Regional threat amid Flybe collapse

Flybe’s demise could spark ‘tsunami’ of job losses

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Regional airports and their supply chains, which support tens of thousands of jobs, could be at risk without government intervention, Unite warned, after Europe’s biggest regional airline Flybe collapsed into administration this week on Thursday (March 5).



Meanwhile, industry experts said Flybe could be the first of many airlines to potentially collapse amid the massive slump in demand spurred on from the global coronavirus threat.



Flybe had already been in financial turbulence for the last several months but fell into administration on Thursday after last-ditch requests for financial support were denied. The spread of coronavirus, which has caused a dramatic decline in bookings for both holidays and business travel, was thought to be the last nail in the coffin for the beleaguered airline.



In a letter to staff, Flybe CEO Mark Anderson wrote, “Despite every effort, we now have no alternative – having failed to find a feasible solution to allow us to keep trading.”



Unite has lambasted the government’s repeated failure to protect UK-based airlines, with Flybe being only the most recent example. Last year, Thomas Cook went bust after the government refused to intervene. Monarch, a UK-based airline in operation for five decades, likewise fell into administration without government support in 2017 under the weight of Brexit uncertainty and two of its largest markets — Tunisia and Egypt — collapsing.



Now, Unite is calling on the government to take action to protect regional airports.



Within hours of Flybe going bust, Unite was contacted by regional airports and firms in the supply chain undertaking functions such as baggage handling, refuelling and catering, warning of large job losses unless immediate action is taken.



Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson said, “The collapse of Flybe has been a gut punch to regional airports and their supply chains which are already struggling due to coronavirus fears and post Brexit concerns.


“The demise of Flybe means that thousands of jobs at regional airports and in supply chains are hanging by a thread,” he added.


Richardson said that the government has it in its power to avoid a “tsunami of job losses” by “taking immediate measures to ensure that there is not an immediate jobs cull in the regional airport sector”.



These included introducing subsidies for key routes and allowing for airlines and airports to delay paying taxes and duties.


“By taking these measures the government will have demonstrated that it is finally taking regional airports, regional connectivity and regional economies seriously,” Richardson noted. “Inaction cannot be an option as it will lead to thousands of job losses in a sector which is already under pressure.”



After Flybe collapsed, Unite also highlighted the wider impact the airline’s demise could have on regional economies operating in isolated areas like the South West.



Around 78 per cent of all scheduled departures at Exeter Airport are operated by Flybe, while nearly 66 per cent of departures from Newquay Airport are Flybe flights.



Unite regional officer for the South West Steve Preddy highlighted how Flybe’s collapse would impact the local area.



“The aviation sector is essential in terms of providing direct and indirect employment and many economic benefits for business and leisure activities across the South West region,” he said.


“Flybe had operations across the UK and Europe with links worldwide from isolated and other hard to reach areas of our region. Future investment projects may be jeopardised in the South West because of the government’s failure to recognise the importance of modern interconnected travel links,” Preddy added.


“Unite will once again rise in support of affected Flybe members. It’s about time the UK government intervened to prevent these devastating events from occurring, particularly in a post Brexit economy.”



Meanwhile, Unite has welcomed the news that Scottish airline Loganair is to take on 16 routes formerly flown by Flybe and will hire some of its staff.



The routes will run from existing Loganair base airports including Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, and Newcastle. The airline said it will be adding nearly 400 new flights each week and has opened a recruitment line for former Flybe employees.



Unite assistant secretary Diana Holland said this was “good news as it is preserving routes and will provide job opportunities for Flybe workers who have lost their jobs without warning.


“However,” she added, “this only covers one part of Flybe’s operations and other operators must step up to protect regional airports and ensure that the government’s commitment to regional connectivity are actually delivered.”

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