The consortium which is buying the airline also includes the venture capital firm Cyrus, which it's claimed will inject £100 million into the business.
The Virgin Atlantic-led consortium will lend £20 million in emergency funds to keep the beleaguered Flybe afloat, with a further £80 million invested in the airline post-completion of the deal to drive growth. Stobart Air is meant to continue under a separate Irish AOC.
Flybe, whose chief executive is former CityJet boss Christine Ourmieres-Widener, went on the hunt for a buyer in November as it faced a bleak winter with falling cash reserves.
Lucien Farrell, partner of Cyrus, which helped Virgin sell its Virgin America arm to Alaska Airlines past year, added: "We believe Flybe's United Kingdom regional focus and high quality management, together with Virgin Atlantic's dedication to the best customer experience and Stobart Group's expertise in regional flying, will produce a world-class airline". "At the same time, Flybe suffered from a number of legacy issues that are being addressed but are still adversely affecting cashflows". "We aim to provide an even better service to our customers and secure the future for our people".
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Connect Airways believes that combining Flybe and Stobart Air in a "more integrated commercial cooperation" with Virgin Atlantic's long-haul operations will create a "fully-fledged United Kingdom network carrier under the Virgin Atlantic brand, alongside Stobart Air's wet lease operations and aircraft leasing business, which will continue to operate as it does today". It is the largest scheduled airline measured by air traffic movements at Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Cardiff, Doncaster, Sheffield, Exeter, Glasgow, Isle of Man, Jersey, Manchester, Newquay and Southampton airports.
Flybe, which has 78 planes, will come under the Virgin Atlantic brand "in due course".
The Combined Group will operate independently to Virgin Atlantic under one management team, owned 40% by Cyrus Capital Partners, 30% by Stobart Aviation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Stobart Group, and 30% by Virgin Atlantic Limited, the holding company of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Holidays.
Virgin has been struggling to feed its long-haul flights with passengers from other United Kingdom cities and Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss said the deal will help.
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Flybe will continue to serve customers and communities across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
For Stobart Group, which had already run the slide rule over Flybe a year ago, the deal gives it scale to compete in the European short-haul market and to grow passenger numbers at Southend airport.
Virgin and its new partners form a new joint venture, Connect Airways.
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