At its height (which is 25,000 feet for the ATR 72-600) you could pop onto a Flybe plane at 8.00am at its main base in Exeter, buzz over to Southampton, change to Manchester and be in a hospital in Douglas, Isle of Man by tea-time being treated for deep vein thrombosis. It was Europe’s biggest regional airline with a cheery slogan, 'Faster than road or rail', and it really was. Neil often used the airline to fly between Southampton and Manchester, sharing his return aircraft with six other people with plenty of space to wonder how it could possibly fail as a business.
Flybe had more flights than any other airline to and from Two Livers Belfast City and many other UK airports, such as Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Manchester and somewhere in Leicestershire where there wasn't even an airport, but they would fly low enough to give passengers the option to 'bail or sail'; how us passengers used to roar with laughter as the nice cabin crew man closed the front door again, giving us a mocking wink as our plane climbed back above the clouds.
There was much about Flybe that was good, and convenience was probably the top three items on the list, but it was hopelessly unprofitable and very badly run. Loganair has taken up 17 of its juiciest routes, including Southampton to Scotland, and the Scottish carrier is also teaming up to offer connections with Blue Islands, which is filling some of the gaps from Jersey and Guernsey to the UK as well as launching routes from Manchester to Exeter and Southampton. The latter will be a relief to Neil who was recently left on the tarmac with his Barbie pullie-luggage because Eastern Airways couldn't be arsed to fly him back to Southampton, but this is not about us in the NTI newsroom, this is about the profitability of flying around the UK avoiding the M1 and people with notebooks at the far end of the platform of Doncaster station.
Now Cyrus Capital, a hedge fund with offices in Mayfair, is taking a good look at some of Flybe's assets. Its owner, Lucien Farrell, has been spotted in first class chatting over a deal with EY, which was appointed to handle the company's insolvency in March. It is rumoured that Cyrus wants to set up a smaller, leaner version of Flybe next year (possibly Flygnat?) and we have put a call in to Lucien and his team to explain that no-one is traveling anywhere anymore and that if you want to go to Manchester at the moment you better have a very good reason.
Some of us who are interested in such things looked on in fascination last year as Flybe fought a frantic battle to survive, securing a rescue deal involving Cyrus Capital, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Stobart Group, the owner of Southend Airport. There was talk of a £100 million state loan which never materialised, because you know Grant Shapps, he gets a little distracted by the Northern Powerhouse and taking a spanner to the rail network, and there is a Post-it note dated 12 March that says 'Flybe - Don't Forget' nestling at the bottom of his in-tray.
A number of Flybe's former executives are rumoured to be in on the possible deal, as they have spent the summer looking up and seeing no planes in the sky which made them think, 'Hey, just how bad were we at our job before?' Regrettably, the answer is 'very bad indeed ... and now other airlines have taken your best routes. Time to go back to plumbing.' Some of them still work for Connect Airways, Flybe's parent company, before its insolvency. According to EY's report, it was also the largest secured creditor, with £53 million of loans outstanding when they were appointed.
Flybe was a nice idea and a big hit with many of its passengers, but the thing about a business is that it needs to have a decent chance of making a profit. FlyBeHAVE.