Flybe will quit Manston airport from March 2012
Flybe will no longer fly its service from Manston to Edinburgh after March, because there are barely any passengers. The Edinburgh service was regarded as Manston’s jewel in the crown. Flybe also runs a service between Manston and Belfast – which will also end. The Manchester flights were scratched earlier this year A Flybe spokesman said “It is fair to say that Manston is one of the airports with the smaller catchment areas in the UK, and you have Gatwick not too far away.” Manston does not have the makings of a successful passenger airport.
From the No Night Flights blog, at Manston
Flybe has said it will not be flying from Manston International Airport in Kent after March. The airline said it would cease operations there at the end of the winter season. Flybe launched its Manston to Edinburgh service in May 2010. Flybe spokesman Niall Duffy said:
“We tried different routes and the numbers simply weren’t there. It’s impossible to sustain routes without the passengers.
Unfortunately for the Manston services it was just impossible to look at those passenger numbers and think that we could sustain the kind of difficulties we were facing.
The airline said passengers booked on flights after March would be contacted by Flybe and offered a full refund or tickets on alternative flights.
BBC online 22nd Dec 2011
Flybe is axing its services between Kent International Airport and Edinburgh. The shock move, which takes effect from the end of the winter season on March 25, has been blamed on the tough economic climate. The Edinburgh service was regarded as Manston’s jewel in the crown.
The decision is a blow to Manston’s reputation which also suffered when Flybe axed its Manchester service because of weak passenger demand. Senior Kent figures have been promoting expansion at Manston rather than back controversial proposals for a hub airport on or off the Kent coast.
kentonline 22nd Dec 2011
Flybe will end its flights at Manston airport on March 25 and passengers who have already booked a flight on the summer schedule will either be fully refunded or booked onto a flight departing from another airport, the IoT Gazette reports. In a statement, Simon Lilley, Flybe’s director of marketing said:
“It is with regret that Flybe can confirm it will cease its operations from Manston International Airport with effect from the end of the winter season on March 25, 2012. Flybe carefully reviews the viability of all our 200-plus routes on a regular basis looking not only at passenger numbers but also at external cost pressures. This is done not only to monitor where we can offer increased regularity on a given route but also where passenger numbers make a flight uneconomic.
Our ongoing commitment to Manston has been reliant on the success of the Edinburgh service that we launched in May 2010. Despite extensive marketing of this route both in Scotland and throughout SE England, the challenging economic environment with which we are all faced has meant passenger numbers remain at unsustainable levels, and are insufficient to financially justify its continued operation.
All passengers who have booked flights online for next summer will be contacted by Flybe and offered a full refund or re-accommodated on alternate flights; and in the interim we look forward to welcoming on board those passengers who continue to book and use our Edinburgh service from now through to the end of March.”
The decision comes after Flybe axed flights from Manston to Manchester due to lack of passenger demand.
Airport bosses have urged Thanet council to support Manston’s plans for night flights, on the grounds that it needs greater flexibility to compete with other airports. Charles Buchanan, Chief Executive of Manston Airport, said:
“While obviously disappointed, we understand that the decision has been taken as part of Flybe’s ongoing review of its 200 routes. Launched in May 2010, the service initially performed well. However, like many other internal UK routes it suffered from the economic downturn. Inbound and outbound passenger numbers, although initially good have unfortunately tailed off as household budgets and discretionary spend has tightened.
The decision by Flybe reinforces the need for the airport’s proposals for limited and managed scheduled night-time flights to be agreed with Thanet District Council in order to compete with other national and regional airports. Without the ability to compete it will be very difficult to secure a commitment from other airlines to base aircraft at Manston and deliver a truly sustainable regional airport which will underpin the future health of the East Kent economy.”
Commenting on the decision, Sandra Matthews-Marsh, Chief Executive at Visit Kent, said:
“This is disappointing news for East Kent in a very challenging economic climate for the travel and tourism industry.”
Flybe also runs a service between Manston and Belfast – which will also end, said a company spokesman.
Too few passengers
Flybe’s decision makes it absolutely clear – Manston does not have the makings of a successful passenger airport.
The current owners of Manston airport (Infratil) have always pushed the story that they want Manston to be a mixed passenger and freight airport. We know that Ryanair and easyJet have both examined Manston airport carefully in the past. They both came to the same conclusion: if Manston airport was 10 miles further West, it would have a large enough catchment area to have the potential to succeed as a passenger airport.
However, given that it is not practical to move the airport, the fact remains that 75% of its catchment area lies in the North Sea. This is a simple and inescapably obvious fact that has been overlooked or ignored by Manston’s owners ever since it was privatised.
Too few airlines
Infratil has also always made it clear that the passenger element of the passenger/freight mix would be provided by the low-cost no-frills carriers such as Ryanair, easyJet and Flybe. As far as we know, Ryanair has not seriously considered operating out of Manston. Easyjet would presumably have considered Manston before finally choosing Southend airport this summer as the base for its new routes to Europe.
Flybe has run routes from Manston to Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast. The Manchester flights were scratched earlier this year, and now Flybe has decided to scratch the Edinburgh and Belfast flights. It is worth noting that all three routes showed realistic promise – they are well-populated, have active business centres, and are tourist attractions in their own right.
Too small a catchment area
In all fairness, the timings and frequencies of the flights as scheduled could have been better, but Flybe presented Manston with a reasonable chance to succeed. Manston failed because 75% of its catchment area lies in the North Sea, and fish don’t have much use for planes. As Flybe’s spokesman put it:
It is fair to say that Manston is one of the airports with the smaller catchment areas in the United Kingdom, and you have Gatwick not too far away.
Just six weeks ago, shortly after Flybe’s second profit warning in five months, Flybe’s chairman Jim French declared an end to the boom in domestic air travel and reported a deepening drop in demand, citing a “very, very flat situation across the industry”.
Both Flybe and the airport have referred to the tough economic conditions that have caused Flybe to review its 200 routes, but the brutally simple fact is that it is only the Manston routes that have been cut.
Nowhere in any of their press releases do Flybe make any reference to night flights having any bearing on their decision. The Edinburgh and Belfast flights are being scratched because there weren’t enough passengers, despite the active marketing in Scotland and Kent, which Flybe has attributed to the challenging economic environment.
It is worth noting, incidentally, that Flybe operate a number of routes out of George Best Belfast City Airport. They fly to Aberdeen, Benbecula, Birmingham, Bristol, Campbeltown, Cardiff, Dundee, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow International, Guernsey, Inverness, Islay, Isle of Man, Jersey, Kirkwall, Leeds Bradford, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, Norwich, Southampton, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree, and Wick – and that’s just the UK destinations.
George Best Belfast City Airport has no night flights, as flights are banned between 9:30pm and 6:30am. A ban on night flights does not prevent an airport being successful – but an absence of passengers does. Which brings us neatly to Charles Buchanan’s assertion in the recent Gazette article that:
The decision by Flybe reinforces the need for the airport’s proposals for limited and managed scheduled night-time flights to be agreed with Thanet District Council in order to compete with other national and regional airports.
Flybe’s decision does nothing of the sort. Flybe’s decision is simply further evidence that Manston cannot attract and retain passenger airlines for the simple reason that it cannot provide enough passengers.
Manston’s ambition to be a mixed passenger and freight airport can never be realised. Manston is hoping to attract more freight business by being open throughout the night, and thus becoming the only 24-hour freight airport in the south-east. That’s what the night flights are for – they are not for easy access to cheap sunshine holidays, they are for night freight.