Shares hit freefall as airlines swoop to buy out Flybe

Flybe Bombardier Dash 8 Q400

Virgin Atlantic and a consortium of other buyers are looking to takeover struggling United Kingdom regional airline Flybe in a $2.8 million (£2.2 million) deal.

Virgin Atlantic, the airline founded in 1984 by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, is now majority-owned by U.S. airline Delta, with a 49pc stake. Stobart Aviation owns 30pc and Virgin Travel Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Virgin Atlantic, owns the remainder.

"We have been affected by all of these factors which have put pressure on short-term financial performance", she said.

Virgin Atlantic will count itself the victor after reports of a bidding war between Sir Richard Branson and International Airlines Group boss Willie Walsh sent Flybe shares rocketing back up in late November.

Stobart Group Ltd (LON:STOB) shares soared on Friday after it teamed up with Virgin Atlantic and a New York-based hedge fund to take out cash-strapped Flybe Group PLC (LON:FLYB) in a cut-price £2.2mln deal. Connect Airways will also purchase Stobart Air, which is Stobart Group's regional airline and aircraft leasing business.

Flybe to fly on but under the name Connect Airways.

The companies will also provide up to £80 million of further funding to the combined group to invest in its business and support growth.

'There will be no change to the brands under which Stobart Air flies today which will continue to be maintained and operated separately, ' it added.

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By forming a larger, stronger group it will be "better placed" to withstand the pressures of higher fuel costs and Brexit uncertainty and "secure the future for our people" added the chief executive.

Virgin and its new partners form a new joint venture, Connect Airways.

"We are pleased to have this opportunity to partner with Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital to bring Virgin Atlantic service excellence to Flybe's customers".

"Such a combination would be a compelling proposition with a comprehensive regional network in the United Kingdom and Ireland, coupled with an enhanced European footprint, providing greater choice and connectivity for customers to travel to destinations all over the world", it added.

"The combined entity will be a powerful combination with sufficient scale to compete effectively in the United Kingdom and European airline markets".

Warwick Brady, boss of Southend Airport owner Stobart Group, advised by Barclays, said the takeover is an "excellent opportunity" to grow passenger numbers at the airport, and to "play an active role in United Kingdom regional flying".

In the United Kingdom, they serve Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Cardiff, Doncaster-Sheffield, Durham Tees Valley, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Guernsey, Humberside, Inverness, Isle of Man, Jersey, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, London City/Gatwick/Heathrow/Southend/Stansted, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, Norwich, Southampton, Stornoway and Wick.

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