Connect Airways appoints new CEO as it awaits Flybe merger approval

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Connect Airways, the consortium that purchased Flybe in February, has appointed former Virgin Atlantic’s customer chief Mark Anderson as its chief executive.

Connect Airways, which was founded by Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Aviation and Cyrus Capital Partners to purchase Flybe, is currently waiting for approval of its merger from the EU commission, which is expected in July.

Anderson joins Connect Airways from his current role of head of Virgin Atlantic’s customer experience, which he has held since 2017. Previously, he was senior vice president and managing director of Virgin Holidays, and he has over 25 years of senior management experience in retailing and travel.

Stobart chief executive, Warwick Brady, said: “Connect Airways represents a compelling financial and strategic opportunity. Having worked with Mark for some months I am confident he will build a talented team capable of establishing a well-structured, profitable airline. Under Mark’s leadership, we can develop a customer-centric regional connectivity strategy that incorporates London.”

Anderson added: “It’s a real privilege and honour for me to take on the leadership of Connect Airways at this exciting time. We are focused on growing the airline while expanding our franchise business in Dublin, redefining what customers can expect from regional flying in the UK.

“We have all the building blocks in place: Flybe’s heritage and expertise in running Europe’s largest regional airline; the operational excellence and strength of Stobart Air; and in the near future, the magic of the Virgin brand. I can’t wait to get started with the team.”

End of Flybe brand?

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Struggling Flybe completed the sale of its assets and operations to Connect Airways back in February for £2.8m.

The sale marked the beginning of the end for the Flybe brand, which, under the sale agreement, is to be rebranded to Virgin Atlantic in due course, though continuing as an independent operating carrier with a separate Air Operator Certificate.

Up until now, Virgin Atlantic has relied solely on long-haul operations focused at London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, placing it at a real disadvantage when compared to British Airways, which is able to utilise its extensive domestic route network to feed passengers from across the UK onto its long-haul routes from London.

Virgin Atlantic had a brief domestic stint between 2013 and 2015, operating its Little Red subsidiary on flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester from London Heathrow. The airline used four Airbus A320s wet leased from Aer Lingus, though it ceased operations after just two years, with low passenger numbers contributing to its failure.

With its purchase of Flybe, Virgin Atlantic will be able to utilise the regional airline’s existing UK route network to connect passengers from around the country through London and onto its international routes. And with Flybe already having an extensive network across the UK, as well as a significant number of slots at Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic could be setting itself up to challenge BA’s monopoly within the domestic aviation market.