The future of the island’s vital patient transfer service has been secured – after Flybe agreed to stable an aircraft at Ronaldsway overnight to operate the Liverpool route.
Flybe has confirmed it will retain the three times a weekday lifeline service it operates to and from Liverpool, as well as up to 39 return flights a week on its two other established routes serving the island – to Birmingham and Manchester.
A second Q400 aircraft will be ‘night stopped’ here to operate the early morning flight to Manchester. There will be up to five weekday flights to and from Manchester.
But Flybe’s base at Ronaldsway will close as planned on March 31 – and the aircraft will be flown by crews based at Manchester or Birmingham.
The airline said its summer timetable will also include daily flights to Birmingham.
Fears have been raised about the future of the patient transfer service to Liverpool ever since Flybe announced in November that it is to close its base in the Isle of Man, with the loss of 49 jobs.
The move followed the airline’s announcement that it was looking to cut 500 jobs, reduce bases and rationalise its route network.
It was only in September that Flybe signed a three-year contract to operate the patient transfer service to Liverpool.
The Manx government pays the airline about £1.6 million a year for the hospital services, covering some 13,000 patient flights to and from Liverpool, so it is a major contributor to the viability of that route, according to Chief Minister Allan Bell.
In Tynwald last month, Infrastructure Minister David Cretney MHK said his department was ‘in dialogue’ with the airline over the Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool routes – and especially with regard to the patient transfer service.
Paul Simmons, Flybe’s chief commercial officer, said in a statement issued on Wednesday: ‘Flybe remains fully committed in continuing to serve its Isle of Man customers with convenient and affordable services and we hope that today’s confirmation will serve to reinforce this.’
A flight operations newsletter sent out to staff last week states: ‘The additional Q400 crewed from BHX [Birmingham] will actually nightstop on the IOM to operate early and late IOMLPL [IoM to Liverpool] services but will then rotate through BHX in the middle of the day, where the crew change will take place.
‘This means that there is proposed to be two Q400 aircraft nightstopping in the IOM although the proposal to close the local crew base remains in place.
‘The aircraft will be crewed from BHX and MAN [Manchester].’
Flybe has already confirmed that it will have an aircraft night stopping in the Isle of Man to operate the early morning flight to Manchester.