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FlyBe collapse asks questions about the resilience of UK’s transport infrastructure | Business News

FlyBe is a smaller, less significant business than when it collapsed for the first time in March 2020, but a second failure in three years raises questions not just for prospective owners, but the connectivity of the UK.

Three years ago the failure of what was then Europe’s largest regional airline was blamed on the advancing pandemic, but in truth the company had been in trouble for years.

A government-brokered deal two months earlier with shareholders, including Virgin and the US hedge fund Cyrus Capital, kept planes in the air, but ultimately they couldn’t defy economic gravity.

Read more:
Flybe collapses and cancels all flights, with hundreds of jobs lost
What are passengers’ rights when flights are cancelled by a bankrupt airline?

Cyrus Capital bought the brand out of administration and, in April last year, resumed operations trying to do what FlyBe 1.0 had failed to do; turn a profit from an airline dedicated to serving the UK’s nations and regions.

Its strategy was to use the regional services as a bridgehead into international travel, filling spaces on flights to and from Belfast, Birmingham and London not filled by domestic travellers with passengers bound for the US and Europe.

A route to Amsterdam and slots at Heathrow were central to the plan, offering access to major hub airports from which FlyBe hoped alliances with larger airlines would follow.

With the airline industry still recovering from COVID and stiff competition from more established low-cost operators, that plan has not paid off.

FlyBe had been due to take delivery of 17 new aircraft this year, but delays to the new fleet limited the potential for partnership despite Cyrus putting in an estimated £50m to keep the enterprise airborne.

That cash has now run out, leaving administrators seeking a buyer willing to give the brand a third chance, and the UK facing a recurring question about the resilience of its transport infrastructure.

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The airline has gone into administration less than a year after returning to the skies following a previous collapse

It is a question of particular salience in Northern Ireland, where FlyBe was a major operator out of Belfast City airport.

In 2020 FlyBe’s future was a political issue, with ministers willing to discuss cutting passenger duty in order to make good on Boris Johnson’s election promise to level up the UK’s regions.

Three years on the political imperative, along with Mr Johnson, has largely moved on, but the economic imperatives remain. Transport infrastructure is a prerequisite of growth, particularly if you are trying to share it around, and the cutting of regional ties comes at a cost.

With the rail industry in turmoil and the train network a national embarrassment you might think there has never been a better time to offer an alternative.

FlyBe’s second grounding suggests otherwise.

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Rail strikes: Government ‘not in position to pay inflation pay rises’, transport secretary says before RMT union meeting | Politics News

The government is “simply not in a position to pay inflation pay rises”, the transport secretary has told Sky News before a meeting with the boss of the sector’s biggest union tomorrow.

Mark Harper told The Take with Sophy Ridge that he understands why “people facing these cost-of-living pressures want more pay”, but said if ministers were to grant this wish, “the danger is that we would embed inflation”.

Rail unions must “understand” the importance of getting inflation down to get the economy back on track, he said.

Mr Harper was speaking before a meeting with Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union, on Thursday.

This week Mr Lynch insisted he’s “not the Grinch” as he announced four 48-hour strikes over Christmas and New Year.

Mr Lynch said on Tuesday that there had been no improved offer on jobs, pay and conditions, so more walkouts would go ahead.

About 40,000 staff from Network Rail and 14 train companies are set to strike on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.

It means disruption for travellers, workers and shoppers in the run-up to Christmas and for people returning home after the festive break.

There could also be problems on other days because the RMT said an overtime ban would run from 18 December to 2 January.

The transport secretary warned Sky News that the upcoming strikes are going to be “really disruptive” and will have “a very significant cost”.

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RMT boss: ‘I’m not the Grinch’

But he said he will not negotiate with Mr Lynch over the fresh round of strikes in tomorrow’s meeting.

“I would urge them to call off the strikes, get back round the table with the employers, try and hammer out some of those reforms that are necessary, and which deliver the savings that then can then help pay for the pay rises for his members and deliver a better service,” Mr Harper said.

Asked if it is fair for rail workers to expect their wages to match inflation, he said the most important issue for the whole country is that “we get inflation under control”.

Embedding inflation is not in anyone’s interest, he said.

“What is in people’s interest is that we get inflation driven out of the system so that it comes back down to a lower level, we see interest rates then falling – that is how we get a long-term sustainable position.”

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More rail strikes at Christmas

Mr Harper added that he wants “the dispute to be settled” through “a sensible conversation” tomorrow, adding: “We absolutely do not want this to go on to New Year.”

The Christmas action will be the latest in a series of rail strikes that began in June and follows RMT members last week voting to continue striking for another six months.

Train drivers who belong to the Aslef union are staging a separate strike this Saturday, hitting services run by 11 operators, including Great Western and Southeastern.