Wednesday 15 January 2020

FlyBe Nonsense

This sounds like utter guff to me

The number of passengers it carries pales by comparison with better-known budget carriers such as easyJet or Ryanair.

As a company, it is only a tenth as big as collapsed holiday firm Thomas Cook, so there is little prospect of a government bailout.

But those who habitually choose Flybe see it as a vital service, because it reaches the places that other airlines fail to touch.

"Mainland UK doesn't understand how vital Flybe is to Northern Ireland," tweeted one regular passenger, Jason.

"As someone who travels with them frequently for work, Flybe's collapse would be a disaster for the NI economy.

"If this happens, Belfast City Airport will have only four flight routes. FOUR."

I'm going to suggest here that "Jason" is a PR guy for FlyBe in disguise. There's a cute trick at the end there. It mentions how many routes Belfast City Airport will have. What it doesn't mention is that there's also Belfast International Airport.

Easyjet alone fly Belfast to Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, London, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. OK, they're going to lose the direct service to places like Cardiff, but it's only another half hour from Bristol Airport to Cardiff.

And if this was so critical to people on this route, FlyBe wouldn't be in trouble, as they'd be falling over each other to snap up tickets rather than there being Belfast to Cardiff seats available next week for £140 return.

Despite Jason's heartfelt words, there are a number of other locations that owe just as much to Flybe in terms of connections to the wider world.

Cornish holiday resort Newquay, for one, has no direct rail services from London for much of the year and the journey takes about five hours. But Flybe can get you from London Heathrow to Newquay airport in little more than an hour.

Yeah, but it isn't "little more than an hour". You've got check-in time, parking, baggage, security, and all sorts of crap when you land at Heathrow. Then time from Heathrow to London on the Heathrow Express. Call it 3 hours door-to-door. And really, most of Cornwall isn't 5 hours, because go slightly east of Newquay and there's St Austell which runs direct trains to London in just over 4 hours. Other than a few people who want to go to their holiday homes, what's the critical link for Cornwall and London that can't wait 4 hours?

And if you live in the Isle of Man, Flybe's service can literally be a lifeline.

The airline has a contract with the government to transfer NHS patients from the island to medical facilities in Liverpool when they require treatment that cannot be provided closer to home.

And Easyjet also fly there, so just use them. Or get someone to schedule private jets. The Isle of Man aren't a British problem.

Small wonder, then, that Ben Bradshaw, the MP whose Exeter constituency includes Flybe's base, has spoken of the "valuable connectivity" that the carrier provides.

In fact, he described the airline as "a strategically important business".

Thanks to Flybe, Mr Bradshaw's constituents can fly from Exeter direct to a variety of destinations including Amsterdam, Paris and Geneva - places that would otherwise be accessible to them only after a lengthy trek via other places.

A lengthy trek? It's about an hour from Exeter to Bristol Airport that flies to Amsterdam and Paris.

Freelance art director Sarah Ward, who divides her time between London and Cornwall, is another Flybe frequent flyer. She tweeted that she would have to move house if the airline ceased to exist.

In an appeal to her local MP, Derek Thomas, she asked: "What are you doing to protect such vital infrastructure?"

Well, move house then. Figure out a way to work from home. Move job. You're the insane one with a 250 mile distance from home to work and depending on one airline. You did this.

If an airline goes out of business, no other operator automatically takes over their routes and there is no guarantee any would.

But hang on, this is a "vital link" to the country, but no-one can even fill a plane every day? Maybe, actually, they have a load of marginal routes like Belfast to Cardiff that most people just don't care about flying very often. Maybe it's a crap business that government should let go to the wall.


Mark Wadsworth said...

After you'd taken "Jason" apart, all the other arguments for keeping it going just crumbled to dust.

Tim Almond said...

Cheers, Mark,

One aspect about transport is that it's often pretty marginally beneficial for people. "Oh, but people have to get to work in London". But the work in London and the concentration of work there is because of the trains. If they mostly disappeared, people would just work from the regions.

I'll bet if these commuters from Northern Ireland had to double their fares, it would make almost no difference. Many of them would just move to the mainland. Others would work remotely from Belfast. I used to fly up to Glasgow on a weekly basis for a while, but there's no way I'd do that now. I'd fly up once to do a kick-off meeting and some handshaking and after that, the rest of the time I'd work remotely.

Lola said...

TS. I'd been mulling all that over, so thanks for doing the post.

What also makes me very annoyed is that they are delaying (as in probably never ever going to be able to collect, ever) £106 Million of oustanding APD. That annoys me on several levels. One, I have a viable business that is hampered from employing someone we need this year as I have to pay shed loads of tax. In effect the tax I am paying subsidises Flybe. It also shows that APD is a bad tax as it must be eating sufficiently into the revenue for what is obviously a marginal business to take it blow where the revenue covers the costs. i.e. tax destroys business , aka wealth creation.

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, APD is a shit tax. Auction off landing slots. Value of most of Flybe's slots is close to zero, so not much to pay. If it still can't run profitably, then shut it down.

Lola said...

MW. Yep. Agreed. Excatly

L fairfax said...

Surely moving house is more of a hassle than getting trains from London to Cornwall?
Saying that I think you are right - it is her problem not one for the whole world.

Tim Almond said...


I think their deeper problem is that they're a big player in the internal flight market (38%), and that's mostly for business, and that's being replaced with people using the internet.

In the early 2000s I spent about 6 weeks flying up to Glasgow every week to work on a project, but you wouldn't do that in this day and age. I'd fly up once, meet the people, talk stuff over in broad terms and then everything else would be done remotely. £20 off the flights won't get me flying more.

Tim Almond said...

L Fairfax,

That route was already shut down once before, and I think it got some help from the Cornish local government.

And why does a "Freelance art director" have to be in London? You're designing shit on a computer, so hire an office in Newquay, do it and send it over the wire. Get feedback and tweak it. I know graphic designers all over the UK who do exactly that.

Mark Wadsworth said...

LF, moving home is expense and hassle, but so is flying regularly.

I'm no greenie, but people who commute by aeroplane get zero sympathy from me.

Lola said...

TS Agreed. See HS2 - and ditto

Bayard said...

This is the "village shop" argument: everyone in the village wants the village shop to stay open, so they can pop in occasionally and buy a pint of milk or some bog paper when they run out unexpectedly, but then do all their shopping in the local supermarket. "Everyone else" is supposed to patronise the village shop and keep it viable.

Physiocrat said...

Flight paths are a common, ie 'land' in economics. They are managed by the National Air Traffic Control Service for the Civil Aviation Authority.