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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

UK airline Flybe in talks with buyers, spurring stock surge

Carrier, which has 78 aircraft in its fleet, said it was in talks with a number of potential buyers, without giving details

Regional airline says it is in discussions over a potential sale. Reuters
Regional airline says it is in discussions over a potential sale. Reuters

British regional airline Flybe said on Wednesday it was in talks with potential buyers, as it grapples with higher fuel costs, lower demand and a weak British pound, sending its shares up as much as 44 per cent in early trading.

Airlines have been looking to consolidate in many markets as a result of rising running costs, largely higher fuel prices, and increased competition from budget carriers. Icelandair agreed to buy rival WOW air last week.

Flybe's stock plunged after a profit warning last month, underscoring challenges that are also affecting bigger European rivals including Ryanair, Wizz Air and easyJet.

Flybe, which has 78 aircraft in its fleet, said it was in talks with a number of potential buyers, without giving details.

Shares in the company, which also posted a jump in first-half profit as cost cutting measures started to pay off, were up 30 per cent at 15.175 pence at 08.15 GMT, valuing the business at around £33 million (Dh156.9m).

While there has been some consolidation in Europe over the last year, with Lufthansa and easyJet acquiring parts of failed Air Berlin in 2017, the CEOs of the continent's biggest airlines say more is to come, particularly if oil prices remain high.

But Flybe said it was also looking at other options, such as further reductions in capacity and costs.

The company said it planned to cut capacity by around 3 per cent in the second half of its financial year.

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It has already reduced its fleet size, focused on profitable routes and cut costs as it pushes ahead with investments in a new digital platform. It has been hedging fuel costs and foreign exchange risks too.

Flybe said it was also exploring a possible move to a standard London Stock Exchange listing, from its current premium listing, saying that would give more flexibility on divestments.

British infrastructure and support services company Stobart Group scrapped plans to buy Flybe in March after being rebuffed.

Flybe reported a 49 per cent rise in adjusted profit before tax for the six months ended September 30.

Forward sales rose in the third quarter, with 63 per cent of seats sold, versus 59 per cent a year earlier. Seat capacity fell 6 per cent, while passenger revenue per seat rose 2 per cent.

Flybe said it was developing Brexit contingency plans, including potentially reassigning contracts that could be directly affected.