Flybe's pledge to airport

AIRLINE Flybe has revealed plans to significantly bolster its presence at Leeds Bradford Airport.

The regional airline, which yesterday reported record full-year profits up 20m to 35.4m, is the second airline to announce large expansion plans at Leeds Bradford.

Irish budget carrier Ryanair last month said it hopes to expand to up to 20 routes from the airport depending on talks with its management.

Flybe chief commercial officer Mike Rutter said it plans to expand the number of routes flown to 15 or 16 from the current four.

Within three years Flybe hopes to fly about a million passengers annually from Leeds, up significantly from last year's figure of 300,000. He said new destinations could include Stuttgart, Hanover and Brussels, with increased capacity on existing routes.

"We have had very detailed and productive discussions with Leeds airport and the new team there," said Mr Rutter.

"We are close to reaching a potential agreement. We are looking to see how trading goes this autumn and how the economic conditions pan out. We will be directed as to how the economy performs in the next few months. It won't be an if – it will be a when."

Mr Rutter said the decision to expand was based on the performance of routes to Southampton and Belfast from Leeds.

"Leeds is very much a bellwether," he said. "They have been exceptionally strong for us."

However, he said there are no expansion plans for Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield airport, where it flies to Belfast and Jersey.

Last month Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary revealed he was in talks with Leeds Bradford management about establishing the airport as a base for its aircraft.

But Mr Rutter insisted Ryanair's plans will have no impact. "It would not affect us at all," he said. "They are in totally different parts of the market place."

Leeds Bradford's new private equity owner Bridgepoint Capital has pledged to invest 70m in the airport.

Flybe said it is weathering the slump among airlines as it reported turnover increased by 46 per cent to 535.9m in the year to March 31. It said first quarter pre-tax profits – from April to June – were up 14 per cent on last year at 12.2m. Total numbers of passengers for the year were seven million, up from 5.2 million a year earlier.

Mr Rutter said this performance was down to its relative lack of exposure to leisure customers, which make up just 22 per cent of passengers, investment in more fuel-conservative planes, and fuel hedging.