Flybe eyes Heathrow slot prize as it continues to support UK regional airports

Although BA can take ownership of these scarce resources over time, it is obliged to make them available to competitors in specific domestic markets. Although Flybe remained tight-lipped about any plan, chief executive Saad Hamaad is understood to believe smaller aircraft could help a Heathrow operation to succeed.

UK regional carrier Flybe continues to seriously look at ending British Airways’ (BA) monopoly on UK domestic routes from London Heathrow and launch its own presence at the UK’s major international hub.  The independent carrier is considering taking the former Virgin Atlantic Little Red slots to commence its own flights from the hub airport.

There were allocated to Virgin Atlantic by competition regulators to permit BA’s acquisition of rival bmi British Midland and were used for flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester.  However, the airline was unable to establish sustainable operations and as part of a revised transatlantic focus following its partnership with Delta Air Lines, the slots were returned to BA.

Although BA can take ownership of these scarce resources over time, it is obliged to make them available to competitors in specific domestic markets. Although Flybe remained tight-lipped about any plan, chief executive Saad Hamaad is understood to believe smaller aircraft could help a Heathrow operation to succeed.

The airline continues to expand its presence in the UK market and provide important regional markets, most recently taking advantage of the Government’s new Regional Air Connectivity Fund to develop strategic point-to-point services across the country. The latest, a fourth new route, is a year round service between Leeds Bradford and Newquay that will operate three times a week from October 28, 2016.

The Government’s Regional Air Connectivity Fund was launched last year as a way of encouraging new routes to and from UK regional airports and improving connectivity for business and leisure travellers. The start-up aid bidding competition was open to airports with fewer than five million passengers per year and allows air routes that are not currently commercially viable today to be introduced early, giving time for airlines to build passenger numbers and deliver a more sustainable service.

“By backing new regional air routes, the Government is driving investment and growth across the country and supporting these important local aviation hubs,” said UK Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill.

The new route turns what would otherwise be a six hour drive or eight hour rail journey into a short one hour and twenty minute flight, opening Cornwall and the South West up to Yorkshire business as well as providing a useful hop back home to Cornwall for those away at university in the North.

“This will make a real difference to the local economies and unlock new tourism and business opportunities for Yorkshire and Cornwall, cutting out the long car and train journeys and putting the two regions within easy reach for holiday makers,” added Goodwill.

Flybe will also operate a fifth daily frequency on the Leeds Bradford to Belfast City route on a Monday, Wednesday and Thursday during the winter 2016/17 schedule, which will increase the number of Belfast City flights from Leeds Bradford to 28 weekly.

Elsewhere, Flybe is boosting its range of holiday routes from Norwich and has opened reservations for winter sunshine flights to Malaga and Alicante, plus a new ski flight to Chambery in the French Alps.  Its winter schedule will see two scheduled flights a week to both Alicante and Malaga, with a new Saturday service to Chambery commencing mid-December. These are in addition to its recently launched Exeter service through the winter months.

Norwich saw the return of scheduled sunshine flights to Spain at Easter, following a nine-year absence. The Chambery link will be the first winter ski flight from Norwich since 2010, further boosting the airport’s growing range of holiday destinations.

The new flights will be operated by a 118-seat Embraer 195 and have been made possible through an innovative partnership between the airline and Regional & City Airports (RCA), the airport management division of Rigby Group PLC, which owns Norwich Airport.

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