Hong Kong (CNN Business)Struggling UK airline Flybe collapsed Thursday, becoming the first carrier to fail as the novel coronavirus outbreak takes its toll on the global aviation industry.
Flybe told customers that it has grounded all flights as it enters administration, adding that its business in the United Kingdom had “ceased trading with immediate effect.”
“If you are due to fly with Flybe, please DO NOT TRAVEL TO THE AIRPORT unless you have arranged an alternative flight with another airline,” the company told customers in a statement Thursday. “Please note that Flybe is unfortunately not able to arrange alternative flights for passengers.”
The Exeter-based budget carrier was founded in 1979 and at one point was Europe’s largest independent regional airline, carrying eight million passengers a year and operating more than 200 routes.
But the airline had been struggling for a while. The UK government announced in January that it was talking to the company about its finances and exploring options, adding that Flybe’s management and shareholders were setting the airline “on a recovery path.”
That was before the coronavirus outbreak put pressure on the entire airline industry. Many airlines have warned that lower demand for travel has caused them to make cuts to their flight schedules, while others have asked their staff to take unpaid leave to manage the loss of business.
The International Air Transport Authority said last month that outbreak will likely cost airlines tens of billions of dollars and reduce global traffic by 4.7%, marking the first overall decline in demand since the global financial crisis.
“Flybe’s financial difficulties were longstanding and well documented and pre-date the outbreak of Covid-19,” a government spokesperson said in a statement, referring to the official name for the disease.
The government says it is working with the industry to minimize disruption to Flybe routes, “including by looking urgently at how routes not already covered by other airlines can be re-established.”
Authorities are also asking other airlines to offer passengers reduced fares, and is requesting that train and bus companies accept Flybe tickets as payment.
“Very sad that @flybe has gone out of business after serving passengers for four decades,” Grant Shapps, the British Secretary of State for Transport, tweeted Thursday. “Government staff will be on hand at UK airports ready to assist.”
The UK Department for Transportation, meanwhile, said it would help Flybe staff members look for new jobs “as soon as possible.”
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