The government should draw up contingency plans over the possible loss of a major airline.
That’s the view of TravelWatch as Flybe - which operates flights to Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham as well as the patient transfer contract - announced it is up for sale.
But the airline and airport director Ann Reynolds insisted it was business as usual for the operator and passengers, with no threat to flights or tickets already purchased - and no impact on Flybe’s plans to re-open a base here.
The board of the Exeter-based regional airline confirmed last week that it was ’in discussions with a number of strategic operators about a potential sale of the company’.
Its announcement came as Flybe confirmed it was recruiting cabin crew for its new base in the island, which will open in April, six years after it closed with the loss of 49 jobs. It wants to appoint 18 new staff including senior cabin crew with at least 12 months’ experience.
A Flybe spokesman said: ’Flybe can confirm that it’s business as usual and we look forward to continuing to serve the Isle of Man community.
’Our plans to re-open our Isle of Man base in April next year is going ahead as planned as is our cabin crew recruitment programme. I can confirm that flights are unaffected.’
But Terry Liddiard, former boss of Manx Airlines and spokesman for TravelWatch, said: ’It’s very worrying.
’I personally think if the government acts now, there is no reason why these routes shouldn’t be safeguarded.
’We’ve been watching the share price of Flybe over the last few months with increasing concern. Manchester and Liverpool are vital routes. Manchester is so important for passengers travelling onwards.
’I would imagine these routes would be perfectly profitable. They carry good loads and are probably viable. But there are no obvious suitors. It’s not so much the cost of the airline. The price is probably below asset value. But it is forecast to make a £12m loss and the major problem is finding someone to take the whole thing on as a going concern.
’There’s no doubt plans are in place to open up a base in the island on April 1. But with the collapse of Flybe shares they have taken the decision that they need to take drastic action.
’We’ve been in touch with the Department of Infrastructure to ask if there is a contingency plan in place but we’ve had no reply.
’We need to have someone waiting in the wings to pick up these routes at short notice.’
Ports director Ann Reynolds said: ’From Isle of Man Airport’s perspective, it’s business as usual. Flybe has a lot to offer with its point to point regional business.’
Flybe was awarded the patient contract for a further three years in March this year.
Last month, the airline issued a profit warning and said it expected to make a £12m loss this year, blaming falling demand, a weaker pound and higher fuel costs. It said Brexit remained a major uncertainty for the aviation sector and wider economy.
The share price has fallen by almost 75% since September and the airline is now valued at about £25m, far below its £215m valuation when it floated on the stock exchange in 2010.
Flybe will be holding a cabin crew open day tomorrow (Tuesday, November 20) at the Mannin Hotel, Douglas, from 10am to 2pm.
Those attending will be able to meet with members of Flybe’s crew and management and book onto an assessment day the following week on November 27 and 28. If successful, training will begin in the New Year.
A spokesman said: ’We’re happy to speak with people who don’t have experience, but have some customer service experience in hospitality or other sectors.’