After a challenging first few months of the year in which a number of high-profile carriers were forced to suspend operations amid mounting financial problems, the summer months have largely proved a stable period in which activity has focused on start-up projects.
It does, however, remain to be seen to what extent that proves a pause, rather than a shift in the dynamic – notably in Europe where the busy summer period is always kinder on airline cash-flows – while efforts to revive some of the big-name casualties have struggled for momentum.
India’s Jet Airways is the largest airline failure of the year. The carrier had been forced to ground an increasing portion of its fleet – as its liquidity problems continued to mount – over the start of the year before ultimately ceasing operations in mid-April.
Subsequent efforts to secure fresh investment in the airline have thus far failed to secure concrete commitments.
A deadline for the latest expressions of interest initiative is the end of August, under a process which envisages final bids submitted by mid-October.
A teaser document released on 20 July to prospective applicants shows that the airline still has 12 aircraft in its fleet, comprising six Boeing 777-300ERs, three Airbus A330-300s and three 737s. The widebody jets are under finance leases, while the 737s are owned by the company. Most of its other aircraft have since been repossessed by lessors and banks.
If a new investor and resolution plan can be found, it looks unlikely that a revived Jet would be able to take back some of the route authorities and slots that have been temporarily farmed out to other carriers before the start of the northern winter scheduling season.
Brazil’s aviation regulator meanwhile in May suspended Avianca Brazil’s authority to operate commercial flights, prompting the redistribution of its take-off and landing slots. The move came after ANAC grounded Avianca Brazil in May due to safety concerns.
Ocean Air, the airline company that operates Avianca Brazil, entered bankruptcy administration in December 2018 with debt reportedly close to $500 million.
The airline also formally leaves Star Alliance at the end of August – proving third-time unlucky for the alliance in Brazil. Its first alliance member from the country, founding member Varig, left in 2006 shortly before its collapse, while its replacement TAM was a member for only four years before moving to Oneworld following its merger with LAN.
Elsewhere, Avianca’s Argentinian affiliate has filed for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to avoid liquidation and the cancellation of its air operator’s certificate as a potential consequence of its prolonged grounding.
Avian Lineas Aereas, which operates under the Avianca Argentina brand and is part-owned by Avianca’s Colombian parent Synergy Group, had announced on 9 June that it was suspending operations for 90 days, only 18 months after its launch in late 2017. It grounded its two ATR 72-600 turboprops, which were deployed on its two remaining domestic routes.
Chief executive Carlos Colunga says the airline will use the bankruptcy process to “reformulate its business model” while attempting to keep alive its only major asset, the AOC.
One brand in Europe to disappear over the summer was Air France’s short-lived millennial adventure Joon, which completed its last flight on 26 June.
Unveiled as a “new-generation travel experience” in September 2017 and undertaking its first flight in December of that year, Joon was variously described as “a rooftop bar… an entertainment channel… a personal assistant… a fashion designer”, and “also an airline”.
Plans for the unit had been drawn up in 2016 by Air France-KLM’s then-chief executive Jean-Marc Janaillac amid a costly conflict between the French flag carrier and aircrew that was stymieing expansion ambitions.
The French flag carrier first said it would turn its back on Joon in January 2019, when it acknowledged that the brand was “difficult to understand from the outset for customers, for employees, for markets and for investors”.
European carriers had been among the hardest hit during first quarter of the year, notably including the likes of Wow Air, Flybmi and Germania.
But new – or in some cases familiar – entrants have taken to the skies over the summer.
Uganda Airlines in late August completed a flight from Entebbe to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International. A previous incarnation of the carrier ceased flights in 2001, following 24 years of operations. The new Uganda Airlines operates two Bombardier CRJ900s, Cirium fleets data shows, and has two Airbus A330-800s on order.
The carrier’s booking engine on its website indicates it plans to fly to several other countries in Africa, including Tanzania, South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi.
Earlier in August, Ecuadorian start-up AeroRegional launched its inaugural route, connecting Quito with Cuenca. The airline, which will operate two Boeing 737-500s, obtained its air operator’s certificate in May and is based in Quito.
A month earlier in July, Chinese start-up carrier Genghis Khan Airlines launched operations with the Comac ARJ21 aircraft. Genghis Khan Airlines has received two ARJ21s and plans to operate 25 of the type by 2024.
New Japanese budget carrier Zipair Tokyo meanwhile is on track for a 2020 launch, having in July been granted an air transport business license by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
The budget arm of Japan Airlines will operate two Boeing 787-8 aircraft, each with 290 seats, on two daily services: Tokyo Narita-Bangkok Suvarnabhumi starting 14 May 2020, and Tokyo Narita-Seoul Incheon from 1 July 2020.
Dominican start-up Flycana plans to finalise its capitalisation and recertification processes by year-end, as it also targets an operational start next year. The carrier has aspirations to reach a 32-strong jet fleet by 2025.
Chief executive Frederik Jacobsen says the airline has selected a US-based investment bank to place Flycana shares worth $80 million with both international and Dominican private and institutional investors.
“We will announce a lead investor soon,” Jacobsen says. “Our capitalisation will be sufficient to stem the financial burden of quickly growing to a fleet size with a critical mass for a highly profitable ultra-low-cost business model.”
Another project in Latin America in July saw newly constituted company Aerovias Internacionales del Uruguay file a request with national civil aviation authority DINACIA to get certificated as a commercial airline.
The company plans to operate commercially under the Avinter brand. DINACIA confirms only that the agency has “received the filing”.
Start-up Great Dane Airlines has outlined plans for rapid growth, after launching scheduled flights in the summer initially with one Embraer 195. Great Dane has already begun charter flights before inaugurating scheduled services from Aalborg to Dublin, Edinburgh and Nice in June. The nascent carrier intends to take one to two additional E195s each year.
Nigerian start-up Ibom Air also began operating flights in June, across a number of domestic routes. The carrier says its inaugural service took off from Uyo’s Victor Attah International airport, bound for Lagos. Ibom’s website shows that it offers multiple flights per day from its Uyo base to Lagos and Abuja. The carrier is operating a pair of Bombardier CRJ900s, of which it took delivery in February.
In September, start-up carrier Air Antwerp will operate its first flight to London City airport, following the granting of its air operator’s certificate by Belgium’s civil aviation authority.
The Belgian airline, a joint venture between KLM and CityJet, will use a 50-seat Fokker 50 turboprop to operate three return weekday flights plus one Sunday evening service. KLM will be a codeshare partner on the route.
Air Antwerp was created to fill the space left by the collapse of VLM, which collapsed last autumn. The new carrier is 75% owned by Irish operator CityJet and 25% owned by KLM.
Another new European operator flew its first commercial flight in May: FlyBosnia launched initially from Sarajevo to Kuwait.
Air Astana’s new budget arm operation, FlyArystan, also began operations in May. It has been operating six routes from Almaty using a pair of A320 narrowbodies, and has now identified Karaganda as a second base. It will begin operations from Kazakhstan’s fourth-largest city in the second quarter of 2020.