I have never been stranded by an airline that has collapsed but there is always a small risk. Of the 5000 global airlines, a handful went out of business in 2016. These airlines impacted passenger plans, disrupted communities and resulted in job losses. Many were too small to register a blip globally but for the cities and communities they linked, the loss impacts.
For most airlines, their losses were caused by poor strategy. In some cases, there is a soap opera style script of intrigue, incompetence or insufferable management.
Here is the list of carriers that vanished last year with their country, size, a short blurb and a relevant video. Enjoy! (NB: I flew just one of the carriers that vanished in 2016):
Air Bishkek (previously Eastok Avia until 2010, then Kyrgyz Airways until 2011)
- Country: Kyrgyzstan, February 2006- 2016,
- Fleet size 1, Destinations 6
The carrier made it to ten years with three name changes! Banned by the European Union for alleged poor safety standards in Kyrgyzstan and impacted by recession in its two key markets (Russia and Kyrgyzstan), the carrier ran out of cash in February and all of its pilots had resigned by April. Not sure they will return with a new name. I am now intrigued to visit Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. There is a popular train from Moscow or Ural Airlines and Aeroflot fly from the Russian capital.
This music clip by Nurbek & Omar shows interior and exterior of Air Bishkeks’s 320:
- France, 1997 to Feb, 2016
- Fleet: 6, Destinations 50+
French charter airline which almost made it to twenty years.It flew passengers and cargo to holiday destinations in Eastern Europe, Egypt, and Spain but frankly, its service sucked, according to most of its passengers! Packed planes, delayed and cancelled flights seemed to be the norm. Just what you want for your annual vacation. After going into liquidation in January 2015, it limped through the year, looking for buyers who failed to materialise. It has a Greece based subsidiary Hermes Airlines which continues to operate – so be warned! Here is one of their more bizarre passenger stories:
Air Pegasus (not the Turkish airline Pegasus Airlines)
- India, April, 2015 to July, 2016
- Fleet size 3, Destinations 8
The Indian airline market has been doing it tough for some time now. No airline is making money in that country. On top of that, two Bangalore based airlines Kingfisher and Deccan have failed. In the midst of this, Air Pegasus decided to start as a Banaglore based airline serving the 22 airports of southern India. Warning bells anyone? Air Pegasus did not appear to have enough cash and only had three aircraft (ATRs). Not enough of a base to expand. It soon defaulted on the lease payments for its three aircraft after a year of flying. The Indian aviation authority suspended their flying licence.
Here was the media before launch. The reporter should have asked: “do you have enough money to fly for two years?”
- Uruguay, January to October, 2016
- Fleet size 3, Destinations 4
Alas had a fascinating concept: a cooperative airline owned and operated by its workers. Building on PLUNA Líneas Aéreas Uruguayas S.A. the previous flag carrier of Uruguay, which collapsed in 2012, the company ran into cash problems almost immediately. It requested financial aid from the government of Uruguay which was refused. It has said a Chilean airline is interested in resurrecting it. I am not convinced.
- Estonia, 1991 to April, 2016
- Fleet size 11, Destinations 3
Operating domestic services in Estonia and Sweden and flights between the two countries, the airline lost its three Swedish domestic services in 2015. The airline entered bankruptcy but kept flying. People kept buying tickets and there fore a lot of people are owed refunds when its air operators certificate was withdrawn in 2016. A sad end to 15 years of service.
- Netherlands, 1996 to November, 2016
- Fleet size 1, Destinations ???
Denim was an airline with a purpose I don’t understand. It’s logo and slogan seem to promise a funky millenial focussed airline. It, however, seemed to grab at any service it could find. It operated as a charter company with flights to African and Asian destinations for government, military and NGO customers. It also provided disparate services within Europe. It has promised to return. Not holding my breath but if they do, let us work out what their mission actually is.
Donavia (was Aeroflot-Don from 2000 to 2009)
- Country: Russia, 1991 to April 2016
- Fleet size 10, Destinations 20
In summary, a Russian carrier serving the south of the country. Originally part of Aeroflot, they operated as an independent carrier. Purchased by Aeroflot in 2000, it was merged into Aeroflot subsidiary Rossiya Airlines in 2016 as part of a wave of consolidation across Aeroflot.
- Country: New Zealand, 1969 to August, 2o16
- Fleet size: 8, Destinations:
Regional airline, with a long history, it was wholly owned by the country’s flag carrier Air New Zealand. Eage was known as the “greatest little airline in New Zealand”. In 2014, it was announced that Eagle would be gradually disbanded as the company had been losing money since the Global Financial crisis. Aircraft, some staff and some routes have been absorbed into the main company. Other routes have been shuttered including Auckland to Hamilton which I have flown. A sad day for Hamilton’s own airline. My memories are of terror on a Beechcraft 190 as we bounced sideways through a buffeting storm east of Auckland. Those minutes will always stay with me! Friendly pilots though!
- Croatia, 2000 to October, 2016
- Fleet size 4, Destinations 11
Unique as these guys were a seaplane operator, they suspended operations following concerns about safety. They have pledged a return and I actually think they will manage to do that. Not sure how long they will last as they have struggled for investors for most of their existence.
- Slovenia, 1999 to March, 2016
- Fleet size 1, Destinations 3
Not exactly, the most original name for an airline! Express seemed to not know what its ultimate purpose was, switching foci regularly. It operated a flying school, undertook freight services for a while, flew seasonal flights from Germany and scenic flights over Slovenia. Business Plan? Market? Good bye.
- Sierra Leone, 2015 to March, 2016
- Fleet size 1, Destinations 2
A weak business plan, flimsy market, accusations of dodgy political dealings, only one plane and insufficient cash doomed Fly Salone. It barely made it to three months and the founders seemed to have vanished. Sierra Leone, after a civil war and the Ebola crisis deserves more.
- New Zealand, 2015 to July, 2016
- Fleet size 1, Destinations 5
I gave Kiwi Regional Airlines six months. I am not proud to say, I was almost right. I was out by one month. The decision to close was made after seven month, with flights ceasing two months later. Founder Ewan Wilson had previously launched Kiwi Internatioanl that is credited with shaking up the NZ airline industry. Sadly that effort earnt him a conviction. In the Kiwi Regional case, lack of capital, one plane and insufficient markets doomed the airline from day one. good news is that their plane (yes one plane), engineers and staff are being transferred to Air Chathams. The routes are gone. The one thing you can guarantee about the small NZ airline market is that you will lose money. It meant that Hamilton, New Zealand lost both of its airlines and the airport has only a handful of flights a day.
- Sweden, 2003 to 2016
- Fleet size 3, Destinations 5
Based in the Northern Swedish city of Ängelholm, Kullafly served a handful of places. The Kullaflyg brand has been merged into the BRA – Braathens Regional Airlines with several other domestic airline brands. Customers can earn Finnair frequent flyer points.
- UK, 1983 to January, 2016
- Fleet size 3, Destinations 7
Previously Links provided services for other brands such as the very shortlived Varsity Express (one week flying). In 2014 they started their own flights in England and flew public service obligation flights on uneconomic routes on behalf of the Welsh government. In 2014, they had their second accident involving the same plane. On 21 October 2015 the CAA suspended Links Air’s operating certificate for safety reasons and the airline abruptly stopped flying in January.
- Country: Russia, 1932 to April 2016
- Fleet size 19, Destinations 12
Bought by Aeroflot in 2010, this charter airline was merged into Rossiya Airlines along with Donvia.
- Malaysia, 2015 to April 9, 2016
- Fleet size 2, Destinations 6
The idea was simple. Start an airline compliant with Islamic Sharia law compliant airline (no pork products, no alcohol, conservative dress for cabin staff and prayers on flights etc) in a country with a majority Muslim population. The founders clearly believed that the passnegers would flock to them when the airline started flying. They also needed to remember Malaysia is a country with a very competitive airline market, the main flag carrier Malaysia Airlines had been in severe financial difficulty and Air Asia commands a formidable hold.
The airline launched anyway and soon, sadly, had multiple consumer complaints against it plus staff accused the airline of being always late with salaries.
Suspending operations, they hoped to return but the Malaysian Aviation Commission revoked their licence in June 2016, saying the airline “lacks the financial and management capacity to continue operating”.
An idea always needs to be backed up.
- USA, 2008 to September, 2016
- Fleet size 5, Destinations 7
SeaPort’s started as a commuter service between Seattle and Portland (get it). This service lasted from 2008 to 2012 when it began flights all over the country including US government Essential Air Service subsidised routes. An ill properly planned expansion that cost the airline everything.
I love this high budget infomercial:
- Senegal, 2009 to April, 2016
- Fleet size 5, Destinations 15
The two-thirds privately owned/ one third government owned company had losses of $US102m when it was shut down. The founder of this airline Karim Wade was sentenced to time in prison for embezzlement when he was transport minister. This is the third flag carrier that has lost its way in Senegal, yet the government has announced the formation of a new airline. Surely, three times struck is enough of a warning? Money could be better spent on infrastructure to encourage tourists and investors to fly to Senegal thus developing a market.
TAP Portugal fly direct to Dakar from Lisbon, Air France to Paris and Emirates connect Dakar to the UAE.
Here is a glossy ad for the company.
- Argentina, 2005 to Jan, 2016
- Fleet size 4, Destinations 13
Sol, owned by Transatántica Group and Spanish airline Air Nostrum had been in financial trouble for man years. It is alleged that they had expanded fast without an adequate plan. Sol were given a lifeline through a deal with government-owned Aerolíneas Argentinas. The deal was reviewed and cancelled last year. Sol immediately stopped flying.
- Sweden, 2001 to 2016
- Fleet size 1, Destinations 3
Along with the Kullaflyg brand, Sundsvallsflyg was merged into the BRA – Braathens Regional Airlines.
- Taiwan, 1951 to November 2016
- Fleet size 26, Destinations 31
It is very hard to recover from a very public plane crash. Two crashes within six months, is even more difficult especially when pilot error was demonstrated to be the cause of both crashes. The airline’s pilots were grounded until they all demonstrated proficiency with ATR emergency procedures. The effect of the crashes and the suspension was a crisis for the airline group. Its budget subsidary V Air was merged into the main company in
The effect of the crashes and the suspension was a crisis for the airline group. Its budget subsidary V Air was merged into the main company in October, 2016. A month later, TransAsia suspended all operations, refunding all ticketed passengers. A sad end to an airline with a long history.
- Aruba, 2006 to November, 2016
- Fleet size 4, Destinations 12
Billed as the official airline of Aruba, Tiara seemed to search for identity for most of its existence, exploring different routes and air ambulance services. Named after the founder’s daughter its last three years has seen suspensions and cancellations. It blames its demise on the Venezuelan crisis.
VLM (Vlaamse Luchttransport Maatschappij, Flemish Air Transport Company)
- Belgium, 1992 to June, 2016
- Fleet size 11, Destinations 6
After a complicated history, VLM was bought out by its CEO in 2014. It tried to expand in multiple places outside its key market (France, Ireland, Germany). Cash was burned fast through 2015 and the company sought to turn itself around in May, 2016. The loss of a key customer resulted in shutdown. The company is promising a return.
What can we learn from these?
If you want to start an airline, make sure there is a real market. A plane, logo, flight attendants and a website won’t create passengers. The company needs a strategy. Flip flopping undermines the future. Any new airline needs deep pockets. Oh, and have enough planes.
Lets see what 2017 holds for the aviation industry.