Flybe in 1:400: a retrospective

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Flybe isn’t as old as you might think. In its current form it only began operations in 2002. Its roots are far deeper, starting in 1979 as Jersey European Airways, which itself was made up of Intra Airways and Express Air Services. Sold to conglomerate Walker Steel Group in 1983, they merged it with their wonderfully named Spacegrand Aviation in 1985.

It was renamed British European in 2000 – known simple as BE, and changed its name to Flybe in 2002.

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On 19th January 2019 it was confirmed that the nearly bankrupt airline which was only just keeping above water financially, would be sold to Connect Air – a subsidiary of Stobart Air, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd and an investment company. The entire airline will be re-branded as Virgin Atlantic over the next 12 months.  It was sold for just £2.2 million – in effect making it worthless as a business, and underlining quite how bad things were. Indeed what went largely unreported whas that a week after the announcement, Flybe was so desperate to access the cash to hold it over until the buyout completed, ConnectAir had to transfer £10,000,000 the same day to keep it flying.

Flybe operated a number of ‘white label’ services over the years, including in Finland, and at one point British Airways was a significant shareholder.

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The current fleet consists of:

  • 5 ATR-72-500, 6 ATR-72-600’s and a single ATR-42-500. these are all flown for other airlines from SAS to Stobart Air and Blue Air.
  • 1 BAe Jetsream 4100 operated by Eastern Airways
  • 54 DHC-8-400
  • 7 ERJ-195
  • 11 ERJ-170

In the past its also operated 4 737-300’s, 4 CRJ-100, 24 BAe-146/Avro RJ’s, 38 older Dash-8-Q400’s, 3 Dornier Do-328’s, 28 ERJ-145’s, 7 more ERJ-190, 14 Saab 340’s, and 2 Saab 2000’s.

Quite what will happen to the fleet is yet to be determined, but the Dash-8-Q400’s are all subject to recent lease and swap deals, that have introduced a significant number of nearly new aircraft on lease as Flybe tried to slash its costs on older aircraft.

Because I’ve lived in the Midlands for 19 years now, avoiding Flybe if you want to fly domestic or to places like Toulouse from BHX is next to impossible. Over the years Gemini and AV400 have produced a number of their aircraft, and the airline, despite having no money, has found itself constantly changing its livery in recent years.

The original white blue/black was always the best  because it was simple, and brand-memorable. The purple ‘faster than road and rail’ still hadn’t been fully rolled out when in late 2017 they re-branded again – largely because the current CEO Christine Oumieres-Widener is said to loathe it, considering it brash. That single aircraft G-JECP, a Dash-8-Q400 will almost certainly be a lone example now.

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Flybe’s last livery

Flybe, once it starts re-branding as Virgin Atlantic, will have no less than four active liveries.

There have been some special liveries over years, but the only one Gemini ever produced in 2008 was the ECO livery under GJBEE862 in 2008. That was on G-JEDP, a Q-400, which she seems to have worn until 2013.

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So to the models…

BAe 146-200A  G-JEAK GJBEE674 produced in 2007 by Gemini Jets

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This is a standard BAe-146-200A model released by Gemini, at a time when they still produced relatively few units, this one was just 1,500. It’s quite common that Gemini’s smaller models are often better than their larger ones and this is no exception.

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Interestingly Jet-X also made one on the same registration in her Jersey European Airways livery, which brings us to G-JEAJ in those very colours…

BAe 146-200A  G-JEAJ JX368A produced in 2009 by Jet-X

This was produced as a retro model in 2009 by Jet-X, with numbers understood to be as low as 300 made. These are the pre-merger colours that Jersey European flew up to 2000 before becoming BE then FlyBe.

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It’s quite a different mould to the Gemini one, the wing is superior as the entire thing, including the entire wing root is one piece, whereas on the Gemini the wing is a reverse cradle, with just the flat wing stuck in the root, which is part of the fuselage mould.

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Pn the Gemini the tail section and spine appear to be separate pieces slotted in the top of the fuselage, whereas the Jet-X is a single mould and part of the fuselage, with the stabilizers attached at the top. there’s no doubt in my mind the Jet-X is the better of the two, it looks more refined and less model-like.

BAe 146-300  G-JEBG JX211 produced in 2009 by Jet-X

This is the longer version of the BAe 146, painted in one of the only full-body Flybe liveries that was externally sponsored, this one my Mansion.com, an online casino based in Manchester and one of the first in the age of the Dotcom’s. She was delivered to Flybe in July 2004

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The only site of the Flybe logo is just behind the forward doors. In a bizarre twist I was able to find myself having dinner with the now retired pilot of the aircraft, who said of all the flights he made over the years, despite its unreliability, the BAe146 was his favourite. She was last seen in 2013 parked in Luqa, Malta where she’d sat since 2009 after efly.it went bankrupt, her last owners.

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Saab 340B G-LGNE GJBEE1111 produced in 2010 by Gemini Jets

Gemini’s and I think, the smallest model available in 1:400 scale from anyone. It’s an exquisite little model, in many ways more detailed and better crafted than larger aircraft. Next to an A380 it’s positively minuscule.

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This one was produced in 2010 in Flybe livery, though she was operated by LoganAir, then in September 2017 was fully transferred to Logan Air as it regained its independence. Still operational this 34 seat 30 year old aircraft is now in the airlines tartan livery and named Spirit of Cumbria.

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DeHavilland Canada DHC-8-402Q Dash-8 G-JEDP GJBEE862 2008 Gemini Jets

Possibly the nicest of the three Flybe Dash-8’s made by Gemini. They all have three issues in common, and that’s the tail-heavy mould and the extremely delicate nose gear. Used ones suffer from nose gear depression, where owners push it down and force the nose gear further into the recess than it should be, because they perpetually tip backwards.

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The other issue is that the propellers aren’t properly fixed – they do rotate, but around 50% of them just fall out.

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Other than that this is the Eco livery, “low cost but not at any cost” and its superbly done. these days she’s in the purple livery. You can see a full review of it here: Flybe Dash-8-Q400 G-JEDP ‘ECO’ Gemini Jets GJBEE862 2008

DeHavilland Canada DHC-8-402Q Dash-8 G-JECK GJBEE733 2007 Gemini Jets

Now this one I’ve flown on twice, on what was once my endless back and forth trips to Toulouse in the summer months. This is the Flybe livery I suspect we’ll always remember most. It’s the only 1:400 model of this aircraft though SkyMarks did make one in 1:100 the same year:

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DeHavilland Canada DHC-8-402Q Dash-8 G-JECY GJBEE1443 2015 Gemini Jets

This is the last time Gemini commissioned a Flybe, arriving in May 2015. I was hoping we’d get the 2017 livery on G-JECP. It’s also the best of the Dash-8-Q400’s, having few problems.  There’s a full review of it here: Flybe Bombardier Dash-8 Q-400 G-JECY Gemini Jets GJBEE1443 May 2015

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