Thought leadership

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary has rekindled the row over help offered to Flybe, by saying Chancellor Sajid Javid made “inaccurate and misleading” statements.

The government has approved help for the struggling regional airline, including giving it extra time to pay outstanding Air Passenger Duty (APD). Writing to the chancellor, Mr O’Leary said letting Flybe delay payment was “in breach of state aid rules”. The Treasury declined to comment

It came as Ryanair warned pilots of further job cuts, blaming a delay in the delivery of 10 Boeing 737 Max planes. The aircraft has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes.

In his letter to Mr Javid, Mr O’Leary said: “Flybe is not like ‘many other businesses in the UK’. Uniquely it was bought by a group of billionaires for just £2m last year, in the full knowledge that Flybe was a loss-making business.

“Your suggestion that Sir Richard Branson (billionaire), Delta Airlines (a multi-billion dollar airline), Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital (a $4bn venture capital fund) need ‘time to pay’ is absurd.

“If these billionaire shareholders are not willing to put their hand in their own deep pockets to bail out the loss-making Flybe, then why is your government and HMRC giving them a bailout?”

Flybe warned it could go under in early January after it got into financial difficulties. But Mr O’Leary rejected Mr Javid’s claim that the airline was a “viable business with genuine short-term difficulties”.

“It is a business that has lurched from failure to failure over the last 20 years,” he said.

He went on to say that if the government seriously wanted to “level up all regions in the UK” then it should reduce APD for all airlines and passengers who use regional airports, not only for one.

Earlier in the month, Mr O’Leary threatened legal action over the government’s help for Flybe in an initial letter to Mr Javid. In it, he said that unless Mr Javid confirmed what support was being given to Flybe within seven days, Ryanair would launch proceedings against the government.

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