Although the recently collapsed Flybe did not come to Jersey, the airline’s origins could be traced back to the island, and many of its residents retained a relationship with the carrier, even if it was just based on memories, and ones that often veered between love and hate.
Islanders of a certain vintage will remember Flybe’s ancestor, Jersey European Airways, which itself was the creation of a merger between Intra Airways and Express Air Services.
Intra was synonymous with the ‘glory days’ of tourism in the late 60s and 70s, flying former military Dakotas, and Viscounts, to and from the island.
JEA was created in 1979, flying those Viscounts as well as Twin Otters, the Shorts 360 and other aircraft types.
Four years later, Lancastrian Jack Walker, who had moved to the island as a 1(i)k, bought the airline. Under his ownership, it grew substantially. New aircraft – including the workhorse Fokker F-27 and BAe 146 ‘whisper’ jet – joined the fleet, and its route network expanded.
Although the island remained a significant hub for JEA, with air crew, ground staff and engineers all based at the Airport, the airline’s aim to become a leading UK regional carrier led to its renaming to British European in 2000 and, two years later, to Flybe.
By then, the airline had already moved its headquarters to Exeter Airport.
In subsequent years, the airline’s links to Jersey weakened further: its engineering base closed and, eventually, the Jersey base shut down entirely.
For years, the airline had employed and trained Jersey-based pilots and cabin crew, but that pipeline of opportunity came to an end in 2014.
Yet still, Flybe remained a significant airline for islanders.
EasyJet may have become the main carrier to and from Gatwick, but Flybe was still the principal (and often only) airline to and from such important regional airports as Southampton, Birmingham and Exeter.
It also entered into a codeshare agreement with Blue Islands on inter-island routes.
Although it often performed well on punctuality tables, Flybe gained an unwelcome reputation for being unreliable among islanders.
‘Fly(may)be’ was a moniker its management would have no doubt preferred wasn’t used by their customers.
But used it was.
Many islanders, therefore, were only mildly surprised when Flybe – which by then had been sold by the Walker family – went into administration for the first time in March 2020, one of the first high-profile casualties of the pandemic.
Eyebrows may have been raised higher at the news, in April 2021, that attempts were being made to resurrect Flybe by a global private equity firm, which had purchased the brand for a nominal sum.
Any last strand connecting the airline with the island of its ancestors was severed last March, when Jersey was left off ‘Flybe 2.0’s proposed route network.
Instead, the now Birmingham-based airline would be serving Belfast, Newquay, Avignon, Amsterdam and other routes, but not the Channel Islands.
Services took off last April but, this weekend, Flybe cancelled all flights as it went into administration, leaving thousands of passengers stranded and out of pocket.
Although on a practical level, the Channel Islands’ relationship with Flybe ended two years ago, this latest demise of the airline’s many incarnations will likely to be its last.
And with the end of Flybe, the final chapter of a Jersey-founded airline – which employed hundreds of islanders and carried many, many more over many decades – finally came to a close.
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