With the 6 February announcement that Polish regional carrier EuroLOT would stop flying from the beginning of April, airline casualties are back in the news. Indeed, the past several years have been an arguably turbulent time for flying, with the financial crisis and high fuel prices wreaking some high-profile damage, including the collapse into bankruptcy protection of Japan Airlines in 2009 and American Airlines in 2011. But while 44 airlines ceased or suspended operations in 2014, there were relatively few high-profile examples over the past 12 months or so – although there have been many interesting cases, as revealed by this trawl through the Flightglobal archive. (All pictures courtesy AirTeamImages)
The turboprop-flying affiliate of Poland’s LOT flag carrier has suffered on several fronts. Changing its fleet from ATRs to Q400s proved challenging, LOT has not been in good health and the competition has been getting hotter. Still, management says it is committed to keeping EuroLOT’s schedule intact until 31 March.
2. Cyprus Airways
To kick off 2015, the Cypriot government decided on “immediate termination” to the flight programme of its beleaguered flag carrier after the European Commission ruled that it must repay huge sums in illegal state aid. Meanwhile, passengers with tickets won’t be out of pocket: “The [state] will assume the entire cost of alternative flights,” says the government. Ouch.
3. Air Mandalay
The Myanmar-based carrier “temporarily” ceased flying December 2014, with an “optimistic” eye on getting back in the air this month. Tax issues, apparently, stood in the way of its bid to import two used Embraer ERJ145s and an ATR 72-500 for domestic services. Meanwhile, an ATR 72-200 and a 42-300 lie in storage awaiting scrappage, and another 72-300 could be put back in service.
4. Merpati Nusantara Airlines
A cash crunch grounded the Indonesian state-owned airline in February 2014. Then, the news got worse: routes were offered to rivals, a government report detailed “mismanagement” and a deal to buy Xian MA60 turboprops was branded corrupt, if such a thing can be imagined. By July last year, Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database was showing 13 MA60s – and 20 other types – in Merpati’s storage. Repeated attempts to restructure and salvage Merpati have failed miserably. In July 2013, Indonesia’s government floated the option of selling the airline to strategic investors, without success. A debt-to-shares conversion plan four months later also appears to have failed. Still, it’s hard to keep a dead bird down – talk now is of resuming operations in March.
5. Tigerair Mandala
More pain in Indonesia’s brutally competitive domestic market. Tigerair, the Singapore Airlines-controlled low-cost carrier, had bought a one-third stake in Mandala back in 2012, at a time when it had been grounded for a year owing to financial difficulties. But the revived Mandala suffered from what in retrospect look like terminal troubles, including a lack of good slots at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport. Tigerair had already cut its losses and run from its Philippine arm, and heavy losses – of S$223 million ($180 million), including charges of S$21.4 million against the Australia and Mandalay operations, for its financial year to end-March – led to a change of management and, in July 2014, the end of Tigerair’s Indonesian adventure.
6. Air One
The Alitalia subsidiary was relaunched as a “Smart Carrier” during the former Italian flag carrier’s reorganisation back in 2008, billed as a low-fare, high-quality option for domestic and regional routes from Milan Malpensa and, later, from new hubs at Pisa and Venice. The end came in August 2014 – although at the time Alitalia said it wasn’t saying the airline was being closed, so watch for signs of life in the summer 2015 schedule. In any case, Alitalia strongly rejected local media reports suggesting that Etihad Airways demanded closure of Air One as a precondition of its recent €1.76 billion ($2.32 billion) investment in the group.
Aeroflot's low-cost carrier didn’t last long: services were launched on 10 June 2014 and stopped on 4 August. At least partly to blame were EU sanctions against Russia over its role in the bloody turmoil in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, where Dobrolet served Simferopol four times daily from Moscow Sheremetyevo. Sanctions hit its ability to lease Boeing 737s, and Aeroflot apparently ditched plans to restart operations as Dobrolet Plus. It’s definitely minus Dobrolet.
8. Gambia Bird
Up-and-coming Africa was not without casualties in 2014. As the year closed, Gambia Bird closed, too – at least until further notice. The airline didn’t give a specific reason for the decision – or indicated when it hopes to resume flights – but the announcement coincided with indications of unrest in Banjul, the country's capital.
9. PAL Airlines The Chilean charter specialist offered ad hoc and contract services to groups, sports teams and tour operators throughout Latin America. Reports in May 2014 pointed to a merger with charter carrier ONE Sinami, but the deal never happened and by the end of May the Chilean Directorate General of Civil Aviation had suspended PAL due to a failure to comply with certification requirements. The suspension was lifted on 12 June, but was back in force on 8 August over unpaid fees and taxes. Flying ended on 21 August, and PAL is now a ground handling and tourist charter broking business.
Many a tourist claims to feel the magic in Hawaii, but warm Alohas and cool Mai Tais weren’t enough for the inter-island carrier, which operated high-frequency services between Hilo, Honolulu, Kahului, Kona and Lihue with Bombardier CRJ regional jets, flown on its behalf by parent Mesa Airlines. Mesa called a stop to go! on 1 April 2014.
11. People Express
Flying from Newport News-Williamsburg International airport to US east coast destinations and New Orleans sounds like a plan, but it does take some aircraft to do it; sadly for People Express, that part of the operation proved troublesome. In September, less than three months after starting operations with three Boeing 737-400s operated by Vision Airlines, one of the aircraft was hit by a ground service truck, while another was suffering maintenance problems. By November, the airport had evicted it over $100,000 of unpaid passenger facility charges. Founder Michael Morisi, who was part of the team behind the 1980s low-cost pioneer of the same name, says a deal with another airline for three more aircraft will have People flying again in March.
12. World Airways
Of airlines that ceased operations in 2014, US freight carrier World Airways has the distinction of being probably the oldest, having originally launched in 1948. The Boeing MD-11 operator had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2013, but gave up the fight and lifted wheels for the last time in March. World’s collapse came a few months after parent Global Aviation filed for bankruptcy protection. As part of that restructuring, the remaining assets of sister company North American Airlines were acquired by Omni Air International.