From Jet Airways to Thomas Cook, 10 airlines that vanished in 2019

Last year was particularly tough for airlines across the world with a range of bankruptcies, liquidations and failures. From Jet Airways to Wow Air, here are 10 airlines that had to fold up their wings in 2019.

From Jet Airways to Thomas Cook, 10 airlines that vanished in 2019
(Clockwise from top left): Aigle Azur, Jet Airways, Thomas Cook and Germania planes. Image courtesy: Wikipedia

1. California Pacific Airlines

It was an American regional airline founded in 2009 by Ted Vallas, a businessman from San Diego County. Its progress was slowed by the lack of available aircraft to lease or buy. A breakthrough came by the end of 2017 with the purchase of ADI Aerodynamics, a small Essential Air Service (EAS) carrier.

The airline started its first commercial service in November 2018, with nonstop flights between Carlsbad and several destinations in southwestern US. However, several cancellations in November and December 2018, which the company attributed to a pilot shortage, gave it a bad name.

In December 2018, the company announced that it was temporarily suspending its West Coast flight operations. In January 2019, the EAS operations were shut down too.

On 28 February 2019, Vallas stated that he had secured private investment to resume the airline and that operations could restart "within 90-120 days". On 3 January 2020, the airline applied for restarting service, with an all-Embraer fleet. However, the exact date of the start of operations is still to be determined.

2. Germania

The Berlin-based Germania was founded in 1986 as the successor to the Special Air Transport airline. It started as a charter service provider and eventually graduated to become a scheduled commercial carrier. The airline carried over 4 million passengers every year and had 30 planes in its fleet.

However, the company was faced with debilitating financial difficulties, which became clear in January 2019. The situation was so bad that the company was unable to pay its employees. According to a report in Der Spiegel, annual financial statements published in the Federal Gazette point towards a loss of 7.7 euros for Germania in 2016.

The airline filed for insolvency and grounded its planes in February 2019 after failing to secure short-term financing. The company, in its statement, pointed out that "massive increases in fuel prices last summer and the simultaneous weakening of the euro against the US dollar" apart from "considerable delays in phasing aircraft into the fleet and an unusually high number of maintenance events" were responsible for its demise.  

3. Flybmi

It was a British regional carrier based in North West Leicestershire with operating bases in Aberdeen, Brussels, Bristol, East Midlands, Newcastle and Munich. The airline was a former subsidiary of British Midland International and a successor of Business Air that was established in 1987.

Flybmi flew from UK airports to destinations in the rest of Europe. According to The Independent, Flybmi had 17 small jet aircraft in its fleet and carried 5,22,000 passengers on 29,000 flights in 2018.

The airline ceased operations on 16 February 2019 and filed for administration. The airline was suffering massive losses and rescue funding was not forthcoming. Even small regional jets flown by Flybmi were less than half-full. Flybmi, whose core customer base comprised business travellers, could not attract the price-sensitive passengers, who preferred airlines offering cheaper tickets. The rise in fuel and carbon costs and uncertainty surrounding Brexit were also blamed by the company as reasons for its collapse.  

4. Fly Jamaica Airways

The Kingston, Jamaica-headquartered airline commenced operations from 14 February 2013 and connected destinations in the Caribbean and North America. It closed down four-and-a-half months after one of its planes skidded off the runway while making an emergency landing at Guyana's Cheddi Jagan International Airport in November 2018, damaging its right wing and engine in the process. On 31 March 2019, Fly Jamaica Airways suspended operations and made all employee positions redundant citing financial troubles and lack of aircraft.

5. Wow Air

This was an Icelandic ultra-low-cost carrier headquartered in Reykjavik that had commenced operations from 2012. It had disrupted the trans-Atlantic market with flights between Europe and North America for as little as $128 each way, with a stop at Reykjavik, and in some cases, between the US and Europe for $49. Wow Air went out of operation on 28 March 2019.

According to the Business Insider, airline boss Skuli Mogensen pointed out that till 2017, the airline made brisk business as a single-fleet, low-cost carrier, but 2018 was abnormally bad. The airline's losses more than doubled to $33.6 million during the first nine months of 2018 from $13.5 million in the same period a year ago.

Efforts to merge Wow Air with crosstown rival Icelandair failed and the company had to lay off 111 employees. Its fleet size reduced from 20 to 11.  

According to Mogensen, the seeds of Wow Air's downfall laid in the company's decision to add wide-bodied Airbus A330-300 aircraft in its fleet in late 2016 for flights to Asia and the US West Coast. Wow had started with a fleet of Airbus A320-family jets which had 174-220 seats. The A330s had about 120 seats more, and Wow had to find ways to fill the extra seats.

Multiple fleet types complicated operations and hence costs for Wow Air. It, therefore, walked away from the core essence of a low-cost model, which was a big mistake. The airline also started behaving like a legacy carrier by adding a premium cabin, which according to Mogensen, complicated its message, service delivery and marketing. The airline ran out of time and money to mend matters.

6. Jet Airways

Founded in 1993, Jet Airways was one of India's biggest airlines, but ran aground as a result of steep financial burdens and suspended operations on 17 April 2019.

Jet's multi-million dollar purchase of the struggling Air Sahara is seen as one of the biggest reasons for its downfall. The purchase of a mixed fleet of 10 wide-bodied Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft and configuring them "like palaces" severely hurt the airline.

Poor management policies, mounting debts that prevented them from absorbing crude oil fluctuations, failure to find a strategic investor, and competition from low-cost carriers that it had earlier underestimated contributed to the fall of Jet Airways.

The company's lenders referred it to India's National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) for bankruptcy proceedings. Jet Airways has received bids from two consortiums for its revival and the deadline for completing its insolvency process has been extended in view of the Covid-19 crisis. 

7. XL Airways

This was a French budget carrier that operated scheduled flights to long-haul destinations in the US, Africa, Middle East and Caribbean and charter flights to medium-haul destinations in the Mediterranean mainly from the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. 

It was founded in 1995 as the Société de Transport Aérien Régional, which later became Star Airlines and eventually XL Airways. The company ran out of money and required 35 million euros in fresh financing. 

The company had sought help from Air France and even offered to become Air France's low-cost carrier on long-haul routes. However, it could not secure additional funding. It was also struggling to contend with high fuel costs and competition from low-cost rivals. 

The airline suspended flights in September 2019. Ticket sales stopped, the company was placed under legal receivership and finally closed down.  

8. Aigle Azur

French airline Aigle Azur, established in 1946, had a lot of historical significance, being the first post-war wholly private airline company and one of its important contributions was the repatriation of people back to France from Indo-China and Algeria. Headquartered at the Paris Orly airport, Aigle Azur operated flights from France to 21 destinations across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The problems of Aigle Azur and XL Airways were largely similar. The airline tried to stay afloat by launching a new strategy with new routes and aircraft, but its financial woes proved too much to handle.      

The company filed for bankruptcy and was placed in receivership on 2 September 2019. There were takeover bids, including from Air France, but none of them was viable and the airline was ultimately liquidated by the court on 27 September 2019.

9. Adria Airways

The company was founded in 1961 as Adria Aviopromet. It used to be Slovenia's flag carrier and operated scheduled and charter services to European destinations. 

Adria Airways was sold in 2016 to German investment fund 4K Invest. Since then, the company sold all its planes and was flying on leased planes. The company had started losing money right from the early 2000s and 2010s. 

The debt situation at Adria became so bad that two of its leased planes were taken back. In September 2019, the cash-strapped airline announced the suspension of flights except the one connecting Frankfurt following repeated delays and cancellations. 

The airline had initially said that the flight suspension was temporary but it filed for bankruptcy and closed down operations by the end of September 2019.

10. Thomas Cook

This 178-year-old British travel company and airlines declared bankruptcy and suspended operations in September 2019. Thomas Cook Airlines Limited, based in Manchester, provided charter and scheduled services to destinations in the US, mainland Europe, Africa, Caribbean and the Middle East.

The company operated with a fleet of 50 medium and long-range aircraft and owned several smaller airlines, including Germany's Condor. It wound up after failing to secure an additional £200 million (about $249 million) in emergency funding as demanded by its lenders. This was despite the company having secured a £900 million rescue deal with Chinese company Fosun Tourism Group. The company had also sought emergency funding from the British government, but the latter questioned the wisdom of stepping in.

According to Sky News, suggestions to fund Thomas Cook's Nordic operations and its airlines in the UK, Germany and northern Europe while letting the tourism arm sink wasn't deemed feasible. Around 6 lakh tourists, including 1.5 lakh Britons, were left stranded after Thomas Cook declared bankruptcy. This led the British government to launch what was termed as the "largest peacetime repatriation effort" in British history.