Fly Who?: Back from the brink, a smallish U.K. airline called Flybe is more significant than you think

April 25 2When thinking about airlines around the world that carry large volumes of corporate travelers, which ones come to mind? Singapore Airlines? Lufthansa? Qantas?

Fair enough—all do that. And so do many other airlines that are more globally familiar than a smallish U.K. carrier that is, in fact, one of the most corporate-oriented airlines of all, in terms of the percentage of its passengers who are flying for business.

This smallish airline, moreover, happens to be—by some measures—the U.K.’s busiest domestic airline, but one even frequent global business travelers to the U.K. might not recognize, because it doesn’t even fly to the most recognizable airport of all: London Heathrow. The airline is Flybe, and smallish though it is in size relative to the world’s airline giants, its importance to aviation in the U.K. and beyond is rather large.

True, giant LCCs like easyJet and Ryanair don’t fly to Heathrow either. But the difference is that for all of easyJet’s continued focus on business travel, and Ryanair’s growing focus on business travel, that’s still not what they mainly do for a living. Flybe, on the other hand—the U.K.’s top domestic airline by number of flights and seats, according to an Airline Weekly analysis of Diio Mi data, despite its absence at Heathrow—estimates fully half of its passengers are traveling for business, implying that the vast majority of its revenue comes from these high-yielding passengers. (About a quarter are visiting friends and relatives, while the remaining quarter are leisure travelers.) When someone is traveling on business within the U.K., or even between a U.K. airport other than Heathrow and somewhere in continental Europe, there’s a good chance that person is on Flybe, which operates 78 aircraft, of which 50, according to ch-aviation, are Q400 turboprops.

Another reason ultra-shorthaul Flybe, with an average stage length of just 290 miles, is increasingly relevant to the global airline industry at large is that unlike the giant LCCs, Flybe partners with global giants. Nobody flying to the U.K. on Emirates or Cathay Pacific is going to connect onto a shorthaul codeshare flight operated by easyJet or Ryanair. But a growing (if still modest) number of these people will, in fact, complete their journeys on a Flybe flight—Flybe now has eight such codeshare partners, of which four, including Emirates and Cathay Pacific, as well as Finnair and Aer Lingus, are rather new. Another such partnership with Virgin Atlantic will soon launch. These days, whenever a longhaul airline starts new service to cities like Manchester or Birmingham—as has been happening with increasing frequency—this is good news for Flybe, whose hubs and traffic feed at these…

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