Can a FlyBe rebirth work?

It has been a year since the failure of flyBe, the first casualty of the pandemic, although a carrier which had got caught in a cycle of bad decision making which had manifested over a long time. It’s planned ‘rebirth’ under the Virgin Connect banner lay in tatters, as the industry headed into hibernation.

One of the investors of the ‘Virgin Connect’ project stayed around, Cyrus Capital and have stayed around, with a purchase of the assets confirmed by the administrators EY. The new owners planning to be up and running in the summer, although there are still question marks at their motives.

As has rightly been reported, many of their former domestic services have been replaced. In some cases by easyJet (which is the largest domestic airline based on the number of seats flown), or regional carriers Loganair, Eastern or Blueislands.

So, it looks difficult on the domestic front at the moment. However, this will be a debtless airline, essentially starting from scratch – a big advantage over those who have struggled financially through the crisis and have been weakened as a result. It could in effect undercut on price and potentially value, and knock others out of the market as a result.

While correctly reported that many of the domestic routes had been replaced, flyBe wasn’t just a domestic carrier and carried the reputation as being ‘Europe’s biggest regional carrier’. They particularly had a close connection to nearby France, with many connections which came and went over the years.

None more so than at Southampton, which has seen its fair share of French connections over the years, including to airports which don’t currently have an air service. Airports included Cherbourg, Angers, Avignon, Rennes, Bordeaux, Brest, La Rochelle, Perpignan, Toulon and Chambery in the winter. Some haven’t be replaced yet, and neither has the 10th busiest route in 2019 – Paris, ad the 14th in Dusseldorf.

Other airports in a similar situation include Norwich. That lost its Paris connection, but flyBe had previously flown to Bordeaux which is also unserved. Exeter, again lost Paris and they also served Bergerac.

You can see many of the cities which could be possible within the range of a Dash-8, those French regional connections – maybe adding Pau or Biarritz, along with places like Berne or Lucerne in Switzerland during the winter. More business orientated services could include Hannover or Stuttgart, Milan, Strasbourg, Luxembourg and regional services to Ireland (possible even reopening services from Waterford).

Still, much is theoretical, although once you look beyond a ‘domestic’ carrier, there are many more opportunities available.