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Flybe: largest regional airline in Europe leads the airline capacity growth charge in winter 2016/17

The surprise departure of Flybe CEO Saad Hammad on 26-Oct-2016 "by mutual agreement" raises questions about the future strategic direction of Europe's largest regional airline. Mr Hammad joined in Aug-2013 and implemented a restructuring programme, returning Flybe to profit in FY2016 (March year end).

Capacity reduction during the restructuring has been followed by a period of accelerating growth. So much so that Flybe is Europe's fastest-growing airline group among the top 20 in Europe by seat numbers this winter, with an increase of 19%. CAPA has identified 45 new Flybe routes in calendar 2016 (compared with a late summer total of 165), on the majority of which Flybe has no airline competitor.

Despite low competition on its network, Flybe's FY2016 operating margin was one of the lowest among listed European airlines and coincided with weakening unit revenue. Pricing has softened further, not least due to uncertainties such as Brexit, just as Flybe's capacity growth has accelerated.

Until a replacement for Mr Hammad is found, Flybe's Chairman Simon Laffin will assume executive responsibility. Significant strategic change may be unlikely in the interim, but a key question for the next CEO will be whether to continue with such aggressive capacity growth in the face of falling fares.

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