Fears for Flybe: Council bosses call for clarity over future of Exeter-based airline

Council chiefs in East Devon and Exeter say they are working with central government ‘to explore all potential avenues’ after fears were expressed for the future of Flybe.

The largest independent regional airline in Europe – based at Exeter Airport – today (Monday, January 13) declined to discuss media reports it was facing administration.

It said it is open for business and customers can travel as planned.

Flybe carries around eight million passengers a year and operates around 75 aircraft in and out of some 80 airports across the continent. It employs around 2,000 people in total.

Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership this evening (Monday) issued a joint statement on the matter.

They said: “We are aware of the rumours circulating today regarding the future of the airline Flybe which is headquartered at Exeter Airport.

“As one of our largest private sector employers we are fully committed to working with the company to help support it through this difficult period.

“Alongside being a major employer, the company plays a key role in helping to provide regional connectivity across the UK and in to Europe.

“This includes flights from Exeter to places such as Manchester, London City and Paris.

“The impact of losing these service would significantly impact on our regional economy; as well as those regions which the services links us to.

“We continue to engage with central government and Exeter Airport to explore all potential avenues.

“We are aware that certain aspects of national policy, notably the Air Passenger Duty regime in relation to domestic flights, has a significant impact on the company’s business model.

“Whilst this is beyond our direct control we look forward to working with government departments to help ensure that there is a positive framework for the company, which will rebrand as Virgin Connect later this year, to move forward.”

DCC leader John Hart said: “We’re seeking urgent clarification from Flybe about the situation.

“They provide the sort of high-quality, well-paid jobs that we need more of in Devon and are one of our vital transport links.

“Obviously we’re not in a position to offer financial support.

“But DCC has already joined with Exeter College, East Devon and Exeter councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership to demonstrate our support for Exeter Airport and we are fully committed to helping Virgin Connect to grow and flourish here.”

Councillor Kevin Blakey, portfolio holder for economy at East Devon District Council, said: ‘’This news is clearly a matter of concern. Flybe is the UK’s largest operator of domestic flights outside of London, and is one of the region’s largest employers with around 1,000 jobs locally dependant on its survival and future prosperity.

‘’Every effort should be made by local and central government to ensure that this business continues to be able to run vitally important business links to and from South West England as well as dozens of other routes.

“The situation is moving rapidly and I hope for a positive outcome. Alongside our partners we will do everything we can to ensure that that is the case’’.

Cllr Phil Bialyk, leader of Exeter City Council, said: “The workers of Flybe and the people who rely on those jobs are first and foremost in our minds.

“We will do everything we can with our colleagues across Devon to support them.”

Karl Tucker, chairman of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The Heart of the South West is a diverse and vibrant part of the UK with a population of over 1.8 million and an economy worth £35billion – bigger than Birmingham and Liverpool.

“Connectivity – which includes a robust regional airport with reliable domestic routes – is crucial to our success in raising the productivity that our area and the wider Great South West has the potential to achieve. The LEP will continue to work with partners and Government to secure the future of this service.”

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, said: “I have spoken with Flybe and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy following rumours about the airline.

“Flybe is a major part of life in Devon, providing vital jobs and transport which I will always stand up for. Flybe continues to operate as usual.”

A Flybe spokesperson said: “Flybe continues to focus on providing great service and connectivity for our customers, to ensure that they can continue to travel as planned.

“We don’t comment on rumour or speculation.”

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