Flights grounded; passengers stranded
Flybe has gone into administration after the Exeter airline struggled to raise funds, and bookings dropped off due to coronavirus.
One of Britain's largest airlines, Flybe entered administration just after 3am on Thursday, with all flights grounded and the business having ceased trading "with immediate effect".
It prompted pilots' union Balpa to accuse the government and the airline's owners of "betrayal and broken promises" - and questions about how vital regional transport links will be maintained.
The company employs about 2,000 people, about half at its Exeter headquarters, Jack Warner House, next to Exeter Airport.
Before 10pm last night, staff at that base were told to go home and not to report for work on Thursday. Fifteen flights are due to depart from Exeter on Thursday. They form the bulk of Exeter Airport's business. Only two other flights are scheduled by other providers for that day.
The airport does attract a significant amount of private and charter flights, while TUI flies package holidaymakers to and from Exeter, and Ryanair has three destinations serving the city. However, the loss of Flybe will be a significant loss for the region. Car rental and hotel business near the airport will almost certainly be impacted.
The official announcement came less than three hours after an email from Flybe boss Mark Anderson, seen by Sky News, told the airline's staff it was "shortly being put into administration" as he blamed its final collapse on a lack of bookings due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY) has been appointed as administrators to the airline that carried about eight million passengers a year between 56 airports in the UK and Europe over 40 years, under various guises.
Passengers due to fly with the airline have been told to not travel to the airport unless an alternative flight with another airline has been booked.
"Flybe is unfortunately not able to arrange alternative flights for passengers," a message on the airline's former website said.
Staff on Wednesday's final flights were said to be in tears ahead of the confirmation they had no jobs to go to a few hours later.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government is "absolutely gutted, really".
"We really tried to do everything we could back at the turn of the year but unfortunately though, with the situation that's developed with coronavirus, an already weak company just hasn't been able to survive," he said.
He said the government has been speaking to regional airports around the UK and working with other airlines to "try to make sure we get those routes filled just as quickly as possible" after airports expressed concerns they would have few flights left without Flybe.
Mr Shapps said the government has asked for assistance from travel, coach, train and airline companies to help stranded Flybe passengers.
He noted that while the collapse of Thomas Cook last September meant the UK's biggest ever peacetime repatriation, Flybe's routes are largely domestic and not many Flybe customers are abroad at this time of year. Those who are will be given assistance by other airlines, he said.
In the final hours of Wednesday, Flybe's website stopped working, just showing an error message which said the link is "no longer live".
Flybe planes at airports including Edinburgh were not being refuelled and engineers were being laid off.
The company had made a renewed plea for ministers to provide emergency financial support after the company's already fragile situation was made worse by a "collapse" in bookings due to coronavirus, one insider said.
Andy McDonald, Labour's shadow transport secretary, said the collapse was "disastrous" for passengers and employees and would cause "real anxiety".
"Flybe has provided critical connectivity for many locations throughout the country especially where there is currently no realistic transport alternative other than flying," he said.
"The government has to answer how those vital links will be maintained following Flybe's collapse."
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), said the airline's owners, who took over a year ago, and the government "connived to walk away" and accused other airlines of going "out of their way to push Flybe over the brink".
"Flybe staff will feel disgusted at this betrayal and these broken promises," he said.
"What happened to shareholders' promises of a bright future as 'Virgin Connect'? What happened to the government rescue deal?"
Oliver Richardson, national officer for union Unite, said its members "and the entire staff at Flybe" will be feeling angry and confused" about how the airline was allowed to collapse.
He said it was "outrageous" the government had not learnt from the collapse of Monarch and Thomas Cook.
Flybe boss Mr Anderson's letter warning staff added: "It's with enormous sadness and a deep feeling of sorrow that I share the upsetting news that Flybe is shortly being put into administration.
"Despite every effort, we now have no alternative - having failed to find a feasible solution to allow us to keep trading.
"While our shareholders and the leadership team have worked with the government and key suppliers to try to get the funding and support needed, this has not materialised.
"The coronavirus has impacted both our shareholders and ourselves and has put additional pressure on an already difficult situation.
"I am very sorry that we have not been able to secure the funding needed to continue to deliver our turnaround plan."
Mr Anderson, who had only been chief executive for eight months, apologised to staff, saying he appreciates "how distressing this news is and the shock and numbness that you will be feeling".
Flybe is said to have requested government support in recent days, to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
But the crisis around the virus came after the company had already asked for a state loan, which appeared to have been rejected.
If you are affected by Flybe's collapse, email news[at]radioexe.co.uk or call our newsdesk on 01392 829170.