ANALYSIS: Airline start-ups and failures Q1 2014

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Airline start-ups outweighed collapses during the first quarter of 2014, continuing the trend that developed last year as the economic climate brightened.

Data collected by Flightglobal shows five carriers suspended operations in the three months to 31 March, while a sixth – long-standing US leisure carrier World Airways – ceased operations on 26 March after failing to secure financing needed to emerge from US Chapter 11 creditor protection.

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Two Indonesian carriers, Merpati and Sky Aviation, were among those to suspend services during the first quarter. Indonesia’s transport ministry has put up an offer for carriers to operate 19 routes abandoned by Merpati since 4 February.

Merpati suspended operations in February following years of massive losses. Although there were hopes for it to resume services by the end of March, thus far the carrier has not done so.

Sky Aviation, which operated a fleet including a Fokker 100, five Fokker 50s and three Sukhoi Superjet 100s, suspended operations in mid-March as it conducted an “audit for a new investor”. The airline has extended its suspension until 30 April, though the country’s director for air transport Djoko Murjatmodjo says Sky could lose its route permit if it does not resume services in the coming weeks.

Middle Eastern carrier RAK Airways blamed higher fuel costs and political instability for its decision to suspend operations at the start of the year. The airline, based at Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, had been serving several regional routes with Airbus A320s.

Meanwhile, Dutch charter carrier AIS Airlines will take over Rostock Airways’ sole route, Bremen-Zurich, after the German start-up ceased its operations within a month of launch. Rostock Airways started operating the route in co-operation with Austrian carrier Air Alps on 4 February. However, the Innsbruck-based airline called off the partnership and stopped the flights on 28 February.

Start-ups that launched services during the first quarter include new Hawaiian Airlines regional unit Ohana by Hawaiian. The airline launched operations from Honololu to Molokai and Lanai in March, on flights operated by Empire Airlines using three 48-seat ATR 42-500s.

It was one of more than 10 airline start-ups in the first quarter. These also include Air China’s new joint venture subsidiary in Inner Mongolia.

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Swiss regional carrier Darwin Airline also began its new life as part of the Etihad group during the first quarter, launching rebranded operations under the Etihad Regional banner.

Thai AirAsia X, however, was forced to push back its launch of scheduled flights due to the political unrest in Bangkok. The carrier – which will launch services with a pair of Airbus A330s – was originally scheduled to launch in the first quarter, but sources say this has been pushed back to the first half of 2014.

The group also in January received an air service licence from Indonesia authorities for its new Indonesia AirAsia X unit.