Airline reviews FlyBE History

FlyBE History

Embraer 195 in FlyBE colours at London Gatwick June 2011
Embraer 195 in FlyBE colours at London Gatwick
The roots of Flybe start on the Channel Island of Jersey back in 1979, when the new Jersey European Airways (JEA) took over the operations of Intra Airways, which itself was formed in 1969 at a charter airline operating passenger and cargo service from the Channel Islands. Another merger with Express Air Services, saw it flying Vickers Viscounts and Fokkers to Southampton, although there were also routes to Birmingham, Stansted and Belfast. With Jersey European Airways now in control, it moved into scheduled services from Jersey to the UK. It only lasted 4 years before a takeover by the Walker Steel Group, who also ran Spacegrand Aviation in Blackpool; the two merged in 1985, still keeping the Jersey name.

The airline became British European in June 2000, but kept the "rainbow" Jersey logo. Codeshares with Air France started, and some of Air France's old BAE146 became BE planes, but retained the Air France logo with "British European" under the unusual markings.

FlyBE Q400 Dec 2003 FlyBE Q400 in latest livery at Southampton

By July 2002 the rise of the internet meant that it was clear the airline needed to promote its online ticketing, and as such shortening its title to Flybe, repositioned as a no-frills, low-fare airline. Hence the new name FlyBE.Com emblazoned up the planes, with the rainbow logo turning into a stripe under the text. This coincided with the axing of meals & drinks on the airline, and a massive expansion of the hub at Southampton, with quite remarkable success.

Alas production of the BAE146 around which the airline based its operations ceased just before this point, and large airliners can't use Southampton thanks to its very short runway, so the airline started to replace jets with propeller driven planes, and where most of the routes are flown by a fleet of new prop Q400s.

FlyBE Dash8 seats June 2011
FlyBE Dash 8 seats

In 2006 FlyBE announced it had scored quite an aviation deal it bought a large part of British Airways. BA had struggled for years with its domestic operation which was large an unprofitable. It had tried to turn this around in 2004 by rebranding it as BA Connect, and axing inflight perks like meals, however it still had a high cost base structure, and expensive staff costs.

In March 2007 Flybe acquired BA Connect, except for London City Airport services to the continent, which were marginally profitable. Flybe at a stroke became the UK's largest domestic airline and London Gatwick's leading domestic operator.

BA had an eye to the future however, and retained a 15% stake in FlyBE. The deal significantly increased Flybe's route network both in the UK and continental Europe and gave the company 159 routes, up from 101.

FlyBE signed up to be the launch customer for the Embraer 195. At the Paris Airshow in 2005 they showed the first of the new aircraft, and bought it small fleet of Embraer 195 and Embraer ERJ 145, which were a success; it has continued to expand this fleet.

In 2008 FlyBE took over another offshoot, and signed a franchise agreement with Loganair, based in Scotland, following the termination of Loganair's franchise agreement with British Airways.

FlyBE Embraer 195 at Paris Airshow June 2005
FlyBE signed up to be the launch customer for the Embraer 195. At the Paris Airshow in 2005 they showed the first of the new aircraft

In the last few weeks of 2010, Flybe floated on the London Stock Exchange, a move that valued the company at approximately a shade over 215 million pounds. This moved raised 33 million pounds for fleet expansion, and which adds to the success of the airline, which is unusual in the UK where similar operations like Air Southwest and Debonair have failed expand, and have fallen by the wayside.