Belfast City airport a core Flybe hub, says new chief
Flybe boss Saad Hammad has said Belfast is a "core" part of its business but could not say if it will be hit by plans to cut 500 jobs.
Mr Hammad said the UK airline, which employs 188 people at George Best Belfast City Airport, would not be viable without letting more people go from its 2,700-strong workforce.
Routes are also at risk in the cuts. "There is a strong core of routes that we want to retain but we have a significant number that are not profitable and that we cannot continue."
The new chief executive said it was too early to say what routes would be affected, though its link between Belfast and London Gatwick ends next March after the £20m sale of its Gatwick slots to easyJet earlier this year.
In a conference call yesterday, Mr Hammad said there would be two "waves" of redundancies at the end of January and again at the end of March, as the airline continues to cut costs.
The half-year results yesterday showed it grew UK passenger numbers by 5.6% to 4.3 million, while it returned to profit with a surplus of £13.8m.
He said: "We are shrinking to grow after some bad growth, which was unprofitable and not sustainable and based on an inefficient cost structure."
The company, which has been flying from Belfast for 30 years, employs 101 cabin crew, 66 pilots, 13 engineers and seven others in Belfast.
Mr Hammad is the successor of Jim French, who was credited with turning Flybe into a major player in European aviation.
But the latest incumbent appeared to suggest the European stage would no longer be a priority. Instead, connecting UK regions would be its focus. "Unfortunately we have strayed from that over the years and built up an excessive cost base."
Mr Hammad, a former chief commercial officer at easyJet, said he could not say at which airports the cuts would be made.
"We have entered consultation with trade unions and staff representatives this week so unfortunately we're not in a position to be specific at this stage," he said.
But Belfast was one of the airports making up its core with the list also including Southampton, Birmingham and Manchester.
"That's where we are bigger and that's the core of our network today," confirmed Mr Hammad.