Regional Gateway editor Chloë Greenbank summarises the latest happenings across airports serving business, regional and low-fare routes.

If the first few weeks of the year are anything to go by then the aviation industry is set for an exhilarating ride in 2020.

Earlier this week the future of Europe’s largest regional carrier looked uncertain. Amid speculation on Monday 13 January that Flybe was on the brink of collapse, the airline remained tight lipped, simply stating that it “continues to provide a great service and connectivity for customers” and that it wouldn’t “comment on rumour or speculation.”

However, one day later, Flybe was commenting on a rescue deal that had been secured. The UK Government has agreed to defer the level of Air Passenger Duty (APD) paid by the regional carrier and raised the possibility of a loan for the airline – although discussions on the latter are ongoing. This in turn prompted shareholders behind Connect Airways – the consortium led by Virgin Atlantic and the Stobart Group which took over the ailing airline last year – to increase its investment in line with plans to rebrand Flybe under the name ‘Virgin Connect’ later this year.

With Flybe carrying more than half of UK domestic flights outside London, the potential loss of the carrier would have been a huge blow to regional airports across the UK as well as Europe. The airline accounts for the vast majority of flights from airports including Southampton, Belfast City, Exeter, Cornwall Newquay and Anglesey. Any loss of service to these hubs would have a detrimental impact to the local economy and jobs.

Welcoming the news of the rescue package, the Airport Operators Association’s (AOA’s) CEO, Karen Dee, stated: “The action the government has taken to help secure the future of Flybe will support the current and future jobs that this connectivity provides at UK airports and in the regions.” She also underlined the “critical and unique role in the UK aviation system,” that Flybe plays in terms of “supporting the development of the regions, providing essential connectivity to businesses and stimulating the growth in trade.”

While Dee also revealed she is looking forward to the UK Government’s longer-term plans to review APD – “Europe’s highest aviation tax”, the news wasn’t so well received by climate activists who have branded the move a disaster for the environment. Anna Hughes, director of Flight Free UK, said: “Flying is already artificially cheap owing to a lack of tax on kerosene. To cut APD as well would be a disaster for the environment.”

Also calling for a reform, but this time on the way airport slot allocation is governed, Airports Council International (ACI) Europe is arguing that the core principles of existing legislation date back some 27 years and are no longer fit for purpose.

Olivier Jankovec, Director-General of ACI Europe, commented: “A regulatory regime based upon what the air transport market looked like 27 years ago is not only anachronistic – it is limiting the ability of airports to pursue more sustainable operations, develop air connectivity for their communities and to promote airline competition for the benefit of customers.”

Urging the European Commission to pursue an ambitious reform, ACI Europe is calling for greater consideration to be given to airports’ and their regions’ strategic objectives in the slot allocation process; increased transparency over slot allocation decisions; special provisions to apply for the allocation of slots at extremely congested airports; and the introduction of a ‘slot reservation system’ to incentivise airlines to hand back unused slots for reallocation in a timely manner.

After the relaxing festive break, there’s nothing like easing back into things gently…

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