By Marc Mallett
With its distinctive logo and purple-coloured propellor-powered planes - Flybe is back in the skies following a two-year absence.
In March 2020 Flybe became one of the first commercial victims of the pandemic.
Anxious passengers, the threat of grounded flights and crippling debt saw the company collapse with the loss of 2,400 jobs. It brought about the end of an unrivalled UK regional network.
Two years on and Flybe is back.
The logo is the same. It’s the same turbo-prop aircraft (albeit with slightly less purple). And many of the routes it will serve are the same.
But this is a new Flybe. The brand was bought from the receiver by an investor and has been given a new lease of life making it one of the UK’s newest airlines.
The new airline will be based at the George Best Belfast City and Birmingham airports and earlier on Wednesday it completed its first commercial flight - flying from Birmingham to Belfast.
It marks the beginning of a new journey that will see an initial 12 routes from Belfast - Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, London Heathrow, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, East Midlands, Manchester, Southampton, Aberdeen, Inverness and Newcastle.
And it's not just passengers who will benefit. The return of Flybe creates approximately 100 direct new jobs plus an additional 40 partner jobs in ground handling and maintenance companies.
Of course, the local economy will benefit from the increased connectivity too.
Flybe’s chief executive Dave Pflieger believes it’s exciting times for the airline. He says the airline is “helping the economy, connecting people to loved ones, to business colleagues and helping people get on holiday".
And he insists the new Flybe is a new airline.
“We started from scratch. We focused on being simple, keeping costs low, but we grabbed the best of old Flybe and put it into new Flybe.
"And that's the great customer service. What we have been renowned for - our great cabin crew who provide fantastic customer service.”
Flybe’s return is a huge boost for the George Best Belfast City airport.
When the old Flybe folded two years ago, many were questioning the airport’s sustainability and future viability.
The airport’s chief executive, Matthew Hall, said: “It's been a really tough two years for everybody, for businesses and individuals alike.
"However, the resilience of the airport overall and the demand that continues has proven to come through.
"And by this summer we'll have 15 flights a day to London, seven flights to Manchester and Birmingham, five flights a day to Leeds, Bradford, Glasgow and Edinburgh.”
And he insists this is a sign of things to come.
“This is the start of our recovery in earnest post-pandemic. And I think you'll be hearing about more route development through the course of the summer and beyond.”Flybe’s decision to relaunch now is a bold one. It struggled to ensure profitability pre-pandemic and competition is fierce as we emerge from the pandemic. Fuel prices have soared too.
The airline touched down in Belfast once again today and was treated to an all bells and whistles arrival complete with a water cannon salute.
Flybe now needs to pull out all the stops to ensure its decision to fly again doesn’t turn out to be a damp squib.