Jim French relinquishes control of Flybe

Jim French has been at the controls of Flybe since 2001. Picture: PA
Jim French has been at the controls of Flybe since 2001. Picture: PA
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Jim French, the Scots-born businessman credited with turning Flybe into a major player in the European aviation market, is stepping down as chairman after more than 20 years with the carrier.

French took the controls as chief executive in 2001 but relinquished this role to Saad Hammad over the summer. He stayed on as chairman but has now been replaced with immediate effect by former Safeway finance director Simon Laffin.

Hammad said: “Jim French deserves recognition as the architect of Flybe’s development into a leading regional airline and, on behalf of everyone at Flybe, I would like to thank him for his contribution over many years.”

The new chief executive launched a review of the business shortly after taking charge in August, as first-quarter figures revealed another fall in UK passenger revenues.

A former chief commercial officer at rival EasyJet, he faces a battle to restore the Exeter-based carrier to profit growth after annual losses soared to £40.7 million earlier this year. Half-year results are due next week.

A reshuffle at the top of the firm has already seen the departure of chief financial officer Andrew Knuckey, Flybe UK managing director Andrew Strong, outsourcing boss Mike Rutter and corporate strategy director Mark Chown.

French joined the airline in 1990 when it was Jersey European Airways, later becoming British European. He later oversaw a major revamp of the business as it was forced to compete amid the rise of low-cost rivals, and was rebranded Flybe in 2002.

A period of major expansion followed as it launched additional services and swallowed up BA Connect, before floating on the stock market in 2010. French was awarded a CBE in 2009.

French said today: “I joined Flybe in 1990 and have been privileged to lead the company as chief executive since 2001, adding the role of chairman in 2005.”

He described the arrival of Hammad and Laffin as part of an “orderly transition”.