Norwich Airport airline Flybe puts itself up for sale

PUBLISHED: 09:03 14 November 2018 | UPDATED: 20:16 14 November 2018

Norwich Airport, Flybe, travel, plane, aircraft, holiday.

Norwich Airport, Flybe, travel, plane, aircraft, holiday. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Regional flight operator Flybe, which flies out of Norwich Airport, has put itself up for sale.

The airline is in talks about the potential sale of the group weeks after a profit warning.

Flybe currently flies out of Norwich to destinations including Exeter, Alicante and Malaga, as well as offering flights to John O’Groats and Aberdeen through a partnership with Eastern Airways. It cancelled its route to Jersey next summer because of low uptake from passengers.

The Exeter-based carrier said as well as selling the group, it is looking at cutting further costs and flight capacity.

It comes weeks after Flybe warned over profits following falling demand and a £29m hit from rising fuel costs and the weak pound. The alert sent shares tumbling by more than a third on the day and nearly 75% has been wiped off its stock market value since December.

However, news of the company’s search for a buyer sent shares soaring on Wednesday, rising as much as 44% before dropping back to end the day down 3.4%.

Stobart Group walked away from a bid for Flybe in March after the two firms failed to agree terms. The group has 78 planes and serves around eight million customers a year.

Chief executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener said the group continued to see improvements in the third quarter and added that cost savings had already helped to drive progress in boosting profits. But she added: “There has been a recent softening in growth in the short-haul market, as well as continued headwinds from higher fuel and currency costs.

“We are responding to this by reviewing every aspect of our business, especially further capacity reduction, cash management and cost savings.”

Roger Holden, managing partner of Hansells Solicitors in Norwich, is an aviation expert. He said: “Flybe will be analysing where they can utilise capacity better. Places like Norwich or Humberside could be put under more scrutiny.”

He added: “A big unknown which a potential buyer will have to consider is licenses after Brexit.

“Currently we have free flying over Europe, but in the event of a hard Brexit passenger airlines will have to apply for licenses to fly over Europe.

“It’s a concern for major international airlines let alone the regionals.

“The airport is absolutely vital to bring inward investment into the area, because thanks to KLM businesses can transport to anywhere in the world via Schiphol.”

Passengers commenting on the EDP Facebook page were hopeful that a new owner might introduce new routes, with many pushing for more internal flights.

Dean Brennan wrote: “I’d like to see cheaper internal flights to all cities, and the scrapping of the [£10 airport development] fee. For the price of a return flight to Aberdeen I could fly abroad.”

Other commenters called for a wider range of destinations – a declared ambition of Norwich Airport, which wants to set up flights to the international hubs of Dublin and Paris.

Andrew Bell, chief executive of Regional & City Airports, owner of Norwich Airport, said: “We echo Flybe’s assertion that they are an important part of the UK’s national transport infrastructure.”

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