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Easyjet has revealed that fewer than half of UK flights for this summer have been booked as customers leave it late to arrange trips.

The budget airline said capacity for the usually lucrative July-September period was just 44% sold, down from 69% in the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.

It said customers “are currently booking much closer to departure due to market conditions” – echoing recent comments from rival travel operator Jet 2.

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said people should expect travel disruption and should book holidays accordingly.

Booking rates on flights taking off or landing in the UK had been lower than for intra-EU travel “due to the uncertainty around government restrictions”.

“Easyjet expect this to improve quickly as restrictions are lifted over the coming period,” the carrier said.

The airline also published a survey suggesting public backing for COVID tests to be scrapped for fully vaccinated travellers returning from countries that are not on the “red” destinations list.

Its chief executive Johan Lundgren has consistently argued that the tests – about £400 for a family of four – risk pricing ordinary consumers out of holidays.

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The airline’s third quarter results, covering the three months to the end of June, showed it made a headline pre-tax loss of £318m, an improvement on the £347m loss reported during a period last year that covered the first lockdown.

Easyjet said it flew 17% of its pre-pandemic capacity during the quarter, slightly ahead of expectations at a time when for the most part its fleet was grounded, but expects to ramp this up to 60% during the current fourth quarter.

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France’s restrictions bring travel turmoil

That helped push shares about 2% higher in early trading.

Easyjet also paid out a further £122m of customer refunds, taking the total bill to £1.2bn so far during the pandemic.

The airline said it has been switching capacity away “from UK-touching to EU-touching” flights this summer – with two-thirds of bookings presently coming from Europe, compared to a typical 50/50 split.

It said: “As a result of the current divergence in government travel policies, easyJet’s bookings for this summer are heavily skewed towards continental Europe.”

But the airline also said it had been responding to changing UK rules, with 60,000 extra seats and two new routes to Malta added when it was put on the “green” travel list and capacity for “amber” list countries such as Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus topped up when quarantine rules were eased earlier this month.

“We remain confident about demand for travel this summer and into autumn, due to the bookings surges experienced following selective easing of travel restrictions,” easyJet said.

Travel rules were further thrown into confusion last week when the government said fully vaccinated travellers returning from France would – unlike those coming from other “amber” list countries – still have to quarantine on their return.

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London-listed SPAC targets merger with chronic disease drug developer Istesso

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London-listed SPAC targets merger with chronic disease drug developer Istesso

The first “blank cheque” company to list in London after an overhaul aimed at helping the City compete with rival financial centres is in talks to merge with a privately owned drugs group developing treatments for chronic diseases.

Sky News has learnt that Hambro Perks Acquisition Company (HPAC) is in advanced negotiations about a deal, which could be announced within weeks.

If successfully completed, the merger would represent a milestone for the London stock market even as scores of so-called special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) – predominantly in New York – are being wound up following a slump in valuations.

City sources said on Saturday that HPAC had been in discussions with Istesso for some time.

A merger would value the company at several hundred million pounds, although a more precise valuation could not be ascertained this weekend.

Founded in 2017, Istesso focuses on an area of medicine called immunometabolism, and is developing treatments for severe diseases such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Several of its products have reached Phase-II trials, with others at an earlier stage of development.

One biotech analyst who is familiar with Istesso’s work said the business appeared to have significant growth potential.

Istesso is majority-owned by IP Group, the London-listed company which focuses on commercialising intellectual property across sectors such as energy and healthcare.

Last week, IP Group named Anita Kidgell, head of corporate strategy at the FTSE-100 pharmaceuticals giant GSK, as a non-executive director.

The SPAC was the brainchild of Hambro Perks, a London-based venture capital firm which holds stakes in dozens of early-stage companies such as What3Words, the geolocation start-up, and Tide, the business bank.

It is chaired by Sir Anthony Salz, the former Rothschild banker and City lawyer.

Dominic Perks, Hambro Perks’ co-founder, said at the time of HPAC’S listing in November 2021 that he had decided to list the vehicle in London in the wake of rule changes which meant the City could compete more robustly with New York and Amsterdam.

The SPAC, which raised nearly £150m from its initial public offering, had 15 months to secure a deal, meaning it faces a deadline next month to announce the merger or seek an extension from shareholders.

Hambro Perks has substantial experience of healthcare investment, having backed start-ups including Aide, a digital health service which helps patients manage chronic conditions, Genomics, a genetics-based drugs group, and Akamis Bio, a clinical-stage oncology company.

The SPAC boom in the US triggered the arrival on the public markets of dozens of companies, including Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit,

A string of UK companies, including Babylon Health and Cazoo, the online car retailer, have merged with SPACs and subsequently seen their valuations plummet.

Rothschild is advising the Hambro Perks SPAC on the deal, while Istesso is being advised by Panmure Gordon.

HPAC and IP Group have both been contacted for comment.

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Flybe customers urged not to go to airport as carrier collapses and cancels all flights

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Flybe customers urged not to go to airport as carrier collapses and cancels all flights

Passengers due to travel with Flybe have been told not to go to the airport after the regional carrier ceased trading and all flights were cancelled.

The airline has gone into administration less than a year after returning to the skies following a previous collapse.

Ticket-holders were advised to check the Civil Aviation Authority website for further information or if they had booked through an intermediary to contact the relevant agent.

Flybe operated scheduled services from Belfast, Birmingham and Heathrow to airports across the UK and to Amsterdam and Geneva.

In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the airline said: “We are sad to announce that Flybe has been placed into administration.

“David Pike and Mike Pink of Interpath have been appointed administrators.

“Regretfully, Flybe has now ceased trading.

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“All Flybe flights from and to the UK are cancelled and will not be rescheduled.”

CAA consumer director Paul Smith said: “It is always sad to see an airline enter administration and we know that Flybe’s decision to stop trading will be distressing for all of its employees and customers.

“We urge passengers planning to fly with this airline not to go to the airport as all Flybe flights are cancelled.

“For the latest advice, Flybe customers should visit the Civil Aviation Authority’s website or our Twitter feed for more information.”

A government spokesman said: “This remains a challenging environment for airlines, both old and new, as they recover from the pandemic, and we understand the impact this will have on Flybe’s passengers and staff.

“Our immediate priority is to support people travelling home and employees who have lost their jobs,” a spokesperson said.

“The Civil Aviation Authority is providing advice to passengers to help them make their journeys as smoothly and affordably as possible.

“The majority of destinations served by Flybe are within the UK with alternative transport arrangements available.

“We recognise that this is an uncertain time for affected employees and their families.

“Jobcentre Plus, through its Rapid Response Service, stands ready to support any employee affected.”

Flybe had previously been pushed into administration in March 2020 with the loss of 2,400 jobs as the COVID-19 pandemic battered large parts of the travel market.

Its business and assets were purchased in 2021 by Thyme Opco, which is linked to US hedge fund Cyrus Capital.

Thyme Opco was renamed Flybe Limited.

It had been based at Birmingham Airport.

On the resumption of its flying operations last April, it planned to operate up to 530 flights a week across 23 routes, serving airports such as Belfast City, Birmingham, East Midlands, Glasgow, Heathrow and Leeds Bradford.

Have you been affected by the collapse of Flybe? Have the flight cancellations ruined your plans?

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Government homes in on £5bn cladding settlement with housebuilders

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Government homes in on £5bn cladding settlement with housebuilders

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, is closing in on a multibillion pound deal with Britain’s biggest housebuilders to help resolve the national cladding crisis exposed by the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.

Sky News has learnt that major companies including Barratt Developments and Persimmon are preparing for the imminent signing of a legally binding contract with the government that could ultimately cost the industry £5bn or more.

One executive said they expected the final contract to be signed and unveiled as soon as next week, although they cautioned that the timing remained fluid.

Last year, dozens of developers signed a pledge to fix buildings constructed since the early 1990s, with revisions to the deal with government in recent weeks having focused on the scope of companies’ exposure.

The City watchdog is thought to have been involved in discussions with the industry about whether signing the contract would require the approval of shareholders in listed companies such as Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey.

Sources have estimated the cost of the new Residential Property Developers Tax at up to £3bn and the bill for self-remediation at around £2bn.

A further tax on the industry could raise £3bn, industry executives have concluded, leading some companies and investors to warn that the sector risks seeing a flight of capital.

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Earlier this month, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it was “finalising the legally binding contracts that developers will sign to fix their unsafe buildings, and expect them to do so very soon.

“We will not accept any backsliding on their commitments.

“It is building owners’ legal responsibility to make sure that all buildings are safe.”

Albert House, Woolwich, London, which has cladding that since the Grenfell disaster has been deemed un-safe
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Many buildings across the UK have been deemed to have unsafe cladding since the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017

FTSE-100 housebuilders have already taken significant financial provisions in their accounts to prepare for the signing of the final government contract.

Some have flagged during recent earnings calls with analysts that they expected an imminent settlement.

“In signing the pledge, we’re saying that we essentially had a commitment that we wanted to sign up to the legal agreement,” David Thomas, Barratt’s chief executive, told analysts this month.

” There’s been a process of discussion regarding the legal agreement that has been ongoing since June last year, so we think we’re getting close to the government publishing the legal agreement, and we would expect in due course that we would sign up to that.”

Read more:
Grenfell inquiry finds shoddy workmanship and unsafe cladding

Homebuilders pledge to pay £5bn towards fire safety costs

Hanan says she still thinks of the tower as home
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The cladding on Grenfell Tower was found to have caused the fire to spread so quickly

A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation (HBF) said: “The pledge [signed last year] demonstrated the industry’s commitment to play its part in ensuring leaseholders don’t pay for work needed to make buildings safe.

“We have been working constructively with government to ensure the detailed contract reflects the commitments of the pledge and we await a final version.

“UK housebuilders are taking responsibility and are well progressed with remediating their own buildings and are already paying another £3bn to fund work on buildings built by foreign companies and others.

“Government now needs to deliver on commitments to secure contributions from foreign builders and the material providers at the heart of this issue and avoid targeting UK housebuilders further for buildings built by others”.

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