HIGH PEAK BUSINESS CLUB - Flybe



"We know how fast @Edwina_Currie moves to identify local business opportunities #hpbc but does @flybe move faster- fab talk from Paul Simmons" - tweet by Andy Nevett of Freedom Financial Planning in New Mills.

I started High Peak Business Club last year, to give people in business in the High Peak a chance to meet and hear speakers from the outside world. So much is going on out there which directly affects us: the Northern Powerhouse is becoming a reality, and we must ensure we benefit from it while protecting our rural tranquillity.

On May 15th Paul Simmons, Chief Commercial Officer of Flybe was the guest. I’d asked him because whether I’m working in Belfast or Bournemouth, I find myself on a Flybe plane from Manchester. They specialise in business travel: speedy and efficient, competitive with rail and driving once the time gain is taken into account. There and back in a day!

Flybe in their distinctive purple livery are now the largest regional airline in the world, said Paul, and the biggest independent. Yet in August 2013, soon after he joined them from Easyjet, only 7 days’ cash was left in the kitty and they were on the verge of going bust. But a new CEO was appointed, £150millions was raised from the City, loss-making routes closed and 1,000 staff let go. Now their aim is “to connect region to region, and the regions to the world,” he said. “Not everything has to go via London.”

So you can fly from Manchester to 57 destinations, connecting with global carriers such as Etihad and Cathay Pacific, blessedly avoiding horrible Heathrow. For that alone, Flybe deserves a medal.

The business plan was intriguing: Go where others won’t. On 80% of their routes (such as Manchester-Southampton) there’s no competition. In Europe, where expansion is on the cards, it comes only from flag carriers like Air France giving heavy subsidies to regional services. There, “old school thinking” means management won’t confront unions. “But economics will out; and then, Flybe will be ready.”

One key element in the turnaround was the involvement of the remaining 2,600 staff. Cabin crews were asked to help redesign their uniforms, and came up (to everyone’s surprise) with smart suits and neat little caps reminiscent of the Fifties. “That’s what they chose,” Paul said. Maybe it reminds them that in those days, service with a smile was a given, and being a trolley-dolly was a dream job?

Much of the questioning highlighted the difficulty of getting from Manchester to Gatwick. It’s because like Heathrow, Gatwick charges high fees for each landing, with no reduction for smaller aircraft. So even Flybe cannot make money on that route. If the Northern Powerhouse is to be effective, then Gatwick needs to encourage business travel. Northern MPs, Transport Committees, please note.

The Club is attracting attention from a wide area now; like Flybe, it’s finding its niche. Next meeting is Friday June 12, the speaker is Emma Goodall, regional director of Tesco, the topic: “Grocery Wars - Can the Giants Survive?” We meet for breakfast, 7.30 am at Chapel Golf Club.