The collapse of regional airline Flybe has been “devastating” for staff who “felt they had got a new lease of life,” an MP has said.
Flybe had only restarted operations last April after collapsing in 2020.
On Saturday morning, its administrator confirmed 277 staff were being made redundant, including many at Belfast City Airport.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said it came as a “total surprise and shock”.
The first flight out of Belfast City Airport was due to leave for Newcastle at 07:00 GMT on Saturday.
“When I spoke to the airport they told me they first heard about this at 4:30,” Mr Robinson told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme.
“Belfast City Airport is hugely important and very successful in Belfast terms and in economic terms,” he said.
“Just earlier that week they had engaged in long-term planning with Flybe.
“This had been a fresh start for the company.
“It was a new beast but gave vital opportunities for those who had worked for Flybe before to get job opportunities,” he added.
Offers from other airlines welcomed
However, Mr Robinson reiterated that Flybe had covered a small proportion of the routes at the airport and it was engaging with other airlines to fill those gaps.
He said “overtures from Ryanair and Easyjet” were comforting.
- Ryanair and EasyJet ready to snap up Flybe staff
- Passenger frustration after Flybe cancels all flights
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) said it had received phone calls in the early hours of Saturday morning from worried Flybe staff.
But the union’s leader, Martin Chalk, said there were jobs “out there”.
How do I get my money back?
Richard Williams, from the Northern Ireland Consumer Council, told BBC NI he was concerned that Flybe was still selling tickets the day before the announcement.
“Certainly the administrators would be aware they were going to court the next day,” he said.
“That’s something we want to put to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about how they go about dealing with things – whether they should be suspending the sale.”
Customers who paid by credit card or debit card should be able to get money back, Mr Williams said.
He said that with a credit card – as long as it was over £100 – customers could use section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
If it was less than £100, or passengers used a debit card, they should contact their debit card issuer and ask them to refund the money.
British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair have stepped in and have said they will provide flights at a cheaper cost than usual for those routes for Flybe customers.
The CAA has given out a number and Mr Williams advised customers to call, rather than going through the website, to ensure they receive the reduced price.
Analysis Clodagh Rice: Business Correspondent
My understanding is that the number of people based in Belfast was about 70 staff – but we don’t have an exact figure.
It certainly had not built back to the numbers that would have been affected in March 2020 – and ironically the aviation industry is in a different place compared to then.
Belfast International Airport has a huge number of vacancies and they had a jobs fair on Saturday.
I would like to think that for the staff this time around there will be opportunities.
It really raises questions about regional travel, really you need scale in an airline to be profitable.
When Flybe went bust last time it had been suggested that if they had any profitable routes from Belfast those would have been snapped up by rivals.
One travel expert said it was a bigger surprise that they came back in a second incarnation at all.
‘Hope not lost’
On Saturday, Matthew Hall, chief executive of Belfast City Airport, said their thoughts were with Flybe employees and passengers affected by the “disappointing and unexpected” news.
However, aviation expert David Learmount told the BBC that hope was not lost for Flybe.
“It doesn’t mean it cant be resurrected in the future as it’s been resurrected once before,” he said.
“The industry is very shaky trying to get back up after Covid. It was hit harder than almost any other industry so it could be viable once the business environment picks up again,” he added.
Flybe operated 10 routes from Belfast City including services to Heathrow, Manchester, Glasgow and Amsterdam.
When Flybe collapsed in 2020, it was responsible for about 80% of Belfast City’s flights. More recently Flybe made up about 14% of flights at the airport.
For the latest advice, Flybe customers should visit the CAA website.
The Consumer Council said it was important passengers knew their rights with regards to compensation and assistance, and pointed people to their website.
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