Flybe to axe Belfast to Liverpool service from end of December
TROUBLED airline Flybe is to scrap its Belfast City to Liverpool service from the end of this year, it has been confirmed.
It comes amid fears that the carrier - which has been trying to plug spiralling losses under new chief executive Christine Ourmières-Widener- is set to scale back on its regional hubs, cutting the number from 11 to possibly seven.
The Irish News understands, however, that the axe won't fall on Belfast.
Roy Kinnear, Flybe's chief commercial officer, told the Irish News: "Flybe has a clearly defined network strategy which means we continually review our flights and network performance and will consider re-assigning any under-performing operations in order to better re-allocate resources to other stronger performing sections of our network.
"As such, we regret it has been necessary to suspend the Belfast-Liverpool service, with the last flight operating on Monday December 31.
"This is due to passenger numbers remaining below sustainable projections, with no sign of this improving despite very competitive pricing.
"But flights over the weekend of May 11-13 will operate to accommodate those football fans wishing to travel to Liverpool for the last day of the Premier League season."
He added: "All other passengers are being contacted in order of date of travel with the offer of being re-accommodated on an alternative flight or applying for a refund.
"We would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any inconvenience experienced as a result of our decision."
Flybe, which can trace its history back to 1979, mainly connects regional cities in the UK with each other and with cities elsewhere in Europe.
It is Europe’s biggest independent regional airline, the UK’s biggest airline in the domestic regional market (excluding London) and has no airline competition in most of its network, but it struggles to make a sustainable level of profit.
Despite growing losses over the last few years, the Exeter-based carrier has made some headway in cutting unprofitable routes and handing back aircraft to leasors.
Earlier this month Flybe said it had experienced "good revenue performance" in the first half of its trading year, set against the backdrop of increasingly adverse fuel and currency impacts.
But this was followed by a softening in second half revenues, and the board says it expects the full-year profits to be lower than market expectations.
The carrier's strategy to reduce capacity to focus on its most popular routes had delivered both higher load factors and revenue per seat.
It is now estimated that the full year adjusted loss before tax will be around £12m (the 2017/18 loss was £19.2m), including the benefit of a £10m onerous lease provision release. This includes an estimated £29m of adverse year-on-year impact from weaker sterling, fuel and carbon prices.
Flybe, which will announce its interim results on November 14, denied speculation related to potential base closures.
Mr Kinnear said: "I would reiterate that Flybe has a clearly defined network strategy which means we continually review our flights and network performance and will consider re-assigning assets from under-performing operations to other stronger performing routes on our network.
"This is why the decision has been taken and why, with effect from February 8, Flybe has in fact increased flights between Belfast and Glasgow with additional services operating on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, taking frequency up to five times a day.