Bit of a special report here, I had the experience of flying Flybe on their final day of operations (March 4th 2020), so I'm going to do a bit of a tribute here, as well as a report on both flights in this one article. The absence of this airline will be felt across the UK for years to come, despite movements from Loganair and Eastern Airways to cover some of the key routes that have been left a massive void. I want to dedicate this article to all the Flybe staff affected by the events of March, and wish them the all the best in the future!
Here is a link to all the Flybe flights I filmed for my channel from March 2017 to March 2020:
Flybe began operations in 1979 as Jersey European Airways. It was the result of a merger between Jersey based Intra Airways and Express Air Service from Bournemouth. The airline was focused then on flying from Jersey across various major UK cities. Initially using ageing Douglas DC-3 "Dakota" planes, the airline expanded from 1979 to the mid-1990's using aircraft that included: Vickers Viscount, Short 330/360, Embraer E-110 Bandernite, DeHavilland Twin-Otter, Britten Norman Islander and its only jet aircraft the British Aerospace (BAe) 146.
By 2000, the start of the new millennium, Jersey European (now with its headquarters based in Exeter) re-branded itself as BRITISH EUROPEAN AIRWAYS. At this time the airline had a fleet consisting of the BAe 146, Fokker F27 prop liners and Short 360. However the airline was looking to bring in new aircraft to streamline and modernise the fleet under CEO Jim French.
Jersey European Fokker F-27 (right in updated livery) and Short 360 (left in older livery) at Bournemouth Hurn in 1991. Thanks to George McDowell for this image.
In 2002, the airline was re-branded again into Flybe, which was short hand for "Fly British European". The airline also began to transition into a low-cost airline with a plan to introduce the Embraer E-170/195 family and DeHavilland Canada/Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400. The airline was based all across most major UK cities linking the United Kingdom and to key parts of Western Europe.
At the height of Flybe's existence, the airline bought out BA Connect, the regional subsidiary of British Airways, excluding the profitable London City operation (which re-branded to BA Cityflyer), making Flybe the biggest regional airline in the UK, this coincided with the departure of its BAe 146 fleet as the Embraer E-jet family took over alongside the Dash 8 fleet, both types of aircraft would remain the Flybe fleets mainstay until the end.
Flybe BAe 146 at Southampton in 2005, thanks to George McDowell for this image
In 2013, Jim French retired as CEO and handed over to Saad Hamaad formerly of easyJet. At this time, Flybe was suffering from the 2008 recession and as a result the airline sold off to easyJet its lucrative London Gatwick operations, which covered most of the UK, except a sole PSO route to Newquay, which ended itself in 2018- when Flybe moved the service to London Heathrow.
In 2014, Flybe began service to London City to replace its network at London Gatwick and to tap into a key market of business travellers, getting people into the heart of London- Quicker than road and rail! Routes served included: Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Exeter, Aberdeen, Belfast City and Inverness. Flybe also introduced a new livery - the Purple Plane.
CEO Hamaad vacated his position for ex-CityJet CEO and Air France executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener in 2017. The same year, Flybe debuted at London Heathrow, to break the monopoly there from British Airways on key domestic routes in the UK, since the merger with British Midland and the failed Aer Lingus/Virgin Atlantic "Little Red" project. Flybe would serve London Heathrow with Gurnsey, Isle of Man, Newquay, Edinburgh and Aberdeen over the next three years.
Flybe Embraer E-175 on arrival into London Gatwick in August 2013 when the airline still had a substantial base there. The E-175 fleet was never given the 2014 purple livery, remaining in the 2002 white/blue scheme until March 2020.
Sadly, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic caused Virgin Atlantic to pull out of a key buyout to take over Flybe and convert it into CONNECT AIRWAYS (a short haul subsidiary of the Virgin group). A potential Government intervention was overruled by the EU regulators, following a complaint from IAG. The airline had also tried to cease loss making routes from smaller bases and sell off its Embraer E-195 fleet in favour of a large Dash 8 fleet and a small presence of E-175 in select markets.
As a result, March 4th 2020 saw Flybe operate its final day of service and around 1am on March 5th 2020- Flybe was consigned to the history books. The last two flights were an Edinburgh to London Heathrow service, and a delayed Manchester to Exeter service, both landing just after 11pm on March 4th. Two franchise partners: Eastern Airways and Blue Island still continue to operate as independent airlines, another franchise partner was Stobart Air, who have not continued the services they operated on behalf of Flybe.
A sad and sudden end to an airline that really contributed to the UK economy over the decades. One of my biggest shocks was realising I had flown an airline on its final day of operation, and potentially had two of the last flight videos that any avgeek would have recorded on a Flybe flight, especially since my AMS-SOU flight was one of the final 3 flights into Southampton.
The trip from the start of the day just seemed like another "Milk Run" for my travels, I had a week off and Flybe provided a day trip to Amsterdam for only £87 return for a springtime spotting day. There was no thought in my mind that there was anything out of the ordinary going on in the corporate area of Flybe…
I got air side at Southampton about 35 minutes before the flight was due to begin boarding, boarding commenced on time and I walked across to the purple Dash 8 Q-400 awaiting me with the "Spirit of Scotland" displayed on the nose section, indicating our flight was going to be on G-ECOH.
We pushed back on time and taxied out to the runway, which at Southampton (as I've mentioned before) is half way down the runway, and we taxied to the Northern end before making the 180 degree turn to take off out over the South and the city of Southampton. Due to the anti-icing fluid used, I couldn't see much for a while as it needed to be blown off by the speed of the flight and propeller.
I didn't eat anything on this short flight, but did enjoy a quick cup of Cadbury's hot chocolate
The flight was fairly standard going for a Dash 8 flight with Flybe. Everything ran along, business as usual. We began to approach the Dutch coast eventually.
Before we began our decent, I dived into an empty row by the window and got this shot of the engine from a forward to rear facing angle.
We descended over Holland, and lined up for the Polderbaan, which meant another 15 minute taxi to the main terminal complex….
We landed smoothly, despite the plane landing right wheel first, before touching the left side down seconds later. We pulled off the runway and the senior cabin crew member, Hayley welcomed everyone to Amsterdam over the P/A system.
I was able to get a short visit to the flight deck after pulling up to the remote boarding stands with all the KLM E-190's and Hop! regional aircraft. I quickly thanked the crew for a nice flight and left the plane, they were due to fly back- then the pilots had to take G-ECOH to Birmingham.
Getting on the airside bus, we had a 10 minute ride to the non-Schengen D-gates in order to clear immigration into the Netherlands. I took a lot longer to get there, stopping to take pictures of the various aircraft around AMS.
I was at Amsterdam for the day to do spotting, a trip I try to make once every annul. This was to be my one dedicated trip for 2020. To say I got a nice yield on this trip was an understatement including the Garuda retro 777 and a new livery SAS A321…
Delta Airlines also featured quite heavily, I got a chance to see various Airbus A350-900, my first Airbus A330-8neo, a few Boeing 767-300 and various Airbus A330-300
Amongst the massive field of blue clad KLM planes was a nice and exotic mix of aircraft and airlines from all corners of the world (except Australia/New Zealand).
Much as I enjoy a spotting day in Amsterdam, the time came to move on. I had to go airside around 5pm- I went to Murphy's Irish Pub for dinner. Which I chose the pub's house toastie and a red ale beer.
Before catching my flight, I did get to see some more parked up delights around AMS.
Also I got to see KLM Boeing 747-406M PH-BFT (Big Flying Thing), making this my final sighting of a KLM 747 in action… The type has now retired due to the Covid-19 fallout.
Well here it is. The final Flybe flight. This would become one of the last four flights into Southampton (followed in by a MAN, EDI, GLA and another AMS service). This is also quite possibly the last Flybe flight experience videos to be filmed!
I managed to be the first one to board the Dash 8 Q-400, which was a returning G-ECOH, with a new crew. This time I was sat on the other side of the Dash 8.
We took off in the darkness, so it wasn't easy filming for photographing, as this image bellow shows. I had no idea this would be my final Flybe flight. However I think having a £6.50 Jack Daniel's & Coca-Cola was a good way to drink to the end of an era, not that I knew it then.
We had a smooth run into Southampton, coming in with no hold ups. Landing at night wasn't easy to film either. We parked up on stand (the aircraft is still there as of time of writing 22/04/2020) and I left the plane, thanking the crew for a nice flight and grabbing a quick shot G-ECOH at night all lit up by the airport.
I entered Southampton Airport, had my passport scanned by four machines (there was an issue with it, not too sure what though) and left SOU. I found out the next morning that Flybe had ceased operating officially at 1am on March 5th 2020.
Losing Flybe is a huge blow to the United Kingdom. Whilst the Covid-19 situation hasn't helped any airlines, both Loganair and Eastern Airways have started to fill some of the major voids left by Flybe, it will be a long time before the former's network is fully recovered by airlines through new start ups and PSO flights.
Jersey European/British European/Flybe (1979-2000*2002-2020)