Flybe collapse: Former pilot 'heartbroken' over loss of job

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Media caption,

Judith Watt worked for the company for 14 years

A former Flybe pilot has spoken of her devastation after she lost her job when the airline collapsed.

The carrier, which operated about 80% of flights at Belfast City airport, went into administration on Thursday.

Judith Watt, from Northern Ireland, worked for the company for 14 years, the last nine as an airline captain.

"I always believed that when they told us things were going to be alright that they were going to be alright," she said.

Image source, Getty Images

Ms Watt told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme that the airline was "like a big family".

Speaking about the collapse, she said she was heartbroken, adding: "There's been plenty of tears. It feels like a death in the family".

"We obviously knew that there was trouble, but we always had faith, and hope, that it would all come good in the end."

However, on Wednesday evening she began to realise the gravity of the situation.

"We have group chats within the company and some of them started saying: 'There's problems, we're not getting fuel', and things like that."

Along with the other concerned employees, she began watching the scheduled flights to see if they were taking off.

"There was a moment where we all kind of went: 'This is it. This is all over for us'."

She said after the flights were cancelled, some employees had to make their way home the next morning in their Flybe uniforms.

"I think that is a very hard thing to do - to get up and put their uniform on," she said.

Although upset, her main concern is taking care of her family.

Media caption,

Captain Ben Wing spoke to the BBC after landing at Southampton on Wednesday night

Her daughter, Zoe, found out about the impending collapse on Wednesday night.

"On [Thursday morning] I just explained to her that mummy didn't have a job anymore and the implications of that would be that some of the things that we do in life might have to change for a while until we get sorted again."

Ms Watt knows her search for a new position could prove difficult.

"With coronavirus many airlines aren't recruiting at the moment," she said.

The virus, which has infected at least 116 people in the UK, was blamed by Flybe as a factor contributing to its collapse.

"It's just making sure I can look after my family and provide for them as I need to, regardless of the fact that I'm not going to get the pay cheque that I'm used to at the end of the month."

'No alternative'

In a letter to employees earlier this week, Flybe chief executive Mark Anderson said he was "very sorry" for the firm's collapse.

"Despite every effort, we now have no alternative - having failed to find a feasible solution to allow us to keep trading," he said.

Scottish airline Loganair has announced plans to take on 16 routes operated by Flybe.

Loganair said it would be recruiting additional pilots, cabin crew and engineers to be based at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle airports to support the expansion.

In a statement, it said it would be prioritising applications from former Flybe staff for all of the roles.