The role of an administrator is to rescue a company, if possible, and if not, to recover as much value as they can for the company’s creditors. But from day one, the EY-Parthenon team had more immediate concerns. By 11 p.m. the night before Flybe entered administration, the EY-Parthenon and Flybe leadership teams agreed to ground their fleet of aircraft so that, in the early hours of the next morning, the administration could be affected.
Meanwhile, thousands of passengers were travelling to airports expecting to board a Flybe flight that day, so the first challenge the EY-Parthenon team faced was a logistical one. After they had quickly formulated an operational plan, they dispatched members of EY-Parthenon staff to 26 airports across the UK and Europe to help brief Flybe’s 2,200 employees, and communicate to over 20,000 passengers that their flights had been cancelled.
A key priority was to negotiate with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about Flybe’s operating licence and air operator certification. Without these, Flybe would lose access to valuable assets and vital permissions to function, including UK and EU airport slots.
Finally, the EY-Parthenon team had to contact all of Flybe’s aircraft lessors, that is the companies from whom they leased their aircraft and engines. Naturally, the lessors wanted to know where their planes were parked, how they were going to be maintained and when they would be paid what they were owed.
To add to the complexity, within two weeks of the administration filing, the UK went into lockdown and the EY-Parthenon and Flybe teams were required to work from home. Without the ease of face-to-face contact, the EY-Parthenon teams were navigating new and unfamiliar practical and operational challenges on a daily (if not hourly) basis. As a solution, they transitioned the EY-Parthenon and Flybe teams to a stable online platform, from which they could interact and continue their work.
This platform enabled vital asset and property inspections via video-conferencing and, ultimately, the online sale process of an international M&A. “Carrying out an online administration was a first,” says Simon Edel, EY-Parthenon Turnaround & Restructuring Strategy Partner. “The key to a successful administration is usually founded on building essential client and stakeholder relationships face-to-face’. This was not a luxury available to us, but we were able to react and adapt quickly.”
Creating the basis for a sale
With the immediate priorities addressed, the EY-Parthenon team could start thinking strategically, as Joanne Robinson, EY-Parthenon Turnaround & Restructuring Strategy Partner explains: “There was a focus on what short-term sources of liquidity we could access and monetise. We needed to have some lifeblood in the administration to run a marketing process and see if there was a better outcome than the liquidation of the group.”
This led to major milestones like the sale of a subsidiary called Flybe Aviation Services, which held the strategically important maintenance contract for RAF Brize Norton, and the sale of the airline’s training academy in Exeter, which will now be a hub for tertiary-level skills training by Exeter College.
Credit card acquirers had also reserved large amounts of cash collateral from Flybe’s former customers, in case they ever needed to fulfil refund claims for cancelled flights. These funds were a key source of liquidity for the administration and, through close collaboration with the credit card acquirers, EY-Parthenon managed to negotiate their release sooner than expected.
The EY-Parthenon team successfully reactivated Flybe’s maintenance licence with the CAA, which allowed it to run a maintenance, repair and overhaul business for the aircraft lessors and others. This generated trading income and helped preserve the value of each aircraft until it was collected.
Having stabilised the business, the EY-Parthenon team was able to run a full global M&A process to sell the airline. “Within 48 hours of starting, we had contacted over 70 airlines across the globe,” says Mike Parr, EY-Parthenon Transaction Strategy & Execution Partner. “That got us sufficient interest to keep the airline alive in a challenging market, where consumers were adapting to staying at home and not flying.”
The M&A process attracted nine credible expressions of interest and the ultimate sale of Flybe to a new company, called Flybe Ltd and, as Edel explains, “the sale provided the possibility for growth, new jobs and the chance for Flybe Ltd to be a valuable economic contributor to regional communities across the UK and EU.” In the context of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and its emphasis on restoring regional connectivity, the prospects are good.