Flybe shares take flight - unlike some of its planes?

The airline launched its IPO this morning, and investors seemed impressed. But BAA's not having such a good time...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 13 Dec 2010
More snow may be set to ground planes again next week, but that hasn’t put investors off newly-listed budget airline Flybe. The UK’s biggest domestic airline has seen the price of its shares soar after it listed on the London Stock Exchange this morning. The shares were originally priced at 295p, valuing the company at about £215m, but they're currently sitting around the 330p mark. Pretty good going - particularly since this week it's been threatened with industrial action and lost a door panel from one of its planes during takeoff. Investors clearly weren't spooked, though…

All of which will be a relief for Flybe, which had faced criticism for floating while the markets are still so turbulent. The list price of 295p was towards the bottom end of its original valuation range (which was subsequently revised downwards), but it's still managed to raise about £66m of fresh capital. Apparently it plans to use the cash to buy more planes, as well as bolstering its bank balance in case it decides to make an acquisition (it's supposedly eyeing up a Swiss and Finnish airline).

It looks unlikely, then, that Flybe will become ‘Ocado with wings’. Some suggested the airline might go the same way as the online grocer, whose share price has fallen since its IPO earlier this year. But Flybe is a much easier story for the markets to buy. For one, it’s at least in the black (with an underlying profit of £6.8m in the year to March). And unlike Ocado, it has operations across Europe as well as the UK. That said, it has had its problems lately: as well as that pesky door panel, and the snow-based disruption, it's also been threatened with industrial action by more than 700 of its pilots, who claim that Flybe has been too preoccupied with the float to address their pay concerns.

Another issue, for Flybe and all its rivals, is that air travellers are clearly being scared off by the snow. BAA said today that the number of passengers going through its airports was about 130,000 less than expected last month. Of the six UK airports it owns, Edinburgh was (not surprisingly) one of the worst hit, with numbers down by 3.9%. Stansted fared even worse, with a drop of 7.6%, although BAA was quick to point out that that was mainly to do with a ‘fall in low-cost airline capacity’.

There was some good news though: the number of passengers using Heathrow saw year-on-year growth of 4.3%, to 5.24m, while total passenger numbers were up by 1% (admittedly not as much as the 2.7% BAA had hoped). So it’s not all bad. Although with round two of the Big Freeze supposedly due to set in on Tuesday, its December numbers might be rather less impressive.

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