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Reborn Flybe's New base at Birmingham

Commercial Aviation News

November 18, 2021

The Flybe name is returning to the skies and has chosen Birmingham Airport as the base for its new head office. The UK regional carrier collapsed into administration in March 2020 shortly before the world was plunged into a global lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. The brand, intellectual property, stock and equipment of the former Exeter-based firm were bought last year for a nominal fee from administrators by global private equity house Cyrus Capital which was a shareholder in the old business.

The 2021 version of Flybe has now announced it is to have a head office and operations centre at Diamond House next to the airport in Solihull.

It is one of the first new UK airlines to be certified by the Civil Aviation Authority since Brexit and said it planned to serve key regions across the UK and EU, with routes launching in early 2022. It expects to create 200 new jobs to be based at Birmingham Airport with a further 400 elsewhere in the country over the next three years.

In April, the carrier installed airline turnaround specialist David Pflieger as its new chief executive who brings experience from senior roles with airlines such as Fiji Airways and Delta. Mr Pflieger said: "We are thrilled to be partnering with Birmingham Airport, the city of Birmingham and the Mayor of West Midlands to make Birmingham Airport the location of our new headquarters and first crew base.

"It was an ideal choice for us due to its great people and highly skilled workforce, its central UK location and the fact that airport is a global travel hub where local and connecting customers have access to over 150 worldwide destinations.

"Today's announcement marks the culmination of over 12 months of dedicated hard work by all involved and it would not have been possible without the support of the CAA and the UK Government.

From left: Flybe director of flight operations Mark Firth, Birmingham Airport chief executive Nick Barton, Flybe chief executive David Pflieger, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and and Flybe head of air crew Cindy Lewis

"We plan to provide more information in the coming weeks and months about ticket prices, new routes and destinations and other important news. This is an incredibly exciting time for us and we look forward to sharing more updates in the future."

Prior to its collapse, Flybe was Europe’s largest regional carrier and flew around eight million passengers a year and employed 2,500 staff. It was owned by Cyrus Capital alongside Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Group. Following the appointment of EY as administrators, several regional airlines stepped in to pick up some of the lost UK domestic services from Birmingham.

The airport's chief executive Nick Barton added: "This is fantastic news for our region’s connectivity needs and it will bring with it some great new employment opportunities. Dave's vast experience in managing start-up airlines and turnaround situations, coupled with the recovery of the Midlands' economy post-covid, means that Flybe's return to the skies from Birmingham is a shot in the arm for our airport as well as West Midlands businesses and communities.

"We look forward to working with Dave and his team in preparation for next spring and to launch such a well-known brand here in Birmingham."

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said: "It really is such brilliant news that Flybe is coming back as a commercial airline and even better that it has chosen Birmingham to house its new headquarters. Not only does this mean better domestic and international connectivity for our region as well as local jobs and opportunities being created here but it's yet another show of faith in the West Midlands with businesses choosing to commit to our region as we recover from the pandemic.

"Flybe's choice highlights the strength of the aerospace sector in the West Midlands and the talent pool available and I wish Dave and his team all the very best ahead of their official launch early next year."

Whilst is is good news to see the Flybe brand rising again and, with the choice of location at Birmingham's airport (BHX) in a throwback to its earlier guise as Birmingham European Airlines, a note of caution however, is needed.

The West Midlands may well be an ideal central location as far as England is concerned and yes, the city itself is known as England's second city and it does have a fairly large catchment area. But it isn't the most central as far as the United Kingdom as a whole is concerned.

For that one needs to look a little further north to Manchester, which is one reason why the northwest city's airport - MAN - has grown in use so much (pre-pandemic). In terms of population, including the surrounding cities, MAN is ideally located and relatively easy to get to. It links quite well with the rest of the UK. It is also physically larger than BHX and has greater terminal capacity.

BHX is located to the south of the city and to get to it means either going around or through Birmingham itself and ground transport limits currently could present an obstacle to potential passengers.

On the plus side, the airport's geographical location might well bring some areas further south within reach, including London dependent on where one's journey originates. This could be especially relevant when (or if!) HS2 is in use.

That however is some years away and the most significant cautionary note is one of history. Other than links to London and Heathrow in particular from the furthest-flung parts of the UK, domestic flights have never been huge and persistent money-spinners for airlines that have operated them. So which routes will the new Flybe serve?

It can be done but the way forward is fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, we wish Flybe the very best.

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