SOUTHAMPTON Airport has received an important boost with the announcement that a regional airline is expanding to fill some of the gaps left by the demise of Flybe.

Blue Islands will initially fly between Southampton and Manchester, Dublin, Jersey and Guernsey from the end of August. 

Its Channel Islands flights will replicate what was offered before the coronavirus crisis, but Manchester and Dublin are additions.  

Blue Islands says its goal is to replace capacity that was lost with the collapse in March of the major player Flybe. The Channel Islands-based airline will base a 70-seater aircraft at the airport, employing 20 people directly and creating another 20 jobs indirectly.

It flew an ATR72 in new corporate colours into Southampton at noon today.

Its initial routes, from August 31, will be:

  • Southampton-Jersey, daily, rising to twice daily, from £39.99
  • Southampton-Manchester, daily, from £49.99
  • Southampton-Dublin, four times a week, from £49.99
  • Southampton-Guernsey, twice a day. £39.99.

    The 15-year-old airline already flies between Southampton and the Channel Islands, having operated routes since 2007 and flown in Flybe colours as a franchisee since 2016.

Blue Islands executive director Paul Simmons said: “When the market improves, Blue Islands plans to add a second aircraft at Southampton, covering an increased selection of routes and frequencies.” 

Mr Simmons told the Daily Echo: “No one can say exactly when things will return to normal which is why we’re taking a fairly slow approach to this, starting with one aircraft with plans to move to two and announce more routes.”

He said 20 per cent of passengers flying via Southampton were travelling to other destinations beyond, so the aim was to add new routes to the network.

Chief executive Rob Veron said: “Blue Islands is committed to simplifying regional air travel – with no hidden costs or stresses over bag restrictions.

“In addition, we know that our passengers require strong wellbeing measures before flying and we are pleased to have introduced a very robust set of measures to meet this very important need.

“More details of our Enhanced Wellbeing Onboard can be found on our website. In addition, we are proud to announce our new product offering, refreshed brand identity and new website. Our offering is tailored to the needs of regional passengers. Our aim is to make flying a pleasure again. It’s the little things that matter and make the welcome difference.”

Blue Islands was founded in 1999 as Le Cocq’s Airlink, becoming Rockhopper in 2003 and taking its current name in 2006. It has 130 staff based on Guernsey and Jersey. Its flights operated under the Flybe brand from 2016 until Flybe went into administration.

The airline has been operating essential flights between Southampton and Jesey during the lockdown, repatriating people, transporting key workers and ensuring access to medical care.

The airline also announced today new flights between Jersey and Bristol, Exeter and the East Midlands.

There has been speculation that there will be less business travel after the coronavirus crisis, now that many people are used to conducting meetings online.

But Paul Simmons said Blue Islands had researched the views of 6,000 passengers and found the biggest barrier to travel was company policy.

“As long as companies don’t want to take the risk in terms of exposing their people to undue risk, then they won’t let them travel,” he said.

“We know people want to travel.”

He said the company was keen to publicise its “enhanced wellbeing” procedures to reassure people.

“We believe it’s safe, otherwise we wouldn’t be exposing our own crews to flying. We have to demonstrate that it’s safe to get people to fly.”

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