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Flybe collapse: Staff in plea for Belfast councillors to help save jobs and economy

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Former Flybe staff gather to watch Belfast City Council discuss the collapse of the company

Former Flybe staff gather to watch Belfast City Council discuss the collapse of the company

Former Flybe pilot Nigel Best

Former Flybe pilot Nigel Best

Former cabin crew member Joanne Surgeon

Former cabin crew member Joanne Surgeon

Former Flybe staff gather to watch Belfast City Council discuss the collapse of the company

Former Flybe staff gather to watch Belfast City Council discuss the collapse of the company

Former Flybe staff gather to watch Belfast City Council discuss the collapse of the company

More than a hundred Flybe employees gathered at City Hall on Monday night in what they said was just the first step towards saving their jobs and protecting the Northern Ireland economy.

The airline, which provided over 80% of flights in and out of Belfast City Airport, ceased operating last week.

Captain Chris Robb, base captain at Flybe Belfast City Airport, spoke directly to councillors and said he was pleased with the initial support.

"We got good support from councillors. There's an overriding belief that something has to be done," he said.

"I spoke to the Lord Mayor before the meeting and told him as I'm telling everyone else, the Government had the opportunity to fix this a few weeks ago with a commercial loan and a change to air passenger duty. That didn't happen and the Government has already lost out on £104m a year in taxation instantly by that failure.

"In the meantime we have watched £106bn of taxpayers' money being pumped into the HS2 rail network. There is no bridge, there is no tunnel from Northern Ireland to the rest of the region.

"A friend of mine lives in Southampton and it will now cost £700 to get to Belfast.

"We provided more than just an optional service. This country relied on it.

"If this is not addressed urgently the whole economy of Northern Ireland is going to suffer immensely.

"The stark reality is that people are going to listen to other airlines coming in, but they're not going to have any concept of what that means.

"Loganair are taking on just 2% of the routes we had offered. That's all.

"Flybe provided eight flights to Manchester, eight flights to Birmingham, seven flights to London, service to East Midlands, to Leeds.

"No other airline is going to come in to operate those routes. That needs to be understood."

After 19 years of employment, Joanne Cummings is now a senior cabin crew member.

She said she was heartened by the support of the workforce. "There was a huge element of solidarity in that room and the rest of Government needs to take that feeling away.

"We connect the region to Northern Ireland.

"People can't get off this land now as there are no flights. That needs dealt with urgently."

George Brash from the Unite union said the next stage would be to take the concerns to Stormont.

"What we need is direct action from council, from local government, from the UK Government," he said.

"They can save this service. We will be lobbying Stormont to secure a basis in Northern Ireland to protect these jobs and the economy.

"If action isn't taken quickly this is going to spiral into retail, hotels, taxis, buses, services at the airport. It's huge." Airline pilot Nigel Best said the service needs to be saved.

"The workforce stuck with it to the end," he said.

"They're a dedicated group, and it's disappointing that the skills and professionalism could be lost to the industry.

"We can only hope that someone like Michael O'Leary (Ryanair chief) will think about stepping in to save the service."

Cabin crew member Joanne Surgeon, whose partner was employed by Flybe as a pilot, said the staff have been left heartbroken.

"We've been such a huge family. People are still shocked and Northern Ireland has completely lost its connectivity."

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