20 Months On: Flybe – The UK’s Former Largest Regional Airline

Time has flown by since Flybe ceased to exist over one and a half years ago in March 2020. The pandemic was the final nail in the coffin of the large but already struggling regional operator. We look back to the week of November 3rd, 2019, to see what it had and what it was doing.

G-JECM_Bombardier_Dash_8_Q400_FlyBe_(28422621998)
Flybe’s average sector length (domestic and international) in this specific week was just 265 miles. Photo: Dylan Agbagni via Flickr.

Flybe this week 2019

Flybe was very much the UK’s largest domestic airline, analyzing schedules information from Cirium confirms. If its franchise partners are excluded, Flybe itself had 1,579 two-way flights in the week, 43% more than easyJet and 55% more than British Airways. It’d be a different picture if seats or available seat miles were examined, the result of Flybe using far smaller aircraft.

With nearly three in ten domestic UK flights (29%), Flybe was dominant domestically. It used its relatively low average of 79 seats per flight to drive frequency, a vital way it attempted to compete with road or rail. It had a median of over two flights daily (17 weekly) per domestic route. However, 16 airport pairs were served three daily or more, and nine had four or more.

Flybe Dash 8
Manchester, Birmingham, and Belfast City were Flybe’s top three airports by flights in the analyzed period. Photo: Getty Images.

And international too

Of course, Flybe didn’t just operate domestically. Cirium shows that it had 702 two-way international flights or about one-third of its total. The Netherlands, France, and Ireland dominated. Amsterdam was the leading international airport because of normally multi-daily flights from UK airports, especially Birmingham, Southampton, and Manchester.

Flybe Embraer 175
Flybe’s Embraer jets were disproportionately used internationally. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Flickr.

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71 routes were operated

Flybe itself had 71 routes in this November 2019 week: 46 within the UK and 25 internationally. If franchise routes are included, this increased to 90. Various smaller regional airlines – Blue Islands, Eastern Airways, Stobart Air in the examined period – used their own aircraft and crew and flew their own routes in Flybe colors.

With 45 weekly departures, the short 171 mile (275km) link from Belfast City to Manchester was Flybe’s top route. It was initially replaced by Aer Lingus using Stobart Air’s ATR-72s and then by Aer Lingus’ A320s in June 2021 following the cessation of Stobart Air. It is expected that incoming Emerald Airlines will operate the route.

  • Belfast City to Manchester: 45 weekly departures
  • Birmingham to Edinburgh: 41
  • Edinburgh to London Heathrow: 41
  • Belfast City to Birmingham: 39
  • Birmingham to Glasgow: 37
  • Manchester to Southampton: 36
  • Belfast City to London City: 34
  • Aberdeen to Manchester: 31
  • London Heathrow to Newquay: 28
  • Isle of Man to Heathrow: 27
Flybe's network in this November 2019 week
This was Flybe’s own route network in the 2019 week. Image: GCMap.

The Dash-8-Q400 was very much the top type

With over eight in ten flights (82%), the 78-seat Dash-8-400 was vital. Next was the Embraer 175 (15%) and Embraer 195 (3%).

Not surprisingly, the turboprop was even more dominant domestically, with over nine in ten flights (92%), while the jets were disproportionately used internationally (41% versus 8% domestically). This was despite Flybe’s median international route length being just 301 miles, Cirium shows.

The author flew Flybe on many occasions. What is your experience or memory of the airline? Share them in the comments.

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