UK airline Flybe collapses as COVID-19 hits flights worldwide
Updated 12:53, 06-Mar-2020

Flybe, Europe's biggest regional airline, has collapsed with all flights grounded as the COVID-19 epidemic takes a heavy toll on the travel industry around the world. 

A statement on Flybe's website said the company had entered administration and could not arrange alternative flights for its passengers. 

"All flights have been grounded and the UK business has ceased trading with immediate effect," said the airline, which avoided going bust in January only after being granted a tax holiday by the UK government. 

Flybe, which employs 2,000 people, had failed to turn around its fortunes since being purchased by the Connect Airways consortium last year, initially owing to weak demand and fierce competition. 

That has now been compounded by the coronavirus outbreak, with a slew of airlines canceling flights and warning profits would take a hit from decreased demand.

People have been left stranded at airports around Europe and worried passengers have been trying to get information about canceled flights.

The departure board at Exeter Airport, UK. /AFP

The departure board at Exeter Airport, UK. /AFP

Flybe is the biggest operator of UK domestic flights. The no-frills airline carries around eight million passengers annually and flies from 43 airports across Europe and 28 in Britain. 

It comes hours after British media reported that the airline could collapse after failing to secure a 100 million pounds ($129 million) state loan. 

COVID-19's impact on travel "has made a bad situation much worse," sources told the BBC. 

Small British airlines have also suffered recently from volatile fuel costs and a weak pound. 

The UK government said it was ready to help Flybe workers find new jobs and would work with other airlines to replace services.

It stated: "We are working closely with the industry to minimize any disruption to routes operated by Flybe, including by looking urgently at how routes not already covered by other airlines can be re-established by the industry."

The country's transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: "We really tried to do everything we could back at the turn of the year. Unfortunately, with the situation that has developed with [the coronavirus], an already weak company, I'm afraid, just hasn't been able to survive."

The Connect Airways consortium is led by Virgin Atlantic and also includes investment firm Cyrus and infrastructure specialist Stobart.

Flybe is the second UK-based airline to go bust in the past six months, following Thomas Cook's collapse in September last year. It is expected to have a big impact at regional airports such as Exeter and Southampton, with travelers having limited alternatives.

It flew from destinations across Europe, with the majority of its bases outside the UK in France. Flybe passengers have taken to social media to vent their frustration over canceled flights and seek more information.

One traveler tweeted: "I have never used Flybe before but just booked on flight for Monday. Hmm. Stranded. Nothing as awful as consequences for staff and associated job losses."

Another told of the "terrible experience of being stranded at Belfast Airport for six hours with two young children."

Source(s): AFP