‘West Midlands has the people, the location and partnership’ for new airline base

Mark Firth (Flybe), Nick Barton (Birmingham Airport), Dave Pflieger (CEO of Flybe), Andy Street (Mayor of West Midlands) and Cindy Lewis (Flybe)
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Flybe has said Birmingham is the best place to base its new headquarters and crew after it committed to bringing 200 jobs to the city.

The new airline will serve regions across the UK and EU and is expected to begin operations in early 2022. Diamond House will house the company at Birmingham International airport.

An estimated 400 direct jobs will be created nationwide over the next three years in addition to the 200 from the airport base.

Flybe CEO Dave Pflieger says the West Midlands has the skills they are looking for.

He said the first reason they chose Birmingham was, “the people, it’s a great catchment area for great people who have great skills. We want to tap into the local population as well in terms of being our customers, whether former customers or new customers.

“Secondly, Birmingham is a great international airport hub so we wanted to connect here, and then the third key reason is that Birmingham Airport and Nick Barton and his team rolled out the red carpet for us.”

Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands said the move to Birmingham was a reflection of the skills of the area. He said: “It is a real sign of confidence that this airline has thought about where it wants to be based, and has chosen to come here.

“Flybe felt they could recruit that full set of skills, the technical skills, the in-cabin service skills, but also the head office skills from the area.”

Following the COP 26 in Glasgow, sustainable and innovative business practices are being encouraged throughout every industry.

Pflieger said whilst the aviation industry only contributes 2% towards global warming, Flybe is very keen to solve this crisis.

He said: “The plane we’ve selected is a turboprop. So it’s a super-fast airplane that flies almost as fast as a regional jet but with a lot less CO2. It burns less fuel, which means it emits less CO2 than a regional jet.”

Pflieger told TheBusinessDesk.com that against a like-sized regional jet, the prop plane will use on average 35% less CO2 per seat.

Birmingham has committed to a net-zero future for the region. Street, an advocate for greener public transport, said the area needs to have air service as well.

He added: “I’m a great believer in public transport, wanting to be green, clean public transport, where that is available. So short destinations, for example for London to Birmingham one should encourage public transport.

“But it is also true that cities that can’t be accessed by public transport longer distances. Here to Belfast is a great example, you have to have a good reliable air service as well because that’s how places do businesses encourages trade.”

With the new launch of Flybe at Birmingham Airport, Nick Barton, CEO of the airport said the first step in the aviation industry post-pandemic, is to recover.

He said: “Aviation, in particular, has suffered more than any other sector. We were the first into this pandemic and will be the last out of it. The key issue now is getting out of it and driving the recovery in a way that we can deliver customer service to our passengers, which is essential, but also to grow and start to rebuild.”

Barton feels that despite difficult circumstances, the robust industry will return to pre-pandemic levels. He said: “Currently we are operating about half the level we used to which is a massive improvement over the last few months. And as we grow we will get back to where we started, but that will take maybe another 12 months.”

Recent developments with HS2 look set to result in the scrapping of the Eastern route to East Midlands and Yorkshire. This would have connected Leeds to the Midlands and acted as a viable route for Yorkshire to access Birmingham Airport.

Barton said however the key leg of HS2 is the connection of London through to Manchester.

He added: “It would be wonderful to see Leeds [connected] but we understand there are better ways of deploying money and that’s a matter of government. For us, HS2 is very, very important. But the regional market we serve is outside of the benefits of HS2 and that market is still as strong as ever and we expect that to grow as well.”

Previously Flybe was based in Exeter, so for Midlands locals Mark Firth, director of flight operations, and Cindy Lewis, head of aircrew, the move is closer to home.

Both worked for Flybe as the company went into administration in March 2020. Now, they relish the opportunity of the new base.

Lewis said: “Our industry that we love so much was just on its knees. It’s been such a tough time. There have been so few opportunities for pilots but they have done amazing things for the community.

“They had to diversify; driving trucks, working for the NHS, at COVID vaccine and testing centres. Whilst many people locked their doors with Covid, they walked towards it into hospitals and volunteering.”

Firth added that mental health is at the forefront of discussions with interviewees, he said: “I think we need to be cognisant of, certainly for our returnees is mental health. It’s very important that we get them in the right frame of mind.

“But also we as a new business, understand that there’s going to be mental health needs as well because they were previously made redundant. We have psychological assessments and also as managers have mental health first aid training.”

Diversity is also a key topic says Flybe, Lewis said: “The more diverse we can become, the better. For us, it’s everybody’s welcome. We want people to come that feel that they can be themselves.”