Flybmi: City of Derry Airport urgently seeks new airline

City of Derry Airport
Image caption City of Derry Airport is owned by Derry City and Strabane Council

City of Derry Airport is urgently seeking a replacement airline for its London route after Flybmi filed for administration.

Emergency talks are under way between the airport, Derry City and Strabane District Council and the Department for Transport.

The airport said it was "reviewing options" for resuming its Stansted service, which has been cancelled.

Flybmi ceased operations on Saturday.

Customers booked on Flybmi services have been advised not to travel to City of Derry Airport.

On Thursday, the UK government announced it would continue to provide funding for the flight between City of Derry Airport and London.

The public service obligation (PSO) air route, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, had been in place since 2017.

It had been due to expire in May, but Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the government would continue to subsidise the route until 2021.

It was the only route Flybmi operated from City of Derry Airport.

The airline operated two return flights each day, except Saturdays when there was one flight each way.

Ryanair formerly operated a route between the airport and Stansted but axed the flights in March 2017.

Danny McLaughlin, a civil engineer from County Donegal, had 14 flights booked over the next seven weeks between City of Derry Airport and London Stansted.

"I'm a bit stunned to be honest with you," he said.

"I feel sorry for the staff. I probably will get a bit annoyed as the weekend goes on and on Monday morning when I can't get to work."

New operator sought

Flybmi said uncertainty over Brexit and rises in fuel and carbon costs led it to go into administration.

"I'm really in Brexitland," Mr McLaughlin added.

"I'm three miles from the border. For me, personally, it's the first thing really that's affected me. And then, in 41 days' time we just don't know what's going to happen three miles up the road."

Image copyright BMI Regional
Image caption Flybmi has a fleet of Embraer jets

President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Brian McGrath, issued a statement saying the news was "terribly disappointing".

"The Derry to Stansted link is an incredibly important one for connecting those who live here in the north west to London," said Mr McGrath.

"The loss of this will also be very damaging to businesses in the region who rely on this flight."

Financial journalist Paul Gosling told BBC News NI's The Sunday News that there had been a degree of "reputational damage" to the airport.

"It will make many passengers wary about whether this is the right airport for them," he said.

He added that it was likely a new airline would be found "in the near future".

However he said there were still worries about the airport's future: "As soon as there is a good road connection between Derry and Belfast International Airport, there will be questions about its viability and sustainability," he said.

'A unique route'

BBC News NI reporter Rick Faragher, at City of Derry Airport

Standing in the City of Derry Airport main terminal entrance, the footfall is still fairly busy.

Emergency talks are still under way between the airport, the local council and the UK Department for Transport.

It's a unique route in many ways because it's subsided by the government.

With regards to reviewing options for resuming that Stansted service, the general consensus is that a replacement airline must be found as soon as possible.

That will allow those very important economic links between the north west and London to be preserved.

On Saturday evening, the airport tweeted: "BMI with immediate effect no longer operate the London Stansted service.

"If you have seats booked on this service, please contact your credit card company to receive your refund.

"We are reviewing options for resuming the service with another airline as soon as possible."

Airport uncertainty

DUP MP for East Londonderry Gregory Campbell said he spoke to Mr Grayling about the future of the route "shortly after the news broke" on Saturday evening.

"Obviously there is concern given that this is the single, direct air connection between Londonderry and London," he said.

"The transport secretary indicated that he is hopeful that a new operator will agree to take on the route.

"There needs to be as seamless a transition as possible from Flybmi to the new operator in order that the travelling public suffer as little as possible."

Sinn Féin councillor Sandra Duffy said the news was a "huge concern" for the economy in the north west.

In July 2018 a leaked report said City of Derry Airport could close within a year because of a multi-million pound shortfall in funding.

At that time, there was uncertainty over whether or not the subsidy for the PSO route to London would be extended beyond May 2019.

The report said that if the subsidy was not extended the London route would cease and "the airport will no longer be sustainable".

The airport is owned by Derry and Strabane District Council.

Flybmi is an East Midlands-based airline, which has 376 staff, operates 17 planes and flies to 25 European cities.

Affected passengers have been told to contact their travel agents or insurance and credit card companies.

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