By John Flett
Flybe Brand Set For A Comeback After Asset Sale
The intellectual property, stock and equipment of the U.K. airline Flybe have been purchased by a firm associated with Connect Airways that owned the airline at the time of its administration in March of this year. BBC News reports that Thyme Opco is linked to the hedge fund company Cyrus Capital which was the majority shareholder in the consortium. Cyrus held 40% of the shares in Connect with Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Aviation owning 30% each.
A Thyme Opco spokesperson said, “We are extremely excited about the opportunity to relaunch Flybe. The airline is not only a well-known U.K. brand, but it was also the largest regional air carrier in the European Union, so while we plan to start off smaller than before, we expect to create valuable airline industry jobs, restore essential regional connectivity in the U.K. and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the country’s economy.”
Prior to Flybe’s collapse, the airline operated to 43 destinations totaling close to 2,300 flights per week. For some U.K. regional airports, the Exeter-based carrier was the dominant operator and provided essential connectivity for local businesses. The airline accounted for over 80% of the total flights operating to and from Southampton, Belfast City (George Best) and Exeter airports in 2019. The Isle of Man and Jersey relied on Flybe for almost 50% and 25% of flights respectively and the airline operated services into and out of the U.K.’s only hub airport Heathrow.
The company overseeing the administration of Flybe’s assets which does not include any aircraft issued a statement on the prospects of the airline restarting. Business Leader quoted the statement: “While the transaction is still subject to certain confidential conditions, the deal is expected to allow the Flybe business to restart operations as a regional airline in the UK under the Flybe brand in early 2021. Following today’s announcement, the administrators will work together with Thyme Opco, the Flybe management team and the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority to prepare for the relaunch of Flybe’s airline operations.”
Discussions with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be key for Thyme Opco and the administrators. The U.K. authority initially revoked Flybe’s operating and route licenses but this decision was withdrawn on 9 July following the retrospective application of an E.U. regulation amendment for ‘the operation of air services in the Community in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.’ Falling passenger demand due to the coronavirus outbreak was cited as a factor of Flybe’s collapse in March.
Therefore with the licensing issues needing to be resolved, it remains unclear how many and what aircraft type or types the relaunched Flybe will be operating and which airports they will be able to operate to. Given the current downturn in U.K. aviation and the lack of constrained capacity at the U.K.’s airports, options for the relaunched Flybe may not be restricted. A source cited by BBC News said that discussions with the CAA were at a “very premature stage”.