Flybe: We remain committed to Norwich

Budget airline operator Flybe last said it remained totally committed to East Anglia - but it reiterated its position that “100pc leisure routes” from Norfolk were unviable because of the airport development tax that is imposed on all passengers flying from Norwich.

Budget airline operator Flybe last night said it remained totally committed to East Anglia - but it reiterated its position that "100pc leisure routes" from Norfolk were unviable because of the airport development tax that is imposed on all passengers flying from Norwich.

The company yesterday unveiled record financial results, with a 17pc increase in turnover to £355m and pre-tax profits of £15.6m for the 12 months to March 31. The profits figure is £20m better than last year's figure.

Across its routes, the airline carried five million passengers in 2006-07, and that figure is likely to grow following Flybe's purchase of the BA Connect business. It expects to carry about seven million passengers this year.

The company said the successful integration of BA Connect earlier this year would lead to cost savings of £40m, but chief commercial officer Mike Rutter said that despite Flybe's growing presence across the country, regional hubs such as Norwich remained key to its business.

"We are totally committed to the domestic and city routes from Norwich, and the Edinburgh, Manchester and Paris routes in particular are performing very well," he said.

"Our business model is based around the UK regions and we will continue to concentrate on UK domestic and business routes. It's not just a case that we simply like Norwich. It's much more than that - it's because places such as Norwich have a vibrant economy, and that is key to our business model."

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But Mr Rutter said the airport tax - which involves every passenger having to pay £3 to fly from Norwich - had meant the company could not justify leisure routes such as the Malaga and Alicante routes.

"The '100pc leisure routes' that we were running saw reduced demand of between 10pc and 15pc when the tax was introduced.

"These were routes that we were looking to turn around from being marginal for us to moving into profitability. It also means that we won't be able to operate routes such as Faro and Mallorca in the future."

Mr Rutter, who insisted the holiday routes would be reinstated if the tax was withdrawn, added that at airports such as Newquay, people accepted such taxes because there were no alternatives nearby, but Norwich had tough competition from Stansted.

However, airport managing director Richard Jenner disagreed with Flybe's position on the airport tax, designed to help fund an £18m expansion.

"We were very disappointed that Flybe chose to pull the Alicante and Malaga routes and extremely surprised to see its comments regarding the airport development fee, as it has never said this to us," he said.

"We met Flybe in June and it told us it was pulling the 'sun flights' to Malaga and Alicante because it could not compete with the fares or the frequencies being offered by airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet at Stansted."

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