Walker family sells shareholding in Flybe

Embattled regional airline Flybe saw the end of an era yesterday when the family trust of late steel magnate Jack Walker sold its entire shareholding.

The stake sale will significantly widen the shareholder base for Flybe. Picture: PA

The Walker family trust, which took on the assets of the northern businessman and former Blackburn Rovers football club owner, was the majority shareholder of Flybe through Rosedale Aviation Holdings before offloading its 48.1 per cent stake for £25.2 million.

It cuts long-held ties with the Walker family, going back to 1983 when Walker’s steel business took over the then-Jersey European Airways, which was later rebranded British European before becoming Flybe in 2002.

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Shares in Flybe dived after the sale, but the group’s new chief executive, Saad Hammad, hailed a “milestone” as the move saw the shares snapped up by new and existing investors.

It is thought that shareholders, including billionaire US investor George Soros, have increased their stakes in the group.

Exeter-based Flybe’s second- largest shareholder after Rose-dale was British Airways owner International Consolidated Airlines Group, while former Scots-born chairman Jim French also owns a stake.

Hammad, a former chief commercial officer at rival EasyJet, said: “This transaction marks another milestone in Flybe’s history.

“I would like to thank Rosedale Aviation for their support over many years. I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome aboard our new shareholders and thank existing investors who have increased their holding as part of this transaction.”

The stake sale will significantly widen the shareholder base for Flybe.

It also sees the Walker family trust make an exit after a 45 per cent surge in Flybe’s share price following Monday’s restructuring announcement, which will lead to a further 500 job losses to cut costs and a review of unprofitable routes and bases.

Flybe traces its roots back to 1979 when Jersey European Airways was founded. It was merged with Walkersteel group’s Blackpool-based charter airline Spacegrand in 1985, two years after being bought by Walker.

It is thought that Walker pumped around £30m into the business before his death in 2000, aged 71.