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Flybe bailout: Unclear if French flights to continue

Troubled airline Flybe, which flies to 15 French airports, has been rescued with a £100m (€117m) tax relief grant from the UK government, but has declined to confirm if operations in France will continue.

15 January 2020
By Connexion journalist

French media has quoted a Tweet from UK business secretary Andrea Leadsom, in which she said she was “delighted” that the airline would continue to function and that Britain’s regions would remain connected.

Ms Leadsom was one of three UK cabinet ministers to sign off on the deal, alongside transport secretary Grant Shapps, and Chancellor Sajid Javid.

But Flybe’s press office told The Connexion today (Wednesday January 15) that they had no information about whether the airline’s routes to and from France would remain open.

The company issued a two-sentence statement: “We are delighted with the support received from the government and the positive outcome for our people, our customers and the UK. Flybe remains committed to providing exceptional air connectivity for the UK regions with the full support of its shareholders.”

In response to a question from The Connexion about the future of the airline’s links with France, the French press office said: “We will not be providing any further comment or detail.”

The BBC said the news of a government bailout provoked outrage from British Airways (BA), which competes with Flybe on a number of routes, including some to and from France.

In an open letter, chief executive of the owner of BA, Willie Walsh, said the consortium that owns Flybe - which includes Virgin Air and U.S. airline Delta - “now want the taxpayer to pick up the tab for their mismanagement of the airline”.

He added: “This is a blatant misuse of government funds.”

The BBC reported that it understood the deal includes an extra three months “breathing space” for Flybe to pay £100 million in Air Passenger Duty (APD) that it had collected from passengers, but which it has yet to pay.

APD is an environmental tax, which passengers pay as part of their ticket price. This is then supposed to be handed over by the airline in taxes to the government.

In a Tweet, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas attacked the government’s decision.

“Addressing Flybe problems by reducing APD on domestic flights is utterly inconsistent with any serious attempt to tackle the climate crisis,” she wrote.

“Domestic flights need to be reduced, not made cheaper.”

In a further Tweet, she asked: “How do Government claims to ‘lead the global fight against climate change’ fit with bailing out domestic aviation?”, and condemned the deal as a “handout to the most carbon-intensive form of travel”.

But pilot union British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), welcomed the move. Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton told the BBC: "This is good news for 2,400 Flybe staff whose jobs are secured.”

While most of Flybe’s operations focus on regional and domestic routes within the UK, the group also operates budget flights between the UK and many French airports - including Avignon, Bergerac, Bordeaux, Brest, Caen, Chambéry, La Rochelle, Limoges, Lyon, Nantes, Paris, Perpignan, Rennes, Rodez and Toulon.

The Exeter-based company claims to be the “largest independent airline in Europe”, with 8 million passengers travelling on routes across 71 different airports.

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