Belle Air and their subsidiary Belle Air Europe have both ceased operations at the end of November.
Belle Air (code LZ) based in Tirana, Albania shut down on November 25, stranding hundreds of passengers. Prior to closure, they flew passengers to destinations across Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Switzerland and the UK. In a message on its website, Belle Air stated: “Following eight years of successful operations from Albania towards European destinations, Belle Air is obliged to temporarily suspend its operations due to the general economic situation, the decline of the purchasing power, recession in the markets it operates as well as from the freezing for over 18 days of its bank accounts.
Albania’s Economy Minister, Arben Ahmetaj, has been reported as saying the airline owes the government 4.8 million Euros in tax payments. Their fleet has been returned to the lessors.
Belle Air Europe (code: L9) announced on November 26 that operations would continue as normal but then suspended all flights the next day. The airline which had only been flying since 2010, was based at Pristina in the Republic of Kosovo. From there they flew to Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. They also operated flights from Skopje in Macedonia. Belle Air Europe had only two aircraft: an Airbus A319 and an A320. Their A319 operated a passenger flight from Pristina to Basel, Switzerland on November 26 after which the plane was flown to the Czech Republic and returned to its leasing company.
The Hungarian budget carrier Wizz air offerred special “rescue” fares valid to 15 December.
Belle Air have promised they will be back: Belle Air will start a process of restructuring aiming to return with lower prices and quality service in the Albanian Market. Following this restructuring process, Belle Air invites Albanian and Foreign investors to be part of the revival of this success story of an Albanian born business.”
In the meantime it leaves a hole in three countries in Eastern Europe: Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. For example, Belle Air Europe was the biggest carrier at Pristina International Airport. Slovenia’s Adria which uses Pristina as a hub may boost its services. If Adria grabs this opportunity, it may be a chance to help turn around this struggling carrier.
As I have said before, national pride aside, every country in Eastern Europe cannot afford their own airline. The US market has contracted to three airlines. How long before Europe follows suit?