We’re only four months into 2019 but it would seem that this year is going to be as bumpy a ride for airlines as the previous year was.
In addition to the tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash in March followed by the subsequent grounding of all Boeing Max aircraft around the world, no less than five airlines have ceased operations since 2019 began, joining at least 15 others that closed the year before.
Most recently, Wow Air — an airline that’s been integral to the overwhelming tourism success story in Iceland — folded last month with the airline citing financial difficulties. At last count, Wow Air was flying around 3.5 million passengers around the globe annually but the low-cost airline ceased all operations very abruptly, cancelling flights and leaving passengers stranded around the world.
Also grounded this year was Berlin-based airline Germania. Having been in business since 1978, the company filed for bankruptcy in February citing rising fuel costs and currency fluctuations as key contributors to its demise. In the same month, surrounded by Brexit chaos, the UK-based airline Flybmi also collapsed. With a history that can be traced back to a Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve School established in 1938, the airline pointed to uncertainty over current and future trading prospects as one of the main reasons for its failing.
The Venezuelan effect
February was also not a good month for Dutch Caribbean airline Insel Air, which was declared bankrupt primarily due to the ongoing Venezuelan political situation with the company being owed tens of millions of dollars from the South American country. The knock-on effects pushed the company under, joining Aserca Airlines and SBA — two other casualties of the Venezuelan humanitarian, financial and economic crisis.
Another closure came by way of Saratov Airlines. Last February, one of the company's flights crashed just six minutes after taking off from Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport. All 71 people on board – including a five-year-old girl and six crew members – perished. While blame was laid at the foot of the pilot who failed to turn on heat sensor detectors, Russian aviation officials ordered all Saratov Airline flights to be suspended immediately after the incident and the airline never recovered, ceasing operations just three months later.
Start-ups and sabotage
US-based start-up airline California Pacific also joined the list of airlines that have closed this year, but the company retains strong ambitions to return. Launched in late 2018 in North San Diego County, just a month after it began flying the company had to cancel flights due to pilot shortages. Two months later, it had closed entirely. A statement on the company website reads: We have been busy huddling with our managers and consulting with industry experts. We are determined to restructure, calibrate and return to the skies. We look forward to showing you a very different company.”
Known for its brightly-coloured livery, things turned dark for Small Planet Airlines when it was forced to close in November last year. With both its German and Polish outposts having declared insolvency previously, the Lithuanian outpost followed suit stating that it had to fold to be able to freely restructure devoid of creditors’ demands.
In May, Nextjet — one of Sweden’s largest airlines — filled for bankruptcy. The move came just six months after one of the company’s planes was sabotaged while parked in a hangar at Gallivare airport, an incident that saw the aircraft removed from service and the airport and airspace closed for a period of time. Since it folded, the company has subsequently been purchased and rebranded and now operates as Air Scandic.
Ambitious start-up airline OneJet, which was launched on the premise of selling individual seats on small private jets, suspended all services in August and filed for bankruptcy. The closure has been controversial with the company filing $43 million in losses, having zero assets and a list of over 50 creditors who are owed millions more dollars. The lawsuits continue.
Regional airlines that have closed
Regionally, Kuwaiti airline Wataniya stopped flying in September last year. The final closure came after months of the airline steadily reducing flights to Damascus, Amman, Manama, Dubai and Jeddah. Sharjah based airline Air Arabia’s operations in Jordan also came to an end in 2018.
Formerly Petra Airlines, Air Arabia Jordan was operational for less than three years and had moved to charter operations shortly before it folded altogether citing load issues. Saudi Arabia looked set to step in to save another airline in trouble when Pakistani-based Shaheen Air took to twitter last year to announce its acquisition by Saudi investor. The move never materialised and, just two months later, the airline was no more.
Other aviation casualties over the past year have included PrivatAir and SkyWork of Switzerland, Belgian carrier FlyVLM and sister airline VLM Airlines Brussels, German-based Azur Air, UK-based Cello Air and Cypriot airline Cobalt. Primera Air, another European low-budget airline, also closed down last year in an abrupt move which mirrored Wow Air’s recent closure and left passengers stranded on both sides of the Atlantic.