A Scottish airline has said it is interested in taking over the Londonderry to London air route, after previous operator Flybmi went into administration at the weekend.
After the news broke on Saturday, the publicly subsidised City of Derry Airport began urgently seeking a replacement airline for its Stansted route – one of just four routes operated by the airport.
Emergency talks are under way between the airport, Derry City and Strabane District Council (which owns the airport), and the Department for Transport in Westminster.
A source close to the talks claimed that Flybmi sister company Loganair, which already links the airport with Glasgow, was in advanced discussions about Stansted.
And Loganair itself told the News Letter: “As the established operator of the successful Derry to Glasgow air link, we have expressed our interest to operate the vital London Stansted Public Service Obligation services (PSO) route.
“Loganair has an extensive track record of providing PSO, and a strong understanding of the Derry market. We look forward to receiving details of the tender process as soon as possible.”
The challenges that led to Flybmi ceasing, including uncertainty around Brexit, do not impact Loganair, it said.
“Loganair expects to return to profit in the current financial year, is carrying record passenger numbers on many of its routes and is in a strong financial position,” managing director Jonathan Hinkles said.
British Midland Regional Limited, which operated as Flybmi, said Brexit meant it had been unable to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe, but that its situation mirrors wider difficulties in regional airlines.
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell MP has been in touch with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
“Obviously there is concern given that this is the single direct air connection between Londonderry and London,” he said.
“The transport secretary indicated that he is hopeful that a new operator will agree to take on the route. There needs to be as seamless a transition as possible from Flybmi to the new operator in order that the travelling public suffer as little as possible.”
Sinn Fein councillor Sandra Duffy described the loss of the flybmi flight as a “huge concern for the north-west”.
“This will obviously have implications for the new public service obligation flight between Derry and London as well as the new route to Manchester, all of which flybmi was due to operate,” she said.
Last week, Mr Grayling confirmed the government will continue to provide funding for a flight between City of Derry Airport and London.
The PSO air route, the first of its kind in NI, has been in place since 2017.
Mr Grayling said government will continue to subsidise the route until 2021.
Derry City and Strabane District Council, which helps run and subsidise the airport, said: “The council would like to reassure the public that its chief executive, senior officers from council, officials from the City of Derry Airport board and the Department for Transport have been involved in urgent discussions since the announcement was made, to assess the situation and put into place measures to secure a new operator for the route as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, City of Derry Airport advised passengers who booked flights directly with Flybmi to contact their card issuer to seek a refund, while those who have booked through a travel agent or partner airline should check their contract for what options are available to them. Those with travel insurance are being advised that they should check if they are eligible to claim for cancelled flights.
Flybmi advised that customers who booked through “a code share partner” or a booking agent should contact them directly for assistance.
Code share partners are Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Loganair, Air France and Air Dolomiti.
Flymbmi said it was not able to find replacement flights or refund customers.
Anyone who incurred hotel costs as a result of cancellations may be able to claim against their credit card under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Card Act, it added.