It has been well documented for some time that Flybe has been having financial troubles, and recent investments in the airline should have been the opportunity to get the required investment and restructure the business and the network to ensure profitability.
Personally, I am a regular user of Flybe, being situated near to Southampton airport and needing to get to Scotland and other areas of the UK quickly, easily and cheaply at times for business. I have also used them for overseas flights and the convenience of having a local departure airport for personal and business travel.
Often when comparing the cost of an internal flight with the cost of rail travel, the flight comes out ridiculously cheap, so much so that the added time of travelling by rail alongside the additional cost unfortunately makes flying the “best” option for any travel north of Birmingham for me.
But – and this is crucial – given the climate crisis we are in, and will be in for the foreseeable future, this cannot continue to be the case.
Rail travel will need to become the viable choice for internal travel within the UK from a time and cost perspective. It is well documented that rail travel is the environmentally friendly alternative and our continental neighbours have managed to get their rail networks working extremely well – and their rail fares competitive.
One wonders why we can’t achieve the same thing in the UK, especially given that the distances we need to travel within our country aren’t that great. Privatised rail operators are too focused on profits. Government intervention should be focused on making rail the only real option for travelling around the UK from a cost and time perspective, through investment in infrastructure, hardware and subsidising fares, where necessary.
I fully accept that certain areas of the country require help with connections to the rest of the UK due to their inaccessibility and remote locations – if government want to subsidise these routes, then I don’t think it is easy to argue against this.
However, the vast majority of the country can be reached by a means other than flying, so subsidising a commercial enterprise seems wholly inappropriate. How can a government decide to subsidise Flybe but not Thomas Cook or Monarch? Where is the fully explained criteria for when a business gets bailed out with state aid and when it is left to fail?
It can’t be around jobs being lost or around chaos and disruption because there are companies in all sectors failing all the time without being propped up. So what is the rationale that only applies to Flybe (oh, and a few banks 12 years ago!) that makes this such a deserving case of our money being spent on it?
What is needed is a very clear long-term transport and infrastructure policy which is articulated and visible and lays out the benefits of investment in certain areas and how and why the government plans to subsidise any specific areas, rather than knee-jerk random actions which aren’t clear or consistent.
Alongside this, much has been made in certain quarters of Air Passenger Duty (APD) being an environmental tax, which is reinvested to help aviation reduce its impact on the environment. My understanding is that this was how it was originally sold in 1994, but I don’t believe that anyone in the travel industry believes for one minute this is how APD is actually being used.
Maybe it is time to clarify the purpose of APD and then have real transparency on how it is being reinvested to help the UK reach our net zero carbon target by 2050. Perhaps starting with investment in the rail infrastructure and not bailing out companies who clearly don’t have a viable business model would be a good starting point.