Questions raised over whether new Flybe will fly to South West

South West businesses would welcome the return of newly resurrected airline Flybe to the region – but there is no guarantee it will even fly again let alone to the West Country.

A new company called Flybe Ltd has bought assets of the failed Exeter-headquartered airline from administrators and hopes to start flights in 2021.

But there is no indication the new firm will operate from the South West or even fly to it – if it even sees aircraft in the sky at all.

While the venture currently has an operating licence (OL), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) actually revoked this and it is only still in place because an appeal has been lodged. A decision will be taken by transport minister Grant Shapps.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence as yet that the new company, connected to hedge fund Cyrus Capital, will be based in the South West or even run services to it.

Administrators have already sold the Exeter training academy to Devon County Council for £3.6million and have returned 65 leased aircraft.

The new company has so far declined to add to an initial statement which said that, subject to vaccination programmes and relaxation of travel restrictions, it plans to launch the new Flybe in Summer 2021 on many of its former routes.

It said the new company will initially be smaller than the original Flybe, which employed 2,000 people, but intends to grow and create jobs.

However, industry insiders say that may be done far from the South West, possibly at Manchester or Birmingham, which Flybe used to serve, and one insider said: “There will be regional support to encourage them to come back to the South West, but we have no idea whether they will or not.”

And Tim Jones, chair of the South West Business Council, said that while there is no guarantee the new company will base itself in the region, it would, however, make sense to do so.

“The South West should be the location of the new business,” he said. “We have the credentials, skill sets and infrastructure that can support it. There is a strong case to say the origin of Flybe is in the South West and it would be welcomed back and we could make this a successful business and will vote with our feet by supporting it.”

Kim Conchie, chief executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, said it would be good if the new Flybe could operate from the Duchy’s Newquay Airport.

He said: “Cornwall needs regional connectivity. We are a business area bursting with opportunities to build back better- to pick up on a G7 theme.

“We want to showcase to the world our floating offshore wind, our geothermal, our digital, marine and agritech businesses creating and doing things differently.

“There isn’t a booming economy in the world that doesn’t have a functioning airport. We need Flybe operating from Newquay and working with Cornwall’s entrepreneurs to make flying greener, efficient and easy so we can get clients and investors in and out quickly.”

The original Exeter-headquartered Flybe Ltd collapsed into administration in early 2020 after the Government withdrew a £100million rescue package.

The firm, which operated about 4% of UK domestic flights to numerous cities including Newcastle and Cardiff, saw the vast majority of its 2,000 workers made redundant.

But administrators at restructuring firm EY have now completed a deal with will see an unspecified number of jobs transfer from FBE Realisations 2021 Limited (in Administration), as the old Flybe was renamed, to the new company, previously known as Thyme Opco Limited, but now renamed Flybe Ltd.

How to contact William Telford and Business Live

Business Live’s South West Business Reporter is William Telford. William has more than a decade’s experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. He is based in Plymouth but covers the entire region.

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In October 2020, EY struck a deal with Cyrus Capital, which was one of three partners alongside Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Group that had taken over Flybe before its demise in 2020.

However, the CAA began steps to revoke the operating licence (OL) in January 2021 and two months later actually revoked it. EY administrators have appealed against this but during the appeals process the licence remains valid.

An EY spokesperson said: “An appeal has been lodged against the CAA decision to revoke the operating licence held by FBE Realisations 2021 Limited (in Administration). Currently, and during any appeal process, the operating licence continues to remain valid.”

A spokesperson for the CAA said: “The UK Civil Aviation Authority can confirm that Flybe (formally known as Thyme OpCo Limited) has been granted an operating licence.

“This licence allows Flybe to undertake commercial air transport and was granted subject to the company meeting the qualifying legislative criteria and requirements of a new applicant.”