Some 150 Swissport staff at Belfast City Airport look set to be temporarily laid off following the collapse of Flybe. The airline accounted for 80% of the airport’s flights. In Swissport’s sights are check-in staff, cleaners and baggage handlers.
A Swissport spokesperson told the Border Telegraph.
“Flybe’s unfortunate news has come at a very challenging time for the industry. As a business, we have a responsibility to carefully consider the impact this has on our company and identify the best outcome for all our employees and partners across the business.”
Exeter-based Flybe collapsed late last week after months of speculation about its future.
Swissport is owned by the HNA Group, which is facing its own troubles
Swissport is an aviation services company based in Opfikon, Switzerland. They provide airport ground and cargo handling services. The owner of Swissport is embattled Chinese business, HNA. Swissport is proposing a 14 day unpaid leave period. Swissport employs around 150 workers at Belfast Airport.
The HNA Group, the owner of (amongst other things) Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines, is in serious financial distress. It may explain why their subsidiary businesses such as Swissport are looking to trim costs where they can in their far-flung outposts.
Swissport had earnings before tax in excess of €200 million last year.
The union is unmoved
But the union representing the airport workers, Unite, is having none of it. Their spokesperson told the BBC that the move was unacceptable. The spokesperson said;
“This is not a company that needs to threaten the income of their employees in the aftermath of the Flybe collapse.
“Indeed, with the prospect that many, if not all, former Flybe routes could be taken on by other airlines this is an unnecessary and unacceptable response rooted in a short-term desire simply to maximise profits.”
Knock-on effects of an airline collapse
The collapse of Flybe not only leaves thousands of passengers inconvenienced and potentially out of pocket. It means the futures of Flybe workers and those employed at businesses like Swissport are in peril.
Flybe employed thousands of staff directly across a range of jobs. But the collapse has had knock-on effects.
At Southampton, 90% of the airport’s flights were operated by Flybe. About 200 Flybe staff work at Southampton Airport and live in the area. However, there are reportedly another 1,000 local residents indirectly employed through local businesses. A Southampton taxi business has already laid off drivers because of Flybe’s collapse.
Belfast is another airport highly dependent on Flybe. What’s happening to the Southampton taxi drivers and Belfast Swissport workers is an example of the ripple effect following an airline’s collapse.
Following Flybe’s collapse, airports that have relied heavily on Flybe are facing criticism for not having a more diversified customer base. But Flybe carved out a niche for itself operating flights on low volume regional routes that often bypassed London.
These are not necessarily routes that other players like British Airways or even Ryanair or easyJet would take on.
Diversification is easier said than done
Diversification at regional airports everywhere is easier said than done. Southampton’s MD, Neil Garwood, told the BBC;
“It’s a very difficult situation that we are encountering right now and many airports across the country are in a very similar position.”
Mr Garwood goes on to say that airports like his are an integral part of the regional community and economy. That’s true. What he cannot explain is how airlines, whether it be Flybe or someone else, can make money flying into airports like Southampton and Belfast.
And following the collapse of Flybe, no-one has an immediate solution for workers about to lose their jobs.