An estimated 12,000 passengers booked to fly this week on Flybe are seeking alternatives after the airline shut down for the second time.
The carrier first went bust in March 2020, at a time when it was the UK’s leading regional airline. Flybe was resurrected in April 2022, with its HQ at Birmingham airport and its biggest base of operations at George Best Belfast City airport in Northern Ireland.
The airline operated 17 routes, almost all of them in the UK. But unlike the original Flybe, a large majority of links faced tough competition.
Ralph Anker, the flight data analyst from Air Service One, has assessed the links left unserved by the shutdown.
He said: “Flybe faced head-to-head competition on 13 of these routes from industry heavyweights such as Aer Lingus, British Airways, easyJet and KLM.”
Links from Belfast City to East Midlands and Newcastle do not have other airlines, but the English airports are close to Birmingham and Teesside airports respectively.
UK domestic routes between Belfast City and Southampton and from Birmingham to Aberdeen were due to begin during 2023.
Mr Anker said: “In addition, three French regional airports – Avignon, Bergerac and Brest – were set to be served during the upcoming summer season.”
Newquay airport in Cornwall has been hardest hit by the shutdown: in January, Flybe’s share of the slots was almost 50 per cent, thanks to its 12-weekly flights to London Heathrow and daily service to Manchester.
But Mr Anker said that once summer seasonal services begin, Flybe’s share was set to shrink to 19 per cent of flights and 15 per cent of seats.
Belfast City is second-worst affected, with one in four of its flights disappearing overnight. East Midlands had one in eight of its flights on Flybe.
The Air Service One analysis also shows that Flybe has found it difficult to fill even half its seats.
The only month in which “load factors” averaged over 60 per cent was April 2022.
“Since then, the airline has struggled to get above 55 per cent,” said Mr Anker.
“In 2019, the year before the original airline failed, it was achieving load factors well above 70 per cent.”
Mr Anker also touched on the issue that has attracted a lot of interest: what happens to Flybe’s seven daily slot pairs at London Heathrow?
He said: “How did it acquire them and who do they belong to? Can they be sold, and how will this be regulated, or will they just be handed back to the slot co-ordinator, ACL?”
The Independent is trying to establish the extent of Flybe’s entitlement to the slots.