New Derry to London route in operation 'within month'
A new airline expected to take over the Londonderry to Stansted route after the collapse of flybmi could be announced this week, City of Derry Airport (Coda) has said.
Contract director Clive Coleman confirmed Coda is in discussions with a number of airlines, but that priority is being given to "sustainable" companies that can get planes in operation as soon as possible.
The loss of the London link would be catastrophic for Coda, which is owned by Derry and Strabane Council.
However, Mr Coleman said he is optimistic the service will be available to customers "certainly within a month".
The Government also indicated that a new operator could be in place soon.
Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani told MPs yesterday that "we expect services to resume swiftly".
Loganair has said that it will cover routes from Aberdeen, Bristol and Newcastle, previously served by flybmi.
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It is also understood to have an interest in the Londonderry-Stansted route.
Flybmi had operated the route since 2017 when the company signed a two-year public service obligation (PSO) contract with the Department for Transport.
PSO is subvention paid by the Government to an airline to keep regional airports connected.
Just two days before flybmi announced it was ceasing all operations with immediate effect, the Department of Transport said it would continue the subvention for Derry for two more years.
Mr Coleman said that although flybmi was present at these discussions with the department, no one from the airline gave any indication the company would fold two days later.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Coleman said: "When we spoke to flybmi on Thursday after the PSO announcement was made, they gave us no indication of the announcement on Saturday so it was a complete shock.
"Everyone has been working extremely hard since Saturday, including CODA, the council and Department of Transport, and we have been talking to a number of airlines about keeping this route open.
"There has been more than one airline that has approached us interested in the route but we will give priority to more sustainable airlines and to those who will be in a position to operate flights quickly.
"Under PSO arrangements, if an airline fails, as has happened with flybmi, the awarding authority, which in this case is Derry and Strabane Council, can award an emergency contract for seven months to a new supplier.
"We are hoping, within the next couple of days to announce, after it has been approved by the Department of Transport, who we have selected to operate the route on an emergency basis."
He added: "I would be very optimistic this route will be operating again certainly within a month."
Ms Ghani told the House of Commons yesterday she recognised "that this is a disruptive and distressing time for passengers, and the Government's immediate priority is fully focused on supporting those affected".
"We are in active contact with airports, airlines and other transport providers to ensure that everything possible is being done to help them. We and the Civil Aviation Authority are working closely with the travel industry to ensure the situation is managed with minimal impact to passengers," she said.
"Subject to due diligence we expect the council to sign contracts and appoint an airline later this week, and we expect services to resume swiftly.
"Derry City and Strabane Council takes forward that part; it is its responsibility."
Strangford MP Jim Shannon told MPs that flybmi was "averaging only 19 people per flight" on the Derry route. The Embraer 145 is a 49-seater plane.
Most of flybmi's 376 employees have lost their jobs following the airline's collapse.
British Midland Regional Limited, which operated as flybmi, had staff based in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Belgium.
A statement announcing the appointment of restructuring firm BDO as administrators yesterday said the "majority" have been made redundant.
Tony Nygate, BDO business restructuring partner, said: "As joint administrators, we are taking all necessary steps to ensure customers, staff and suppliers are supported through the administration process."
Flybmi operated flights on routes to 25 European airports including Aberdeen, Bristol, East Midlands, London Stansted and Newcastle.