 and by November that year had shaken up the operation, requesting the resignations of three top managers. Out of 158 routes flown at the time, over 60 did not cover their direct operating expenses and the costs of crew and aircraft.

In March 2014, it was announced that Flybe would undergo a major brand refresh. A new purple livery was introduced, new aircraft interiors unveiled and a stylish new cabin crew uniforms which made it on to our ‘Top Ten Cabin Crew Uniforms’ in 2015.

The carriers regional focus proved very challenging for Flybe. Operating about 40% of regional UK flights, it was particularly exposed to anything that went wrong in this highly competitive market. 

Flybe also struggled with Air Passenger Duty (APD). For journeys within the UK its bread and butter routes, passengers had to pay APD on both departure and arrival. The levy is thought to have cost Flybe more than £100m a year, something it had long complained about. The airline was finally thrown a lifeline in January 2020 when the UK Government agreed to defer some of Flybe’s tax liabilities as part of a last ditch rescue deal. 

Just a few months before their 40th anniversary it was announced that Flybe would be taken over by Connect Airways, a consortium made up of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and Cyrus Capital.

Then in October 2019 it was revealed that the airline would be rebranded as Virgin Connect. The group said that the airline would enter a “new era as an independent company under the Virgin brand”.

But sadly this was as far as the rebrand ever got. 

As well as an APD tax break, there was talk in February that Flybe would be receiving a £100m loan from the UK government. This had been promised by then chancellor Sajid Javid and ex-business secretary Andrea Leadsom.

But both ministers left the government before the loan had been paid out and with angry objections to the prospect of state aid from BA and Ryanair, the chance of any bailout became increasingly slim. This, coupled with issues around Brexit and the unfolding Coronavirus panic, sadly the writing was on the wall. 

Despite all these struggles, over the years staff have continued to make Flybe one the UK’s best loved airlines. They showed incredible professionalism and grace in the face of adversity and were a credit to the airline. 

It was quite a 40 year ride for Flybe, but now it’s time for your engines to rest. You may be gone but you will never be forgotten. 

Check out our gallery below with some of the amazing Dollies that made Flybe fly….

Goodnight Flybe. We will miss you. 

© by Dan Air.

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