30-Second Interview — Paul Simmons, CCO Flybe

Flybe’s CCO Paul Simmons (right) being interviewed by anna.aero’s Editor Marc Watkins (left).

Don’t jump! Flybe’s CCO Paul Simmons (right) did not need to leap from 25 floors up to get away from anna.aero’s Editor Marc Watkins (left), despite the latter’s probing questions on the airline’s seven new routes from its now biggest hub at Birmingham (Image courtesy of Stewart Writtle Photography).

anna.aero was on-hand at the Birmingham Airport and Flybe press conference in central Birmingham this week to grab a 30-Second Interview with Paul Simmons CCO as the the airline announced its “Magnificient Seven” new routes from the airport — namely to Cologne Bonn, Florence, Toulouse, Alicante, Palma de Mallorca, Porto, and Bordeaux. The former easyJet Director, UK market joined the Exeter-based airline at the end of October last year, so he has had a few months to get established at Flybe, which has 86% of its seats operating to or from or within the UK (according to Innovata / Diio Mi data for February 2014).

This announcement follows other recent network developments for the airline at Birmingham, with the carrier’s existing services to Hannover, Milan Malpensa and Stuttgart all being upgraded to double-daily for S14 in an effort to chase higher-yielding business traffic. As a result of these schedule improvements, Birmingham becomes the airline’s largest base for the carrier with an additional three E175s — taking the base up to 12; seven E175s and five Q400s — being brought in to service the seven new routes. The assets will come to Birmingham having been redeployed from within Flybe’s existing UK-based fleet.

Flybe unveils its ‘Magnificient Seven’ new routes at Birmingham

Of the seven routes announced, Flybe has actually flown four of the routes before — namely to Alicante (between March 2005 – March 2007), Bordeaux (July and August 2010; and between May 2011 and September 2011) Palma de Mallorca (between March and October 2005) Toulouse (up until September 2011). In the past, germanwings (between April 2005 and May 2006) and Hapag Lloyd Express (between May 2006 and January 2008) — now TUIfly — have operated the Cologne Bonn service, bmi regional operated Birmingham to Toulouse last summer, while Ryanair offered Porto from the UK Midlands airport between June 2008 and October 2010 previously too.

Start date Route (WF) Competition (WF)
10 April Alicante (5) Monarch Airlines (10), Ryanair (8), Thomson Airways (1)
13 May Bordeaux (4) Monarch Airlines (3)
10 April Cologne Bonn (7)
Florence (6)
13 May Palma de Mallorca (4) Monarch Airlines (9), Thomson Airways (6), Ryanair (5), Thomas Cook Airlines (4)
10 April Porto (4)
13 May Toulouse (6)
Source: Innovata / Diio Mi 7-13 June

Not only does the Florence route have no competition from Birmingham, but Flybe will be the only airline offering services outside of London, as Vueling currently offers five times weekly services from London Heathrow and CityJet flies daily services from London City. The market dynamics will perhaps be improved still further for Flybe on 30 March when Vueling moves its A319 services from Heathrow to London Gatwick — 65 kilometres further away from Birmingham — albeit with an improved daily service for the summer season. BA CityFlyer will also begin four times weekly flights from London City to Florence on 30 March.

anna.aero: Four of these routes have been flown by flybe before, one by Ryanair and one by various German low-cost carriers – how will you make them successful this time?

Paul Simmons: We have developed a very strong business case this time around, using our own data, as well as information from the airport. Flybe has a very judicious view on where to deploy its capital and we felt that basing a further three aircraft in Birmingham was the right thing to do. In addition, the existing network at Birmingham is working well, we have a good relationship with the airport and support is also there from the local business community.

aa: Some of the routes have as many as four competing airlines serving the city pair – how will Flybe differentiate itself?

PS: Our E175s have just 88 all-leather seats and will therefore offer superior cabin comfort superior in comparison to other products available. We also feel that some of these markets are big enough to easily take the extra capacity we will be adding, particularly as there are still high levels of leakage to other airports on some of the routes.

aa: Looking at some of the routes you will be flying – will there be tour operation involvement on some of the services??

PS: We haven’t gone out to the travel trade yet…but we are a very willing partner with the trade.

aa: Given your fleet mix and business model does the airline regret not being a major player at London City?

PS: We are looking at opportunities to serve London market again, especially as our London Gatwick operations finish at the end of March. However we will only serve London in an economic way that makes sense to us and no final decisions have been made yet.

aa: Given your relationship with Finnair, especially with the flybe Nordic operation, how come you have never been able to come to an agreement on UK-Helsinki routes??

PS: Relations are good with Finnair, but we’re a relatively new team down in Exeter and its not a discussion that has come up with them yet.

aa: Have you thought of “doing an Eastern Airways” and taking your aircraft off to do domestic French routes?

PS: There could be European opportunities in the future which we would investigate, but at the moment we are rearranging our UK based assets and we want to get this working right first. We need to be able to walk before we can run.

Paul Simmons pictured at the press conference in Birmingham.

“Our decision to support the region by basing an extra three aircraft here is not only a vote of confidence in the local economy but also in the strong relationship we have built with the airport team,” said Flybe CCO Paul Simmons during the press conference in Birmingham (Image courtesy of Stewart Writtle Photography).


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