Flybe appoints City veteran Simon Laffin as chairman

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SymbolPriceChange
MAB.L448.40-7.90
SWY34.02-0.07

UK airline Flybe appoints new chairman, ending Jim French's 23-year career with the carrier.

A City stalwart who was drafted in to help rescue Northern Rock has now been parachuted in to the cockpit at Flybe to turn around the embattled regional airline.

Simon Laffin, who was finance director and property director of Safeway (NYSE: SWY - news) before its £3bn takeover by Morrisons in 2004, has replaced Jim French as chairman of Flybe with immediate effect.

Mr Laffin has had a wide-ranging career in the City. He was part of the rescue team charged with saving Northern Rock while he was also briefly chairman of Mitchells & Butlers (LSE: MAB.L - news) before being ousted in 2010 by the pub group’s major shareholders, led by billionaire currency trader Joe Lewis.

His appointment brings to an end Mr French’s 23-year association with Flybe, which was tainted in the later years by a tumultuous stock market flotation and a string of profit warnings.

Mr French, who had served as executive chairman of Flybe since 2005, in the summer ceded the chief executive’s role to Saad Hammad, a former chief commercial officer of easyJet.

Mr Hammad will next week reveal the findings of his strategic review of Flybe, which slumped to a £40.7m loss last year and has so far shed almost 500 staff in a bid to cut costs.

“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,” said Mr Hammad.

The new chief executive has already started to stamp his mark at Flybe, announcing in September a re-organisation which heralded the departure of three of the airline’s top directors, Andrew Strong, Mike Rutter and Mark Chown. Flybe’s chief financial officer since 2007, Andrew Knuckey, will also step down as soon as a replacement is found.

Flybe was floated at 295p a share in December 2010 but has since struggled to cope with a slump in the regional aviation market in the UK. Its shares closed on Tuesday at 67p.