THE owners of Southend Airport have played a vital role in saving Flybe - alongside Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.

In November, Flybe put itself up for sale - throwing into doubt the future of six routes from Southend Airport.

The six routes, including flights to Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester, Budapest, Milan Malpensa and Prague were put on hold.

Virgin Atlantic stated it was unable to confirm the future of these routes, but Southend Airport owners Stobart stated the partnership is a chance to grow passenger numbers at the airport.

Warwick Brady, CEO of Stobart Group said: “The Board of Stobart Group believes that bringing Stobart Air together with Flybe and partnering with Virgin Atlantic and Cyrus Capital is the best way for us to play an active role in regional airline consolidation. The combined entity will be a powerful combination with sufficient scale to compete effectively in the UK and European airline markets.

“It will allow us to continue to work with Flybe and provides an excellent opportunity to continue to grow passenger numbers at London Southend Airport.”

Virgin Atlantic has a 30 per cent stake in the venture, as does Stobart Group – whose Irish-based airline, Stobart Air, already operates some of its flights under the Flybe brand.

A hedge fund, Cyrus Capital Partners, has the remaining 40 per cent share in a group called Connect Airways.

However, Flybe will be re-named after Sir Richard Branson’s airline.

Christine Ourmieres-Widener, Flybe’s CEO, said: “Flybe plays a vital role in the UK’s transport infrastructure with a UK regional network which uniquely positions it to benefit from growing demands from long haul carriers for passenger feeder traffic.

“We have successfully implemented a clear strategy in recent years focused on tighter fleet management, improving revenue per seat and increasing load factors. The pursuit of operational excellence has reduced maintenance times and increased efficiencies and customer satisfaction.

“However, the industry is suffering from higher fuel costs, currency fluctuations and significant uncertainties presented by Brexit. We have been affected by all of these factors which has put pressure on short-term financial performance. At the same time, Flybe suffered from a number of legacy issues that are being addressed but are still adversely affecting cashflows.

“By combining to form a larger, stronger, group, we will be better placed to withstand these pressures.

The Combined Group intends for Flybe to continue as an independent operating carrier with a separate UK Air Operator Certificate under the Virgin Atlantic brand.

The combined group will operate independently to Virgin Atlantic under one management team.

Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic said: “The Virgin Atlantic brand is built on the foundation of putting customers at the heart of everything we do, providing them with the choice they deserve and a travel experience they love.

“It is all possible because of our amazing people.”

“We are pleased to have this opportunity to partner with Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital to bring Virgin Atlantic service excellence to Flybe’s customers.

“Together, we can provide greater connectivity to our extensive long haul network and that of our joint venture partners Delta Air Lines, at Manchester Airport and London Heathrow.

“In the near future, this will only increase, through our expanded joint venture partnership with Air France-KLM.”