Flybe takeover: No confirmation on Jersey routes
IT is not yet known how Flybe’s Jersey route network could change next year following the company’s takeover, Ports of Jersey’s interim chief executive has said.
Earlier this month, it was reported that a consortium of three companies – Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital Partners – had submitted a successful offer to take over the struggling airline.
And Virgin Atlantic subsequently said that it wanted to link British regions and Ireland to its long-haul network through improved connectivity at Manchester Airport and London Heathrow.
But Alan Merry, interim chief executive of Ports of Jersey, said that Flybe bosses were currently unsure about if, or how, the Jersey route network would change.
And he urged people calling for a revival of the Heathrow route to be cautious saying that it could damage the Island’s ‘excellent’ links to Gatwick and other London airports.
‘We had a meeting with Flybe recently in terms of where they are,’ he said. ‘To be fair to the Flybe team, they are looking at the existing routes they have at the moment, and the information we have is that those will continue into this year.
‘They will be looking at the returns they get on each route – that is how airlines operate. They [the routes] work very well generally but Flybe do not know what is going to happen at the moment.’
Over the years, a number of airlines including BMI and British Airways have tried to run a regular service between Jersey and Heathrow but have been unable to make it financially viable.
And Virgin Atlantic has said that it was keen to expand its operations out of the airport.
However, Mr Merry warned that if the airline tried to run the route, they had to ensure that it was sustainable.
‘We need to be really careful with Heathrow. If someone was interested in doing it, we would need to make sure they were there for the long-term,’ he said.
‘It has been done before and what that did was actually mess up the Gatwick connections and we do not want to disturb those. The Island would not thank anyone for that.
‘You saw the impact of the BMI connection quite a few years ago. It cost the airline quite a lot of money and it lasted no time at all.’
Over the years, the number of aircraft that London airports handle has risen significantly – with some now running at near capacity.
As a result, both Gatwick and Heathrow have been vying for permission from the UK government to build an additional runway.
In June, Heathrow was given approval to go ahead with building its third runway on the condition that 15% of aircraft using it should be assigned to regional routes.
But Mr Merry thought it was unlikely an airline would choose to fly between the UK hub and Jersey and added that Gatwick could still build an extra runway.
‘Heathrow is talked about a lot but, realistically, if the third runway ever gets built there, there is more money going long-haul than there is going short-haul. The aircraft use the same space and an Airbus A380 can carry 400 people compared to an A319 with 150 people on it.
‘And actually, we have excellent connections to London through Gatwick. We are really well-served between easyJet and British Airways, and Gatwick’s connectivity with other destinations is improving all the time.
‘People talk about how expensive it is to get off Jersey but Gatwick can just be ridiculously cheap. Luton is also good. There is a train into St Pancras which takes 30 minutes, and I use that train a lot myself.’