The future of the flagship link between Cornwall and Europe’s busiest airport had been the subject of speculation for weeks, as it has been impossible to book seats from 29 March 2020 onwards.
The local Conservative MP, Steve Double, announced Flybe’s switch from Heathrow in a statement on his website on Thursday afternoon – saying he was “disappointed that Flybe has confirmed its decision to switch its London route from Newquay back to Gatwick”.
He wrote: “I have been working hard behind the scenes for some time to seek to keep the route at Heathrow.
“But having met with representatives of Virgin, the major shareholder in Flybe, today I have had to accept that the proposed changes provide the best way forward for both the airline and Cornwall.”
Virgin Atlantic is not the major shareholder in the consortium that now owns Flybe; it has a 30 per cent share, as does Stobart Group. Cyrus Capital, a US investment fund, owns 40 per cent.
Mr Double added: “In the light of the events of this week the priority has to be securing the viability of the airline for the future whilst securing the best arrangements possible for Cornwall.”
Flybe was this week given a financial lifeline by the government, which is allowing it to defer £100m in Air Passenger Duty and has also indicated plans to reduce the tax on domestic flights.
Yet later on Thursday the MP for St Austell and Newquay rowed back on his revelation. The original announcement was deleted, and replaced with a statement saying: “If, as reported, the Newquay to London route is to be moved back to Gatwick, I share the disappointment of many.”
Flybe repeated an earlier statement, saying: “We have to date only announced the first phase of our 2020 summer schedule and are working closely with our partners across the network, including those in Cornwall, to finalise our full 2020 summer programme relating to those services which may currently not feature in this seasonal schedule.
“Details will be announced shortly.”
Newquay airport would not comment on either of Mr Double’s announcements.
If confirmed, the move will cause fury among local businesses. On the first flight on 31 March 2019, Al Titterington, managing director of Newquay airport, told The Independent: “It means everything for the airport and for Cornwall’s economy as well, being able to connect through the hub.”
The 210-mile link has proved extremely popular with inbound business passengers as well as travellers from Cornwall wanting to connect with onward departures at Heathrow. Most flights are at, or close to, capacity.
Gatwick is the busiest single-runway airport in the world. Flybe relinquished its presence at the Sussex airport in March 2019, and it is not clear how easy it will be to obtain the necessary slots to reestablish a frequent daily service.