Will UK Regional Travel Survive The COVID-19 Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the situation surrounding it has put the tightest squeeze on the Aviation industry since 9/11, and potentially its effects could be even more significant. In the UK, regional airlines have significantly struggled, with large players in the industry under the most amount of stress. So, this begs the question – Will regional travel even survive?
Source: Flybe

First, it is worth addressing the elephant in the room. Flybe is no more.

The large, low-cost regional airline was well known for its extensive local network spanning the width and breadth of the UK and beyond. The airline was able to hold its own against the likes of British Airways and EasyJet in the fight for valuable Slot Pairs at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City Airports. So, what happened?

Flybe went into administration abruptly on the 5th of March 2020. The public got the first inkling that issues were occurring at Europe’s largest regional airline when passengers posted to social media that many of Flybe’s aircraft, a mixed fleet of Q400’s and E190s, had been blocked in by airport vehicles. Then, airports had begun to post signage saying that Flybe would no longer be able to take off and use gates at the airport, due to unpaid debts.

Flightradar24 showed that there were three lone Q400’s left in the skies; this number eventually stood at zero.

Disregarding a few flights as these aircraft moved into storage, many of these aircraft would never fly again as early the next morning on the 5th of March, the airline ceased all operations and filed for administration. The UK government had failed to grant the airline a £100 million loan, believing that the airline would still not be viable anyway, and Virgin Atlantic could no longer commit to financial support, considering the situation they found themselves in.

Source: @spotterisaac | AviationHub365

So, that’s Flybe out of the way. How about British Airways?

Well, their situation is more complicated. Their regional subsidiary, BA Cityflyer, was almost decimated as operations at London City Airport grounded to a halt on the 25th of March. However, on the 22nd of June, operations began to return to normal as a flight from LCY to the Isle of Man (an essential route) took off. Since then, in July services remained domestic, with flights to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin commencing once again. Over summer, routes to popular holiday destinations such as Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca returned. British Airways, the owner of Cityflyer, has moved to consolidate its operations at Heathrow during the crisis and halt its flights out of Gatwick Airport until at least September.

Despite this, it’s regional and domestic routes have remained operational, albeit reduced. They are currently flying to 5 destinations within the UK and Ireland; these are Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Belfast and Dublin. Within Europe, BA is flying a reduced service to many tourist destinations predominantly in Spain, Greece and the south of France.

Source: ls.spotting | AviationHub365

Meanwhile, easyJet is preparing to return to the post-COVID world of aviation.

After 11 weeks of no operations, the low-cost airline has returned to London Gatwick once again. With the temporary absence of big players such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic at LGW, easyJet has shuttered its operations at London Southend, London Stansted and Newcastle airport to focus on its flights out of the UK’s second-largest airport. From the 1st of July, easyJet began operating about 30% of their usual summer operations, with Domestic and International routes to certain airports such as Belfast, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Lyon, Lisbon and Geneva returning, to name a few.

In worrying news for easyJet,  Wizz Air UK recently announced that they would be opening a base at London Gatwick from October.

Source: Gatwick Airport
The road to recovery coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic will prove to be long and gruelling. But with COVID cases across the UK continuing to decline, and the government slowly but surely beginning to ease restrictions on international travel, many Britons are currently looking to get away from it all and destress on holiday. Whether that’s the smartest thing to do, considering we’re still amid the pandemic, is up to you. But one thing is for sure; For at least the most popular and profitable destinations, the UK’s holiday airlines will be happy to take you there.


Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith is a student who lives in London, England. He is a Flight Sergeant in the RAF Air Cadets who also enjoys photographing aircraft in his spare time. Daniel is interested in the history and politics of aviation as well as the engineering behind the aircraft that we take for granted in the modern world!

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