Flight link between Newquay and Heathrow in doubt, after just one year

A flight link between Heathrow and Newquay, Cornwall, started at the end of March 2019, with 4 round trips per day using Q400 propeller turboprops, is said to have done well, in terms of the number of passengers. But now Flybe is not selling tickets for flights on the route beyond 28 March 2020. The “booking horizon” for scheduled flights is commonly 11 months. The only route from Cornwall to London now on sale after March 2020 is a 4-times weekly link with Southend airport. Earlier this year, a consortium comprising Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group and a US hedge fund, Cyrus Capital, bought Flybe for £2.8m. They have pumped in tens of millions of pounds to keep Flybe, which is heavily loss-making,  afloat. It is to be rebranded as Virgin Connect in 2020.  Before the Heathrow route opened, there were 3 daily flights between Newquay and Gatwick.  Flybe’s slots at Heathrow are valuable, if they want to sell them to sort out debts, as slots can change hands for over £50m a pair. From March 2018, the agreement was that for 4 years, the DfT and Cornwall Council would each pay up to £1.7m, per year, representing a subsidy of £5 per passenger – or £10 for a round-trip (with 170,000 passengers per year).




No bookings for Cornwall’s link with Heathrow are being taken from 28 March 2020

By Simon Calder, Travel Correspondent (The Independent)

26th November 2019

When Flybe’s link between Newquay and London Heathrow began on the last day of March 2019, the four daily round trips were seen as a triumph for Cornwall.

The service, using Q400 propeller jets, [turboprop, not a jet …. different] has thrived, with high “load factors” on most flights. It provides a crucial connection between Southwest England and the world.

But the regional airline has is not selling tickets for flights between Newquay and Heathrow beyond 28 March 2020.

The “booking horizon” for scheduled flights is commonly 11 months.

The only route from Cornwall to the capital currently on sale after that is a four-times weekly link with Southend airport.

The regional airline secured the precious slots for the four daily flights each way last winter, at a time when it was under severe financial pressure.

Earlier this year, a consortium comprising Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group and a US hedge fund, Cyrus Capital, bought Flybe for £2.8m. The group has pumped in tens of millions of pounds to keep the heavily loss-making airline afloat. It is to be rebranded as Virgin Connect in 2020.

Many routes have been closed and some have been launched. But the ending of sales between Newquay and Heathrow has caused considerable alarm in Cornwall.

Regular travellers have taken to social media to express their concerns.

“Cornish Boy Simon” tweeted: “Come on. Let’s have some honesty and transparency here. Nothing available after end of March.

“No meaningful comments from airline or airport.”

Another Twitter user, Xander, wrote: “I’ve just been trying to book flights to LHR from NQY next year, I’m seeing that the flights are cancelled, is this correct? Is there no London service at all?”

Until the Heathrow route opened, the Cornish airport had three daily jet services a day to and from Gatwick airport, carrying much the same number of passengers as the Heathrow link because of the larger aircraft used.

The airline has left the door open for the link to continue. A Flybe spokesperson said: “As part of the first phase of our 2020 summer programme, we have six routes on sale from Cornwall Airport.

“We are working closely with our partners in Cornwall to finalise our full 2020 summer programme relating to those services which may currently not feature in this seasonal schedule.”

A spokesperson for Cornwall Airport Newquay, as the airport is officially known, said: “We are still working with Flybe to finalise their full 2020 summer programme from Cornwall Airport Newquay and hope that the full schedule will be available to book in the near future.”

For a route not to be on sale four months before departure is most unusual. Travellers planning to fly to or from Newquay via Heathrow are unable to book.

Slots at Heathrow are among the most valuable commodities in aviation. They have in the past changed hands for over £50m a pair.



See earlier:


Cornish airport gets better connections than Leeds Bradford, Inverness and many other UK airports

BySimon CalderTravel Correspondent (The Independent)

Thursday 22 November 2018

Taxpayers are to subsidise a new air link between Cornwall Airport Newquay and Heathrow.

From 31 March 2019 Flybe will shuttle the 210 miles from the Cornish airport, which is shared with RAF St Mawgan, four times a day.

Around 170,000 passengers are predicted to use the service each year. Over the first four years of the link, the Department for Transport and Cornwall Council will each pay up to £1.7m, representing a subsidy of £5 per passenger – or £10 for a round-trip.

Each departure will receive almost £300 in subsidy. The prediction assumes that three-quarters of seats on each flight will be filled.

The current thrice-daily link with Gatwick, which is also subsidised, will end.

The slots at Heathrow, which is the busiest airport in Europe, are part of an allocation which British Airways was required to surrender after taking over BMI in 2012.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said: “Maintaining and enhancing air routes that help bring together the UK is one of the key benefits of any expansion at Heathrow.

“This new route will see the people of the southwest profit from a direct connection into our national hub airport even before it expands, building on the government’s ongoing commitment to the Newquay route, protecting choice and strengthening trade and travel opportunities for the whole UK.”

The Cornish airport’s managing director, Al Titterington, said: “By having direct flights to Heathrow, it grows the strength of Newquay and Cornwall’s brand abroad, which is great for the local business community and those wanting to visit our beautiful county.”

John Holland Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted to secure a more regular service to Newquay, connecting exporters from Cornwall to global markets through Heathrow and making it easier for inward investors, tourists and students from all over the world to get there.”

While the average aircraft using Heathrow is a jet with around 200 seats, Flybe will use 78-seat Q400 turboprop aircraft on the service.

The airline is losing around £7,000 per hour, and last week announced it was in talks with prospective buyers. Both easyJet and Ryanair have told The Independent they are not interested in buying Flybe.

Roy Kinnear, the airline’s chief commercial officer, said: “The decision confirms that Flybe is a vital part of the UK’s transport infrastructure.”

The move will either encourage or dismay other UK airports who have fewer or no connections with Heathrow. British Airways recently cut back its three-times-daily link from Leeds Bradford to one or two flights a day.

Newquay will also be better connected to Heathrow than Inverness, which will have a maximum of three flights a day next summer.

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Durham Tees Valley, which is further from Heathrow than Newquay is, lost its link with the airport a decade ago.

Liverpool, Prestwick, Belfast International and the Channel Islands have also lost connections with Heathrow.

City of Derry Airport in northwest Ireland also has subsidised flights to and from London, but these use Stansted rather than Heathrow.

If and when a third runway at Heathrow is built, it is anticipated that some of the additional slots will be “ring-fenced” to increase the number of domestic routes.

The Regional and Business Airports Group, representing 40 UK airports, said: “It is crucial that the 15 per cent of slots allocated on the new runway are for unserved and underserved (less than two services per day) routes.”

Cornwall Newquay Airport recently announced a summer 2019 link with Copenhagen. Sales have proved so buoyant that extra flights have been added.