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Flybe to relaunch as UK regional airline

(CNN) – It was one of the first victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now it seems to be resurrected.

Flybe, once Europe’s largest independent regional airline, went bankrupt in March 2020 when Covid-19 began to spread across Europe. But seven months later, with the pandemic continuing and no end in sight, the airline was bought – and it could even fly again until 2021.

The news was greeted by aviation as a glimmer of hope for an industry crippled by the pandemic.

The past few years had been precarious for the UK-based airline, which had consolidated its domestic routes to prevent the oblivion. With headquarters in Exeter and operating routes across the UK from Cornwall to Scotland, the airline employed around 2,200 people and carried 8 million passengers a year.

A Virgin Atlantic mini-me

But it had fought. In February 2019, it was purchased by a Virgin Atlantic-backed consortium with the aim of renaming it Virgin Connect and using domestic routes to direct passengers on long-haul flights on Virgin Atlantic.

On March 5, the Exeter-based airline ceased trading, blaming the “significant impact on demand” caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Now the brand and remaining assets have been sold to Thyme Opco – which is linked to a hedge fund that was part of the Virgin Connect buyout in 2019.

Not that it would blow up again under the Virgin name.

Back, but smaller than before

“The deal is expected to allow the Flybe business to resume operations as a regional airline in the UK under the Flybe brand in early 2021,” the EY administrator said in a statement.

In the past, Flybe offered routes between regional UK airports and European destinations, but it is likely that the newly launched airline will operate more rationally, at least initially. “We plan to start smaller than before,” said a Thyme Opco spokesman in a statement.

The airline is also being hampered by Brexit. Britain is leaving the European Union on December 31st and a deal has not yet been announced. UK-based airlines may only be able to enter EU airspace if an agreement has been made.

A spokesman for BALPA, the British pilots union, welcomed the announcement. “The news will give everyone a measure of confidence that recovery is coming soon and that their skills and knowledge will continue to be critically important,” it said.

It could also pave the way for other resurrections. Virgin Australia, Avianca and Compass Airlines have all gone bankrupt since the pandemic began.

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