London city route hailed by Flybe chief
Three-times daily service into heart of financial district hailed as good news for business
The new route between George Best Belfast City and London City airports is a "significant landmark" in the resurgence of regional carrier Flybe, its chief executive has said.
The airline said the three-times a day return service, which starts on October 27, would bring travellers into "the heart of London".
It is part of a five-year deal between Flybe and London City Airport and comes less than six months after restructuring at the airline, when it discontinued 25 unprofitable routes and shed hundreds of jobs.
Flybe chief executive Saad Hammad said: "This news is a significant landmark in the rebirth of Flybe.
"The decision to re-enter the London market at its most convenient airport follows a rigorous profitability analysis utilising our strict 'route assessment model'."
Just last month, Flybe's Belfast to Gatwick route was dropped after it sold its slots to easyJet for £20m.
London City Airport is six miles from central London and passengers can be in Canary Wharf in 12 minutes, using the Docklands Light Railway, or at Westminster, via the Bank stop of the London Underground, in less than 25 minutes.
Flybe's new hub in London City – its first in the UK capital – will also see four return flights a day to Dublin.
There will be four daily services to Edinburgh, three flights a day to Exeter, and twice-daily services to Inverness.
Flybe said 100 new jobs will be shared across the new services but was yesterday unable to quantify how many positions will be created by the Belfast route.
The new flights brings the total number of direct destinations offered by Flybe from Northern Ireland to 14.
Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the new route.
"The more connections that we have to London the better.
"Air connections are vital for those exporting to the UK and beyond as well as inward investors.
"Competition may also lead to keener pricing which is always important for business."
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the new route was "excellent news for the Northern Ireland business community who have been seeking this service to London City for some time".
Flybe's last set of financial results showed signs of improvement, recording pre-tax profits of £13.8m for the six months up to September 30, 2013, compared with losses worth £1.6m in the previous year.
It raised £150m to pay for its expansion plans.
In November when it announced a restructuring, the airline warned of 52 jobs cuts in Belfast but just a few months later, in February, the company said the job losses would likely only be 10% of the expected losses.
The company has been flying from Belfast for three decades and last year it employed 101 cabin crew, 66 pilots, 13 engineers and seven others at its Belfast base.
A link between Belfast and a fresh London airport comes after easyJet dropped its route to London Southend Airport in January. It also announced new routes to Jersey and Bordeaux.
Carrier fires starter gun on an autumn price war
By Simon Calder
Flybe has signalled an autumn fares war on domestic travel, against rival airlines and train operators. The Exeter-based airline has launched a new network of flights connecting cities in Britain and Ireland with London City airport (LCY). One-way fares start at £35.
Each weekday from October 27, 30 flights will operate to or from the Docklands airport on five routes, using 78-seat Bombardier turboprops. Flybe will launch four daily flights to Edinburgh and Dublin. They will compete with British Airways and CityJet respectively, both of which use jet aircraft.
There are currently no air links between Exeter and London, but Flybe claims its first flight of the day – departing Devon at 6.40am, arriving in the capital at 8am – will entice business travellers from First Great Western trains. All flights come with a timekeeping promise: "If you arrive more than 60 minutes late, due to reasons within our control, we'll give you a £60 flight credit."
Flybe's chief executive, Saad Hammad, rejected the suggestion that the move could lead to an all-out fares war. "I'm not expecting kamikaze behaviour from the competitors. Our sense is that there is enough demand on these routes. We are the champion of the regions."
The Belfast, Edinburgh and Inverness flights serve destinations that easyJet already offers from other London airports. An easyJet spokeswoman said: "Other airlines have a tough job to compete with our well-known low fares and friendly service."
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at The Independent
Ryanair's departure leaves gap in market
by Margaret Canning
Flybe's announcement yesterday of a route linking George Best Belfast City with London City Airport is a welcome addition to the routes available to all types of travellers in and out of Northern Ireland.
However, the latest route has been tried before – though arguably when demand was lower than at the present time.
In its earlier incarnation as British European, what we now call Flybe flew the route in 2000.
More recently, Cityjet operated the link around 2007 to 2008 but the venture was not a success.
But the new service arguably stands a better chance. In 2007, the Belfast to London route was at capacity, as Ryanair also flew from Belfast City to Stansted, and Aer Lingus had by that time established its operations from Belfast International to London and other destinations.
And Flybe is also spreading its wings at a time when the Northern Ireland economy is improving, and our companies are export-focused in a way they weren't in 2007.
Take a red-eye flight from Belfast to Heathrow any day of the week, and you're likely to see many of the chief executives of our top businesses going over for meetings.
In addition, Ryanair has left Belfast, and Flybe themselves have stopped flying between Belfast and Gatwick, after selling their landing slots to easyJet.
Flybe has a strong presence in Belfast and already a loyal customer base.
And the new route is also bound to keep Aer Lingus and British Airways, the other airlines flying between Belfast City and London, on their toes.
It's a welcome new option for business travellers.