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India's Jet the latest to hit trouble in tough year for airlines

When, on 17 April, it was forced to temporarily suspend operations, India's Jet Airways became the biggest carrier to pull the plug on flights this year.

A dozen carriers, many of them European, had ceased operations altogether during 2019's first quarter.

Several others have found, or remain on the hunt, for investment to secure their future..

JET AIRWAYS

Jet Airways operated a fleet of around 120 aircraft and at the Farnborough air show in mid-2018 sealed a follow-on order for another 75 Boeing 737 Max aircraft on top of a backlog of more than 50 of the narrowbodies.

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Jet Airways

But amid challenging conditions in the Indian market last year – as intense competition combined with higher fuel and currency costs – Jet hit financial turbulence. A rescue deal, under which a consortium of lenders agreed a debt-for-equity swap, was struck earlier this year, but a planned cash injection failed to materialise.

In the course of this liquidity crunch, Jet began grounding aircraft as it started defaulting on lease payments. By mid-April its fleet had dwindled to single figures, prompting it to suspend international operations on 12 April. Finally on 17 April, the airline announced a temporarily suspensions of all operations, after its request for emergency funding was turned down.

It is now awaiting the outcome of the sale process launched by the consortium of lenders, led by State Bank of India, which aims to secure new investors by 10 May. Previous minority shareholder Etihad Airways and Jet's founder and long-standing chairman Naresh Goyal – who resigned as chairman in March as part of the restructuring effort – have been mooted as possible bidders.

WOW AIR

Icelandic carrier Wow Air cancelled all flights on 28 March, hours after suspending services while it attempted a last-ditch financial rescue.

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Eric Salard/Creative Commons

Wow had emerged in mid-2012 when it started services to European destinations from Reykjavik, expanding to North America three years later. This expansion enabled low-cost Wow to replicate the model of rival Icelandair by offering transatlantic services via Keflavik airport.

When a plan for Icelandair to acquire its rival broke down last October, investment group Indigo Partners – which owns several low-cost carriers including Wizz Air – emerged as a possible saviour for Wow. But talks ultimately broke down, and when a bid to revive the Icelandair deal came to nothing, Wow was ultimately left with no option but to cease operations.

GERMANIA

Germania terminated flight operations on 4 February and filed for insolvency after failing to resolve liquidity issues. The operator cited the rise in fuel prices over the 2018 summer, coupled with the weakening of the euro against the US dollar, and delays in phasing new aircraft into the fleet.

Subsequent efforts by Germania's insolvency administrator to secure fresh investors for the carrier came to nothing.

Bulgarian Eagle in late March followed its former parent Germania into insolvency. The ACMI operator had been excluded from Germania's insolvency in early February, but made its own filing with Bulgarian authorities. Sofia-based Bulgarian Eagle had been created by Germania in May 2017, as a dedicated lessor for itself and third-party carriers.

Swiss operator Germania Flug was, like Bulgarian Eagle, excluded from Germania's insolvency process. In late February, Germania Flug was sold to Leyla Ibrahimi-Salahi, the owner of Balkan tour operator Air Prishtina.

FLYBMI

In mid-February, UK operator Flybmi ceased operations and filed for administration. Then named BMI Regional, Flybmi had emerged in 2012 as a spin-off airline under new ownership after the mainline carrier BMI was sold to British Airways parent IAG.

The regional airline subsequently became a sister carrier to Scottish operator Loganair, both having been brought under the holding company Airline Investments. Flybmi operated a fleet of 17 Embraer ERJ-135 and ERJ-145 jets, serving 25 European destinations.

It said the decision to file for administration was "unavoidable" after it proved unable to fend off the impact of "several difficulties", including "spikes" in fuel and carbon emission costs. The carrier also cited Brexit as a factor – noting that the uncertainty contributed to an "inability to secure valuable flying contracts" in Europe.

Loganair has since picked up some of the routes vacated by Flybmi's collapse.

FLYBE

Such were the challenges at Flybe that the UK regional carrier was forced to accept a bid from Connect Airways, a consortium including Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and Cyrus Capital. The offer, which Flybe's bid itself termed as disappointing, was challenged by some shareholders but was ultimately completed in March.

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Flybe

In early April, Flybe oultined plans to axe jet services from four airports in the UK but continue operating turboprop flights. Flybe operates a fleet of Embraer E-Jets and Bombardier Q400 turboprops. The jet network restructuring decision affects Cardiff and Doncaster – where bases will be closed – as well as Exeter and Norwich.

ALITALIA

The perennially struggling Italian carrier is fast approaching its second anniversary in extraordinary administration, bringing with it a further deadline for possible fresh investors.

Italian rail operator Ferrovie began talks on the future of Alitalia with EasyJet and Delta Air Lines in February. But in mid-March, EasyJet pulled out of the process. Ferrovie has been been looking for partners to support its investment in the Italian operator and has been working to submit a firm offer by the end of April.

INSELAIR

A Curacao court declared InselAir International bankrupt in late February. The decision of the Common Court of Justice of Willemstad was announced after the airline, which had lost its AOC earlier in February, failed to attract a strategic investor.

On 2 February, what had once been the principal airline of the Dutch Caribbean stopped selling tickets and grounded its last operational aircraft, a Fokker 50 turboprop. The move followed an inspection by the Civil Aviation Authority of Curacao (CCAA) which detected technical shortcomings.

The CCAA subsequently withdrew InselAir's certificate after previously announced strategic partner and investor InterCaribbean failed to finalise a plan to acquire 49% of the company. InselAir's demise follows that of corporate sibling InselAir Aruba, which a court declared bankrupt in June 2017.

AEROLINEA DE ANTIOQUIA

Colombian regional carrier ADA Aerolinea de Antioquia ceased flights after 32 years of operations, grounding its fleet of turboprop aircraft on 29 March.

The airline, which had been operating from Medellin’s Olaya Herrera downtown airport serving a network of 14 regional destinations in the South American country, had already reduced its number of routes and aircraft over recent months.

AVIANCA BRAZIL

Meanwhile, the largest operator to collapse in 2018, Avianca Brazil, continues to take steps in its recovery efforts.

The carrier, which filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of 2018, in March presented a judicial recovery plan to a Sao Paulo bankruptcy court, outlining a path to the disposal of certain assets following a bid by rival Azul. That carrier had on 11 March signed a nonbinding deal to purchase key assets, including 30 A320-family jets, for up to $105 million.

Then, in early April, Avianca Brazil initiated a new restructuring plan, sidestepping the Azul proposal.

Filings seen by FlightGlobal show that the new plan – steered by lead creditor Elliott Management – will break the company into seven asset units for sale, six of which comprise airport slots and one its frequent-flyer programme. Gol and LATAM Brazil Airlines are providing minimum bids of $70 million each for units of Avianca Brazil assets, the two carriers confirmed in statements released on 3 April.

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