Flybe may sell off its London Gatwick slots, citing challenges for small operators
A Flybe aircraft headed to the Shetland Islands. Karen Bryan / Flickr
This highlights the gulf that separates regional budget carriers like Flybe and the budget heavyweights like Ryanair and easyJet.
Flybe Group Plc rose as much as 21 percent, leading advancing stocks on the FTSE All-Share Index, after Europe’s biggest regional airline said it’s in talks to sell take-off and landing slots at London Gatwick airport.
Negotiations are taking place “with a number of parties,” the Exeter, England-based airline said in a statement today. “Discussions are ongoing and there can be no certainty as to whether any transaction will be forthcoming.”
Flybe shares were up 13 percent at 59 pence, the highest intraday price in eight months, as of 9:50 a.m. in London. That extended the gain this year to almost 16 percent, valuing the airline at 44 million pounds ($68 million). The number of shares traded was more than four times the average daily amount over the past three months.
“EasyJet, British Airways and Norwegian Air Shuttle are likely interested parties,” Peter Hyde, a London-based analyst at Liberum Capital, said by phone. “EasyJet may pay the most because it already has 41 percent of slots at Gatwick and could put the additions to best use.”
Flybe said last month that it had 54.4 million pounds in cash at the end of its financial year on March 31 and that it would report an underlying pretax loss at the low end of its forecast, on sales similar to the previous year. Chief Executive Officer Jim French announced details of a cost-reduction plan in January.
Flybe pilots agreed this month to a 5 percent cut in pay to avoid job losses. The airline’s regional focus means Flybe has higher unit costs than discount carriers such as Ryanair Holdings Plc and EasyJet Plc.
“Recent airport charges increases at Gatwick have been skewed against the operators of smaller aircraft, like Flybe,” Gerald Khoo, a London-based analyst at Espirito Santo Investment Bank with a neutral rating on Flybe shares, said in a note. “The continuation of such measures could place an ongoing squeeze on the profitability of Flybe’s Gatwick routes.”
Gatwick is Flybe’s main London-area airport, where it maintains 25 slot pairs, with a smaller presence at Luton.
Ryanair, Europe’s largest discount carrier, had offered to pay Flybe 100 million euros ($130 million) in cash to operate aircraft and short-haul routes as it sought regulatory approval to acquire Aer Lingus Group. Antitrust authorities blocked the deal in February.
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