Flybe boss on troubled airline's future: 'We will be there in 40 years'

Simon Calder

As Flybe shareholders are warned that the company will close down if they do not accept a bid from Virgin Atlantic and others, the chief executive has vowed that the airline’s long-term prospects are good.

Christine Ourmières-Widener, who has been running Flybe for two years, told The Independent: “Flybe is here to stay. We will welcome you in the future. Fly Flybe and we’ll be there in 40 years.

“Our role is to connect the regions of the UK, between each other but also to the rest of the world.”

The troubled Exeter-based airline put itself up for sale in November 2018 after warning of heavy losses through the winter.

On 10 January a consortium called Connect Airways, consisting of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and a US hedge fund, Cyrus Capital Partners, made a bid of just £2.2m – valuing each share at just 1p, compared with a peak price of £2.95 shortly after Flybe’s flotation in 2010.

After the deal was announced, £10m was pumped into Flybe to keep it in operation; 10 days later, another £5m was provided.

Under the sale agreement to Connect Airways, Flybe will be rebranded as Virgin Atlantic and the carrier’s fleet of over 70 planes will be repainted.

Schedules will be tuned to feed the long-haul airline’s flights at Heathrow and Manchester, and there may be new services at Southend airport – owned by Stobart Air.

But a leading shareholder, Hosking Partners, has called for the airline’s chairman, Simon Laffin, to be replaced and for an alternative solution to be sought.

Another investor, Andrew Tinkler, put forward a proposal which envisaged a capital injection into Flybe.

The carrier began life as Jersey European in 1979, and has built up a busy network of services serving the UK, the Channel Islands, Ireland and continental Europe.

But intense competition, high fuel prices and economic uncertainty caused by Brexit have been blamed for Flybe’s precarious financial position.

Laffin has written to shareholders saying: “Although the price per share offered by Connect Airways was disappointingly low, its proposal was ultimately the only proposal capable of immediate execution to enable Flybe and the Flybe Subsidiaries to continue to trade as going concerns.”

He also warns: “If the scheme is not approved, the Flybe Directors intend to take steps to wind-up the Company and Shareholders are likely to receive no value for their shares in Flybe.”

The letter adds: “Connect Airways intends to continue to operate Flybe Limited as an independent operating carrier with a separate UK AOC [Air Operator Certificate] under a Virgin brand.”

Ourmières-Widener said: “Our service onboard is one of the best. We are improving our on-time performance.

“Flybe is an amazing company. We have great employees.”

The airline operates from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow to Manchester, East Midlands, Birmingham, Southampton and Exeter. It also has a busy network to and from Belfast City, and some continental operations.