Interview: Christine Ourmieres-Widener, Flybe

Flybe’s CEO talks to BBT editor Paul Revel about a host of aviation  topics from Concorde to NDC

Calling me from Flybe’s headquarters in Exeter, CEO Christine Ourmieres-Widener is upbeat about business when she talks about the airline’s financial performance.

The results for the half-year to September 30, 2017, show group revenue up more than 9 per cent year-on-year – but she’s even got a positive view of the 47 per cent drop in profits, down to £8.4 million, because it’s in large part down to a one-off investment in a new digital platform.

Ourmieres-Widener sees this as key to the airline’s future. “We’re seeing some evolution and flexibility in the distribution model,” she says, pointing out that early last year Flybe was one of the first airlines to implement IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard.

“As a regional airline we want to have more flexibility and to have distribution on a number of channels that are expected by our customers. That is one of the reasons we are heavily investing in our digital platform.”

So, she says, while the airline will be working more this year with TMC partners, “Our business travellers have even higher levels of expectation in operational excellence, they are more aware and they want us to stay connected with them, they want to be part of the story.”

This means being able to deliver real-time updates on anything that could affect their journeys. “That’s why our biggest investment is in technology, and this is something definitely growing year after year.”

On-time performance
Ourmieres-Widener took up the role of CEO at Flybe in January 2017. The airline operates 210 routes and flies from 33 UK airports.

The aforementioned technology investment involves migrating all systems to Amadeus’s Altea platform this year, including departure control. Ourmieres-Widener says on-time performance is a vital area for Flybe’s large regional network.

“On more than 70 per cent of our network, our competitors are rail and road. So our differentiation should be through our reliability and on-time performance – we need to deliver this promise. And when you consider our average flight duration is 59 minutes, you realise how important it is for us to be on time.”

She is also pleased to report that the strategy of reducing fleet size is reflected in the results, with improvements in load factor, passenger yield and revenue per seat, which is up 8.8 per cent year-on-year.

A fragmented market
This may all be good news, but there’s no doubt the European short-haul market is tough, with bankruptcies of Alitalia, Air Berlin and Monarch making headlines in 2017. What’s next for European aviation? “It’s a very challenging market,” Ourmieres-Widener says. “Flybe is the largest regional carrier in the UK and Europe, so we have a scale impact on how we manage the business that some other players don’t have.

“In the market you have 55 per cent of capacity operated by five big groups, and the other 45 per cent operated by more than 100

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