Turnaround drive sees Flybe post first profit in four years
Airline Flybe, which flies to 13 destinations from Belfast, has celebrated its first profit in four years after the regional airline boosted passenger numbers and benefited from a turnaround drive.
The Exeter-based business, which serves 35 UK airports having reduced its number of bases from 13 to seven in the last year, posted bottom-line profits of £8.1m in the year to March 31, compared with a loss of £41.1m a year earlier.
Chief executive Saad Hammad said the figures marked the "rebirth of Flybe" after a restructuring that has seen the loss of 1,100 jobs and a 1.4% reduction in capacity as it moves to shed loss-making routes.
It shed its route between George Best Belfast City and London Gatwick in March but last month unveiled a new route from Belfast to London City, beginning in October.
The latest addition brings its destinations from Belfast to 14.
Flybe chief commercial officer Paul Simmons said advanced bookings for the route had been "in line with expectations".
"It has not been huge but we didn't expect that at this stage because it is primarily a business route – though we do expect some friends and relatives demand.
"However, we have had very positive feedback from public sector organisations and companies who will use the service.
"We will have another aircraft stationed in Belfast for the route, and it will be a three-a-day service, which I think shows a lot of faith in Belfast."
UK-wide, Flybe carried a record 7.7m passengers on its UK scheduled services in the period, a rise of 6.9% as it benefited from fare promotions and better routes.
The airline recently announced five new routes from London City airport, including Belfast, and a complete relaunch of the Flybe brand but some further job losses are still likely after this summer as seasonal routes are discontinued and aircraft grounded.
The airline said: "We believe that we are now on the verge of emerging from this period of retrenchment, and looking forward to future considered and careful profitable growth."
Mr Simmons said Belfast, where it employs 167 people, would not be affected by further losses.
The group also has bases in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Manchester and Southampton.
It also has a white label business with Finland's Finnair, where it flies planes under the Finnish airline's livery and which posted a profit before tax of £6.3m, compared with £4.6 million a year ago.
The group said it is in discussions with other major carriers about expanding its white label joint ventures.
Meanwhile, German airline Lufthansa sent a chill through the European airline industry after it cut profit forecasts for two years and warned over falling fares on its European and American routes.
Growth from carriers such as Emirates or Etihad on its US and European routes was putting pressure on fares, it said.