A round-up of 2018's start-up carriers and those airlines that suspended, ceased operations or entered formal restructuring during the year
This year began with a number of new players optimistic of making their mark in the airline sector. But, against a backdrop of rising fuel costs, the second half of 2018 was to prove challenging. And by the time oil prices eased, the damage for many was done and a number of carriers had been forced to halt flights.
While there was no repeat of the big-name casualties of 2017, and most of the failed operators were small or new players – including several that launched and collapsed or scaled back their scheduled ambitions within the year – there were still several high-profile groundings.
In Europe, there were several insolvencies as higher fuel prices took a toll in the tougher winter months.
The year began with airlines jockeying for the space vacated by Air Berlin and its Austrian unit Niki, in some cases using the assets of those carriers.
At the start of the year, EasyJet started operating at Berlin Tegel, where it was joined in the summer season by Laudamotion – established from the assets of Niki by that carrier's founder, Niki Lauda. Ryanair later acquired a 75% stake in the unit
Despite boosting its presence in leisure markets from Austria and Germany, Laudamotion is forecast by Ryanair to lose money this year and not reach breakeven until its third year of operations.
IAG, which had also been in the running to acquire Niki, in July established a new Austrian-based low-cost carrier under its Level brand. IAG also moved Level into Paris Orly, taking over the air operator's certificate of long-haul premium unit OpenSkies. The last flights under that brand took place in September.
While not a new name or carrier, Meridiana relaunched in February under the old Air Italy name. The revamp follows Qatar Airways' 49% investment in the airline.
Air Nostrum's owners outlined plans to create a new carrier in Ireland called Hibernian Airlines, which will specialise in European wet-lease operations. The Spanish carrier, which in July announced a tie-up with CityJet, has been aiming to have the new airline operational by year-end.
Ukrainian budget carrier SkyUp began operations in May, with services to resorts in Egypt. Having launched with a pair of 737-800s, SkyUp has also reached a deal with Boeing to take up to 10 737 Max jets.
Romanian operator Just Us Air added an A321 shortly after launching in April with an A319.
Air Albania's creation was cleared by the national competition authority at the end of September. The regulator was notified of plans for Air Albania by Albcontrol, a state company that manages national airspace and will own 10% of the carrier. Turkish Airlines is to hold 49% and MDN Investment 41%.
Georgian carrier Myway Airlines and Air Belgium each launched during 2018, though both have scaled back their scheduled operations over the winter. Myway suspended all but one of its scheduled services as the Georgian carrier dealt with a number of number of issues, including renewed tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Air Belgium launched flights in June, initially operating Airbus A340 services from Brussels Charleroi to Hong Kong. It pulled this service at the end October, however, citing a contractual dispute with a commercial partner, and is focusing for now on wet-lease services. It recently reportedly secured fresh financing from Belgium-based investment fund Sogepa.
Another Belgian operator, the relaunched VLM, had been revived by SHS Aviation in 2017. But its re-emergence proved short-lived as it was placed into liquidation in September.
Russian carrier Saratov Airlines was grounded at the end of May, just months before a newly developed airport for its home city was due to open. That came less than four months after a fatal accident involving one of Saratov's Antonov An-148s. One of its shareholders, Russian entrepreneur Arkady Evstafiev, began work on a successor carrier – although the project has yet to formally emerge.
Come the winter, Cobalt, Primera, PrivatAir and Small Planet Airlines were all among carriers forced to halt flights.
Lithuania's civil aviation authority suspended the operating licence of restructuring leisure carrier Small Planet Airlines in late November. The carrier had begun a formal restructuring, which it said had become necessary to protect it from the "negative impact" of the financial fallout from its Polish and German sister companies. Both of these units had earlier filed for restructuring
Cypriot carrier Cobalt Air suspended operations in October, having emerged just two years ago as one of several start-ups in the wake of flag carrier Cyprus Airways' collapse in 2015.
Swiss premium charter specialist PrivatAir filed for insolvency, along with its German subsidiary, in November. PrivatAir stated that a number of events had had a "significant impact" on the companies' future business forecast and viability.
PrivatAir, which was established more than 40 years ago, specialised in all-business transport using aircraft such as Boeing 737s and A319s configured with premium cabin layouts. It also operated long-haul types such as the 767 and was a customer for the 787.
The highest-profile of the European airline failures during 2018 was Primera. The leisure carrier had taken its first steps in the long-haul, low-cost segment – and had just rolled out ambitious plans to spread its presence to points across mainland Europe – when it was forced to halt flights after planned investment failed to materialise. That it should collapse a year to the day after Monarch Airlines merely underscored the challenges that European winters can hold for struggling operators.
JetBlue and Azul founder David Neeleman cemented his plans for a new US start-up by striking a tentative deal at July's Farnborough air show for 60 A220-300s.
With his launching of JetBlue in 2002, Neeleman had been responsible for one of the last major new US entrants, and his plans for a new carrier dominated headlines when they first emerged in June.
While initial reports suggested that the airline would be called Moxy, Neeleman said this was just a working name. The carrier is aiming to launch in 2021.
Elsewhere in the USA, Great Lakes Airlines – a turboprop operator with a network that connected cities in western USA – suspended all scheduled flights on 26 March. The company has long said that a 2013 pilot hiring rule created a shortage of flightcrew that particularly impacted small regional airlines.
A new regional operator launched in November when California Pacific Airlines began services from the McClellan-Palomar airport near Carlsbad, California, operating to San Jose and Reno using a 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145.
Across the border in Canada, WestJet's ultra-discount unit Swoop began operations in June and quickly expanded into cross-border flights. Swoop added US flights in October and plans to start services to Mexico and the Caribbean in early 2019.
A number of new players have emerged in the Canadian low-cost market. Flair Airlines launched last summer, and Jetlines is aiming to launch next year. In September, Jetlines promoted Javier Suarez to chief executive, its third leadership change in the past two years. "The market will be super-stimulated as soon as low fares get into the market," says Suarez. "Things are going well for us to get the [AOC] by May 2019."
High-profile Vietnam start-up carrier Bamboo Airways spent much of the year eyeing the launch of operations.
The carrier had initially planned to start services in October, before setting its sights on 29 December start amid delays securing the necessary licensing. But whilst in November securing approval for its air transport business licence, the airline has now pushed its launch into January.
Flight Fleets Analyzer shows Bamboo has leases in place for five A320 family jet and has said it aims to have a fleet of 20 in the first quarter of 2019. The ambitious start-up also signed letters of intent to take 20 787-9s and 24 A321neos.
Air Astana aims to launch its new low-cost unit FlyArystan in the first half of 2019, operating from multiple bases in Kazakhstan with a view to reaching a fleet of at least 15 aircraft by 2022.
Planned start-up Starlux Airlines in May received a permit from Taiwanese regulators for its establishment. It was aiming to complete the licensing work by the end of this year with a view to launching in early 2020. The airline is leasing 10 A321neos from the end of 2019. Starlux also committed to taking 17 A350s, including the -1000 variant, giving it a fleet of 27 aircraft in 2024.
Chinese start-up carrier Genghis Khan Airlines placed an order for 25 Comac ARJ21-700 aircraft in August. Genghis Khan was rebranded from Tianjiao Airlines, which had been granted preliminary approval in February by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Cambodian start-up KC International Airlines received its first aircraft at the end of June, an A320. The carrier was established in Phnom Penh with $100 million in launch capital as a joint venture between Cambodian and Chinese investors. It secured its AOC in August.
Maldivian start-up Manta Air is taking a pair of new ATR 72-600s from European regional aircraft lessor Nordic Aviation Capital. Based at Velana International airport in Male, the aircraft will be used to serve Kudahuvadhoo, Dharavandhoo and Thimarafushi, respectively located in the Dhaalu, Baa and Thaa atolls. Another carrier in the region, Mega Maldives Airlines, had suspended operations in summer 2017.
Indian carrier Star Air had been aiming to start operations in September but is still to launch. The airline has been due to operate a pair of ERJ-145s on domestic routes operating under India's regional connectivity scheme from its base at Bengaluru's Kempegowda International airport.
South Korean start-up Air Pohang began services on 7 February using two Bombardier CRJ200s, but it suspended operations at the start of December, with a view to restarting services in early 2019 with A319s.
Similarly, the resumption of services by Air Mandalay proved short-lived. The airline resumed services early in 2018 after several months on the ground. But the operator was forced to suspend operations again in early September amid reports of a further restructuring.
Regional carrier JetGo Australia suspended its scheduled services after entering voluntary administration on 1 June.
Elsewhere, Indonesia AirAsia X will cease scheduled operations in January 2019 and operate as a non-scheduled commercial airline thereafter. The carrier's only scheduled operation – a seven-times-weekly service between Denpasar and Tokyo Narita using an A330 – will be suspended in January,
Avianca Brazil became the biggest carrier of the year to run into formal troubles, when it filed for the Brazilian equivalent of bankruptcy in December. The carrier, which is owned by Synergy Group but is a separate company in all but name from Colombia's Avianca, sought court protection following an unsuccessful effort to renegotiate aircraft leases with lessors.
Aircastle was among lessors that moved to repossess at least 13 aircraft on 10 December – representing around one-quarter of its fleet. The carrier is continuing to operate flights.
Conditions have become more challenging in the region, notably amid weak local currencies against the strong US dollar.
Argentina, which has seen a string of start-ups of late amid the liberalisation of the country's aviation market, is another market that has been affected.
Regional airline LASA, which only began operations at the start of November, within a month "suspended temporarily" all flights as it tries to find investment. The Neuquen-based ERJ-145 operator cited currency issues, rising fuel costs, the recent abolition of the minimum air fares and low load factors for forcing the move.
Ironically, minimum air fares ruled were removed in part to help fuel low-fare travel in the country. The likes of Flybondi, which launched flights in January, Norwegian's new Argentinian unit that followed in October, had been pressing for the rule change.
Flybondi, which operates 737s out of Buenos Aires' new El Palomar low-cost airport, in December launched its first international services flying to Asuncion in Paraguay and Punta del Este in Uruguay.
Argentinian regional carrier Flyest also began scheduled flights in October, while Jetsmart is planning to start domestic Argentinian flights in 2019 after reportedly acquiring Cordoba-based start-up airline Alas del Sur Lineas Aereas during the summer.
Grounded Venezuelan carrier Aserca Airlines at the end of May acknowledged that it was unable to resume operations and requested that Venezuela's civil aviation authority INAC cancel its AOC. Aserca is the third and last of the airlines owned by Venezuelan businessman Simeon Garcia that have gone out of business in months. His Dominican Republic-based PAWA and Caracas-based Santa Barbara Airlines had gone into liquidation earlier this year.
But another Venezuelan carrier Aeropostal resumed commercial flights with flights to Havana in August, after it was grounded for almost a year. Aeropostal resumed service with a single Boeing MD-82 from its fleet of eight, which had been grounded as a result of the economic crisis in the country.
Nigerian government efforts to establish a new flag carrier for the African state airline foundered just weeks after a high-profile launch.
Transport minister Hadi Sirika had unveiled details of the airline, Nigeria Air, during an event at the Farnborough air show in July. But in September, Sirika disclosed, via his social media feed, that the Nigerian cabinet, the federal executive council, has "taken the tough decision to suspend the national carrier project".
He did not specify reasons for the suspension and later hinted that the project was still in play, and was quoted as saying that it would be activated as soon as possible. But as the year closed, there was no firm date for its launch.
But another Nigerian start-up burst onto the scene at the end of the year, when Green Africa struck a tentative deal for up to 100 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets. Based in Lagos, Green Africa recently received its air transport license and is in the process of obtaining an air operator's certificate. It plans to operate within Nigeria, and has intentions to build a pan-Africa network.
SA Express has slowly been resuming services since South African regulators in July reinstated its AOC. The carrier was temporarily grounded in May when its operating licences and the certificates of airworthiness for nine of its 21 aircraft were suspended following a safety audit.
Former chief Siza Mzimela has returned to manage the airline on an acting basis. While services have resumed, SA Express faces financial concerns and has required a further bail-out from the South African government
Air Senegal began its first flights in May, launching with a domestic service between Dakar and Ziguinchor. The carrier, which added international flights in October, operates ATR 72-600s and A319s, and has a pair of A330neos on order.
Chad's new Ethiopian Airlines-backed flag carrier began domestic operations in October. Ethiopian has a 49% stake in the joint venture, named Tchadia Airlines. The balance is held by Chad's government.
It is one of several African joint-venture carriers in which Ethiopian has invested. Zambia Airways, in which Ethiopian holds a 45% share, is planning to begin flights early next year, while the carrier has sealed an agreement with the Ghanaian government to develop a new national carrier for the country.
Kuwaiti carrier Wataniya Airways suspended operations in September, days after receiving a grounding threat from the country’s regulator. The airline had been struggling to deal with cancellations and flight disruption.
Wataniya emerged with the same name, but a different operating model, to a predecessor airline which collapsed in 2011. The carrier had appeared to be embarking on a fleet-renewal programme, after Golden Falcon Aviation unveiled an agreement to take 25 Airbus A320neos for Wataniya during the Farnborough air show.
Royal Jordanian ended services of its charter operation Royal Wings at the end of November, citing losses incurred by the unit, although talks are being held with potential buyers of the airline.
Plans are under way for a new Aqaba-based airline to launch next spring, as part of continued efforts to develop tourism in the Jordanian city.
Article updated on 21 December 2018 and 2 January 2019 to reflect Green Africa tentative Boeing 737 order and Bamboo Airways delayed launch.
Source: Cirium Dashboard