Karl Turner – 2020 Speech on Flybe

Below is the text of the speech made by Karl Turner, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East, in the House of Commons on 5 March 2020.

The collapse of Flybe is disastrous news for passengers and employees alike, and will cause real anxiety in many regions throughout the country. The loss of 2,000 jobs—many in areas that are very heavily reliant on aviation—will be an extremely heavy blow, as will the wider impact on supply chains and regional economies. About 2,000 direct jobs are due to be lost from this collapse. What steps is the Minister taking to help those workers to find new jobs?

Sadly, Flybe follows an ever-growing list of British airlines to go under in recent years, and the Civil Aviation Authority has time and again made monumental efforts to look after passengers. Will the Government draw on the skills and expertise of the CAA if existing capacity does not prove sufficient to guarantee that every Flybe passenger gets home safely? We must recognise the generous offers of assistance from other businesses to support Flybe staff and passengers, but yet again airline workers face an anxious and uncertain future while the Government have sat on their hands and ​allowed this to happen. Recent airline failures have already lost approximately 11,000 jobs. This time the Government must respond and provide Flybe staff with all the necessary support. Flybe has said that the impact of the coronavirus has contributed to its collapse, so what assessment has the Minister made of the risk to other airlines, and what preparations are now in place?

Flybe has provided critical regional connectivity for many locations throughout the country with no other viable option than flying. We listen to no end of rhetoric on the importance of regional connectivity, but yet again the Government have allowed a service of critical economic importance to fail. Any kind of positive or proactive approach has been completely lacking. The Government must now answer on how vital regional links will be maintained following Flybe’s collapse.

Finally, the sector has asked the Government to review the 80/20 rule whereby if they do not use the slots, they lose them. This forces airlines to continue with flights that are half-empty, or worse. Will the Minister address the industry’s concerns on this matter urgently? Will she break the radio silence that has been happening for many, many months on the issue of regional connectivity?

Kelly Tolhurst

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman in the sadness that he expressed about the loss of jobs for people working for Flybe. When any organisation collapses in this way, it is a sad day for the individuals and communities it affects. I personally am extremely committed to making sure that we, as a Government, are working with colleagues to ensure that those individuals—those staff members—are given the advice and support that they require. In particular, we are very lucky in that we have been engaging with the industry, which is pulling together, and some airlines have said that they are going to prioritise staff from Flybe within their recruitment process. So that is good, and I am hoping to see movement on it as time goes on.

Turning to next steps, with regard to the passengers, obviously everybody is concerned about individuals travelling and how they will get back and move around the country. I reiterate that the majority of Flybe passengers are travelling domestically. As I have outlined, we are working with the airlines on fares and on making sure that the capacity is there. We are also making sure that people can travel on the railways. Of course, those conversations will continue. I am having a meeting later today, so if any MP would like to ask specific questions or get an update on where we are with that information, I would be very grateful if they attended.

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, because we have had many debates and discussions on a number of things over the years, but I disagree with his statement that we have sat on our hands. We, as a Government, have absolutely been working hard on this. We have been determined to be able to work with shareholders and work with the company in order to secure Flybe for the future. I must be really clear: we are in this situation today because Flybe shareholders and directors took the decision to place the business in insolvency. This is not where I, as the aviation Minister, wanted to be with regard to Flybe.

I am acutely aware of the impact that this will have on regional airports. The hon. Gentleman is right: we have spoken a lot about regional connectivity. However, ​we are determined to deliver on our promises to the country—that is, making sure that we are levelling up, and that regional connectivity via those airports remains viable. My Department and officials are working really hard with the airlines and the airports. We have been speaking to them today. I personally have had conversations with the airlines and the airports today. We will be maintaining that work in order to establish replacements and the ability of the industry to pick up some of the routes that are affected. We will look at and discuss some of the ongoing challenges relating to those specific airports.

The 80/20 rule, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is controlled by Airport Coordination Ltd and the European Commission. The European Commission is central to that, as he will understand.

My Department and I, specifically, have been having these conversations. I am in connection with the industry to understand the challenges, and I am taking that forward to do what I can, in my role as a Minister, to ease this burden. I stand here willing to speak to anyone this afternoon and to give people updates as and when I can. I hope that has given some comfort.