Chief hails the ‘rebirth’ of Flybe as airline makes return to profit

​Regional airline Flybe has increased passenger revenue by nearly 10 per cent and said its planes are now three-quarters full after it ditched loss-making routes and stepped up fare promotions.

Flybe is launching a new Fly Shuttle service linking Leeds Bradford with Aberdeen and Southampton. Picture: Mike Wade

The low cost airline, which is launching a new Fly Shuttle service in October linking Leeds Bradford to Aberdeen in the North and Southampton and Jersey in the South, said it returned to profit this year after losses of £41m in 2013.

The Fly Shuttle will be a new concept offering three flights a day, seven days a week. Flybe is expecting strong demand for the Leeds Bradford to Southampton service from cruise passengers setting sail from the southern port.

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Flybe’s load factor jumped to 75.8 per cent in the three months to June 30, up from 66.5 per cent a year earlier as it benefits from a turnaround drive that recently saw it post annual profits for the first time in four years.

Chief executive Saad Hammad said first quarter trading figures signalled further progress, helped by last summer’s launch of 11 new routes and a major brand refresh in April when it unveiled aircraft in a new purple livery.

The airline, which serves around 35 UK airports having reduced its number of bases from 13 to seven in the last year, said passenger revenues per seat rose 9.5 per cent in the quarter to £52.79.

This followed a recent route overhaul reducing capacity by 17.2 per cent to 2.5 million seats for the quarter to June 30.

It has also cut the average fare paid per passenger in an effort to drive demand.

Mr Hammad said: “We have achieved a significant amount in the quarter, with substantially more to do in the months ahead.”

The return to profit has been hailed by Mr Hammad as the “rebirth of Flybe” after a restructuring that has seen the loss of 1,100 jobs after it shed loss-making routes. The airline recently announced five new routes from London City airport and a complete relaunch of the Flybe brand, but some further job losses are still likely after this summer as seasonal routes are discontinued and aircraft grounded.

Airline profits have been under pressure over the past few years as cash-strapped customers took fewer flights in the years following the economic meltdown of 2008, adding to the burden of soaring fuel costs and higher airport charges.

Flybe kick-started a turnaround programme last January, trimming costs by giving up airport slots, cutting jobs, exiting unprofitable flight routes and grounding surplus fleet.

These measures helped the budget carrier swing to a pre-tax profit of £8.1m for the year to March 31.

During the year its share of the UK regional market grew to 55.1 per cent from 52.4 per cent.

Flybe also has a business with Finland’s Finnair, where it flies planes under the Finnish airline’s livery. The group is also in discussions with other major carriers.