It was announced in the early hours of this morning (March 5) that Flybe has entered into administration putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Fourteen key routes at Belfast City Airport have been affected as the airline ceased trading, stranding many passengers and crew at destinations in Europe, although Scottish operator, Loganair, has said it will take over two of those routes between Aberdeen and Belfast and Inverness and Belfast.
In a letter to staff, Flybe boss Mark Anderson blamed the escalating Coronavirus crisis for a decline in recent bookings, forcing the airline to appoint administrators EY.
Belfast City Airport reports ‘negotiations with a number of carriers are already underway’ to seek alternative airlines to cover the substantial gap left by Flybe.
Airport chief executive, Brian Ambrose, said: ‘The airline was a significant economic driver for the region, carrying 1.6m passengers to and from Belfast in 2019.
‘I am confident that these well-established routes, coupled with our city centre location, and recent £15m investment in terminal facilities, will prove an attractive option to airlines.’
The regional airline reported difficulties in January but was saved from administration by the promise of a cash injection from new owners.
It was hoped that this would be further subsidised by a £100m loan from the government.
However, public anxiety around Coronavirus has had an effect is being blamed for ‘additional pressure on an already difficult situation’.
In response to the collapse of the Essex-based airline, a spokesperson from the UK government said: ‘Flybe’s financial difficulties were longstanding and well documented and pre-date the outbreak of COVID-19.
‘We are working closely with industry to minimise any disruption to routes operated by Flybe, including by looking urgently at how routes not already covered by other airlines can be re-established by the industry.
‘Through the reviews of regional connectivity and Airport Passenger Duty we have announced, we will bring forward recommendations to help ensure that the whole of the UK has the connections in place that people rely on.’
Belfast is among the top three airports in the UK to be affected by the airline’s collapse as 80 per cent of the airport’s routes were operated by Flybe.
Describing the demise of Flybe as ‘worrying’, the chief executive of the NI Hotels Federation, Janice Gault said that after a difficult 2019, no-one in the sector was under any illusions around the difficulties they were likely to face in 2020, including another rise in the national minimum wage and concerns about a dearth of skilled staff
‘Hotels are intrinsically linked to the growth of tourism and are a long-term investment. It is important to note that the sector has invested heavily over the last decade and has weathered storms before,’ she noted. ‘We are confident that the entire industry can bounce back from recent knock backs and continue to contribute much to the Northern Ireland economy. We simply need support to ensure that we can continue to trade and additional promotion to increase business once the situation improves.’