The demise of Flybe has left a still-unfilled hole in European aviation networks. As rumors of a resurrection of the regional airline begin to surface, former shareholder Virgin Atlantic has indicated an interest in the new carrier. Virgin CEO Shai Weiss said today that the long-haul airline would still be a willing partner for the new Flybe.
Virgin welcomes Flybe’s proposed resurrection
Flybe’s untimely demise was a combination of factors, including long-term unprofitability, competition from other airlines, and the ever present difficulties caused by the UK’s high rates of Air Passenger Duty. When COVID hit, it was the final nail in the coffin. However, recently there has been talk about bringing the airline back.
Speaking at today’s CAPA Live event, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, Shai Weiss, spoke warmly about the projected resurrection of Flybe, and noted his airline’s continued interest in being a partner for the airline. He said,
“We are an interested party because we have a residual interest in that business. And we welcome the opportunity for Flybe to resurrect itself again, and to serve the various regions in the UK.”
At the time of its demise, Flybe was the largest regional airline in Europe. It operated an unmatched fleet of Dash-8s all across the UK and on various routes into Europe. Recently, there has been some indication that shareholders are contemplating reviving the carrier. If that happens, Virgin could still be interested in a partnership.
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Why Virgin needs Flybe
Way back when, Virgin attempted to start its own regional airline. Little Red was its venture into serving the short-haul market out of the UK, with a view to feeding passengers into its hubs for long-haul connections. However, Little Red didn’t work out, and just two years after beginning operations, it ceased flying.
After that, Virgin began codesharing with Flybe, but found that it needed more control over the Exeter based airline. Alongside Stobart and Cyrus Capital, Virgin bought Flybe for a bargain price, with the sale completed in February last year. The plan was to rebrand the airline Virgin Connect, and to push it into working more feeder routes into London and Virgin’s second focus city, Manchester.
When the proverbial brown stuff hit the fan, Virgin’s consortium did not want to pour any more money into the airline. They themselves were facing an uncertain future, and so Flybe was left to fail. Despite this, the plan to have a regional feeder airline remains a priority for Virgin. Weiss commented,
“The strategy of investing in Flybe all had to do with connectivity into Manchester and Heathrow so that we could feed more of our planes. But of course, just to serve, under the new name, which was going to be Virgin Connect, the UK and broader into Europe.”
Still room for Flybe?
Analysis by Anna.Aero shows that the exit of Flybe has left some seriously lucrative routes still unserved. While the impact of the pandemic has somewhat removed the impetus for other airlines to take up these services, there is still a huge gap in European networks.
For example, the route from Southampton, UK to Bergerac, France, was estimated to be worth £1.12 million a year to Flybe, while Southampton to Faro, Portugal, turned just under a million pounds of profit. Overall, Anna.Aero estimates that the top 11 unserved ex-Flybe routes could be worth £7.8 million to an airline, so the notion that Flybe could resurface is certainly a realistic proposition.
If it does, and if the terms are right, we could see Virgin cozying up with this new airline in the future. Weiss said,
“The idea is a good one. For various reasons, it really got caught up in this pandemic impact on the entire UK aviation and unfortunately, they were not able to survive.
“But we hope and hear that there may be some signs of a resurrection. And of course, if the commercial terms are there, we will be willing partners just as we’ve been in the past.”
Would you like to see the idea of Virgin Connect resurrected? Let us know in the comments.