Fourteen months ago, Flybe was rescued from the brink of collapse by Virgin Atlantic-led consortium Connect Airways.
With the regional carrier reportedly hours from failure, Virgin, Stobart Aviation and private equity firm Cyrus Capital completed an eventual £2.8 million acquisition of Flybe.
The deal was struck in mid-January 2019, with Virgin holding 30%, Stobart 30% and Cyrus 40%. Connect subsequently pledged to pump £100 million into Flybe and give it a new lease of life.
Connect’s vision was to rebrand Flybe as Virgin Connect, ditch the carrier’s iconic purple branding in favour of Virgin’s customary red livery, and use it as a regional feeder carrier for Virgin Atlantic’s long-haul services out of Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester.
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss told TTG in April that while the plan appeared broadly similar to Virgin’s ultimately doomed 2013-2015 Little Red operation, launching, operating and shutting Little Red “did not mean the idea wasn’t right”.
“People ask what the difference will be with Flybe,” he said at the time. “My cheeky answer is 8.5 million passengers. Flybe is an established network, with load factors of 80% and slots at Heathrow. It’s something we contemplated with BMI, tried with Little Red, and I believe will ultimately be very successful with Flybe.”
Virgin firmed up its plans to overhaul Flybe first in July, with the appointment of Mark Anderson as chief executive, and again in October, when it confirmed Flybe would be rebranded under the Virgin banner.
Flybe was forced to address rumours last October it was preparing to ditch all its domestic routes to “deliver a more responsible flying programme”, flatly denying any such plans and pledging to use the “right aircraft” and operate an “optimised regional network”.