The revival of the UK regional airline Flybe has been thrown into jeopardy again, as it appears the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has renewed its push to strip the airline of its operating license. Administrators and the company lined up to buy Flybe are campaigning for a reversal of this decision at the highest level, appealing to Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary, to put a stop to the action.
Flybe’s license is still at risk
The relaunch of much-missed European regional airline Flybe has hit another bump in the road, despite the transaction to sell the business nearing completion. According to reporting in FlightGlobal, the airline’s operating license is a bone of contention, as the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is still trying to strip the airline of its certificate.
The CAA previously attempted to revoke the license following Flybe’s collapse, but the administrators dealing with the airline managed to prevent this from happening. Due to the pandemic, European legislation had altered the requirements for license revocation, and the administrators argued that this change should also be extended to Flybe.
With the license still intact, investors from Thyme Opco agreed last autumn to purchase the failed airline’s assets. This would include its brand, remaining slots at airports and a handful of other assets.
However, although the sale is progressing nicely, with evidence that one aircraft has been registered under the Flybe name, the CAA is still unhappy with the situation. The administrators stated that the CAA began pursuing a revocation of Flybe’s operating license in January, as well as its licenses to fly routes.
On March 9th, following a panel hearing, the regulator concluded that the operating license would indeed be revoked. The administrators are now appealing directly to Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary, to step in and prevent this from happening. FlightGlobal states that the appeal is still awaiting an outcome.
“Dirty Tricks” director is leading the purchase
Reporting in the Telegraph notes that Thyme Opco, a shell company formed by investment firm Cyrus Capital, has recently hired a former British Airways executive as a director of the firm. Kevin Hatton was a sales director for British Airways during the so-called “dirty tricks” scandal, and was one of those accused of setting up a special unit within BA to discredit Richard Branson’s emerging Virgin Atlantic back in 1991.
Back then, the row went as far as the High Court, with BA eventually settling with Virgin. Branson claimed victory, but the nuances of the scandal remain cloudy to this day. Hatton stayed with British Airways, ending his career with BA’s World Cargo as managing director when he retired in 2000.
Nevertheless, Hatton comes to Thyme Opco with a wealth of aviation experience and is said to be leading the charge to get the appeal pushed through. Speaking with the Telegraph, administrators EY said,
“Flybe intends to lodge an appeal against the Civil Aviation Authorities’ decision to revoke the carrier’s Operating Licence. Currently, and during any appeal process, the OL continues to remain valid. In the meantime, Flybe continues to work with the purchaser of the carrier’s business and assets, Thyme Opco Limited, to complete the sale.”
The biggest risk to the sale of Flybe is the revocation of its route licenses. Revoking the route license would see it losing its valuable airport slots, which includes some at Heathrow.
Interestingly, Thyme Opco plans to revive the Flybe name in its entirety. When the sale is complete, its name will revert to Flybe Limited. The former Flybe in administration will be renamed FBE Realisations 2021.