Passenger unease grew last night as crisis-hit Flybe and its local franchise partner remained tight-lipped about the airline’s future, and the impact of a collapse on the Channel Islands.
The key regional carrier entered survival talks with the UK government over the weekend after it emerged that the airline was on the brink of collapse with mounting losses, despite striking a rescue deal with a Virgin Atlantic-led consortium less than a year ago.
Discussions were originally centred on potential bailout funding, but are yesterday understood to have turned to whether Flybe should be allowed to defer the payment of air passenger duty.
Despite more details about the negotiations having emerged in the 24 hours since news of the fresh funding issues broke, no more details have been forthcoming about what a collapse could mean for passengers with pre-existing flight bookings.
One islander tweeted: “#Flybe nooooo how do we get to the Channel Islands and see family. Just booked Easter flights.”
#Flybe nooooo how do we get to the Channel Islands and see family. Just booked Easter flights.— Carol Scott (@Motherinlaw01) January 13, 2020
There are also concerns about the impact on more remote regions reliant on ‘lifeline’ air routes.
Jersey is among those areas, with Flybe offering key channels into the south of England through Southampton and Exeter.
Blue Islands, meanwhile, flies under Flybe branding to destinations including Guernsey, Bristol and London City as a result of a franchise agreement with the airline.
As questions continue to stack up, Flybe has not wavered from a statement originally given on Sunday night, stating that the airline “continues to focus on providing great service and connectivity” and declined to comment on “rumour or speculation."
A Blue Islands spokesperson said: “It is business as usual for us and for Flybe.
“As an independent, locally owned airline, Blue Islands remains fully committed to serving the Channel Islands and customers can continue to book all Blue Islands operated services at flybe.com.”
Flybe continues to focus on providing great service and connectivity for our customers, to ensure that they can continue to travel as planned. We don’t comment on rumour or speculation.— Flybe ✈ (@flybe) January 12, 2020
The statement from the local provider, which was recently revealed to have been exploring a sale last year, did not go so far as one issued during previous turbulence at Flybe in late 2018.
Then, Blue Islands floated the possibility of “market[ing] its scheduled services independently should it be necessary to do so”, but no such suggestion of going it alone has been made since.
Meanwhile, pilots and staff have reacted furiously to news of Flybe being on the brink, with 2,000 jobs at risk.
According to Devon Live, many staff only found out through media reports.
A staff-wide email sent by CEO Mark Anderson aimed to assuage their resulting fears, but, for many, only served to stoke tensions.
It read: "I have always made it a policy never to comment on speculation or rumour, or to be distracted and take time out to do so.
"I do appreciate that the headlines some of you have already read are disturbing but I want you to know that we are determined to do everything we can to make this work.
"What I now ask from all of us is that we all remain focused on our responsibilities and continue to work and support each other as a team to deliver what we know we can do.”
Pictured: Blue Islands, which operates a franchise agreement with Flybe.
Pilots’ union BALPA demanded transparency from the airline’s management, with General Secretary Brian Strutton commenting: “I am appalled that once again the future of a major UK airline and hundreds of jobs is being discussed in secret with no input from employees or their representatives.
“According to reports the airline could have collapsed over the weekend which would have been devastating news. This is an appalling state of affairs and we demand that the owners of Flybe – Virgin, Stobart and Cyrus – and the Government departments involved stop hiding and talk to us about Flybe. We have a right to be consulted and the staff have a right to know what is going on.”
Unite the Union, which represents hundreds of Flybe staff members, pleaded for an “urgent meeting with the company to fully understand the challenges Flybe is facing”.
Assistant General Secretary Diana Holland said: “Unite is committed to helping ensure the future of the company and to preserve jobs but this can’t be achieved if the union is kept in the dark.
“It is essential that the government plays an active role in helping to ensure that Flybe continues to operate. It is not acceptable for the government simply to prepare for failure.
“The government must demonstrate that it has learnt the lessons from the collapse of Monarch, which it failed to apply during the collapse of Thomas Cook.
“The government must implement both the Airline Insolvency Review and the Insolvency and Corporate Governance Review at the earliest possible opportunity. It has previously committed to do so, but actions speak far louder than words.”
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