Flybe floats, BA strikes back

Budget airline Flybe has been cleared for flotation, while big brother BA is bracing itself for more strikes...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 10 Dec 2010

Flybe is Europe's largest regional airline, and is set to be valued at around £200m in the long-awaited flotation, which is going ahead despite the turbulent conditions in the eurozone. Good on it.

The Exeter-based carrier said it expected to raise about £60m through an initial public offering of new shares in December, assuming the market plays ball. Once off the ground, half the proceeds could help fund its programme to buy more planes, while the other half could give it the flexibility to pursue growth opportunities - including acquisitions.

It’s good to see a company pursuing such an upward trajectory in a sector that’s more used to bumpier rides. Even BA saw Flybe’s green light as reason for rare cheer: chief exec Willie Walsh said the flag carrier was ‘delighted’ to participate in the IPO. BA owns 15% of Flybe and will subscribe for enough shares in the IPO to maintain its percentage holding in the company.

Walsh has also just gained overwhelming shareholder approval for BA’s £5bn merger with Spain’s Iberia. The resultant International Airlines Group will boast 400 aircraft, serve more than 250 destinations and employ about 57,000 staff, and is set to compete with Air France-KLM and Lufthansa. Which all sounds remarkably positive. It’s not often BA finds itself staring out at such an expanse of clear blue sky.

Ah, here’s a cloud: the Unite union has announced another BA cabin crew strike ballot. There’s always something. Walsh has been told he’s got four issues to address before this issue, which has been rumbling since last Autumn, will finally clear up: the full return of travel perks removed from staff who joined the strikes earlier this year; arbitration by Acas of all disciplinary cases related to the dispute; paying staff who were docked wages during strike despite being off sick; and agreeing new terms for trade union use of BA facilities such as offices.

We can imagine Walsh could do with a holiday. Maybe he should stow away on Flybe and just float for a while…

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