It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means. As we do every year, it’s time to look back and remember those airlines we lost. The biggest surprise is that SpiceJet is not on this list. It was teetering last year, but it shrunk and recapitalized so it continues to live.
Once again, I turned to Thomas at the excellent ch-aviation site to make sure I had a complete list. Still, it’s always possible something was missed, so feel free to leave those in the comments below.
Cyprus Airways – January 9, 2015
The failure of Cyprus Airways is a tale as old as time. (No, not Beauty and the Beast; a different one.) Cyprus was the flag carrier in a small country with limited air service demand. That worked in the old days, but then low cost carriers invaded. There are a bunch of them in the market now from easyJet to Wizz (and Ryanair entering soon). That meant that there just wasn’t a place for Cyprus Airways to exist. The airline is gone, but air service in Cyprus continues to grow. Flag carriers just aren’t necessary in every country. Go ask Hungary about that.
Tyrolean – March 1, 2015
This story always made me feel kind of dirty. Tyrolean was a regional airline that was bought by Austrian. But once Lufthansa Group got its claws into Austrian, it saw problems. Notably, Lufthansa came to the conclusion that labor costs at Austrian were too high. No agreement could be reached, so guess what happened? Austrian stopped flying airplanes. That’s right. Tyrolean took over the entire fleet and operated all Austrian flights at a lower cost (using Austrian crews). Management finally got the concessions it wanted, so Tyrolean no longer needed to exist. Flights were transferred back to Austrian and Tyrolean disappeared. Dirty.
EuroLOT – March 31, 2015
EuroLOT started out as a regional airline in Poland, and it eventually became a regional feeder for LOT itself, ultimately flying only under the LOT name. If that were the end of the story, then EuroLOT might still exist today. Instead, it was turned into a semi-low cost carrier type of operation and started flying under its own name. This was a disaster. The entire airline was such a mess, that the decision was made to just shut the whole thing down. That was probably the best strategy the airline had.
B&H Airlines – June 11, 2015
After the Soviet Union fell apart, many Eastern European countries formed their own airlines, and this was one of those. It started as Air Bosna in 1994, but it eventually shut down and came back to life as the national carrier of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2005. The airline never did well, but at one point it had a lifeline thrown by Turkish Airlines. If this sounds a lot like Air Serbia and Etihad, it does… except for the part where Turkish realized this was a bad idea and walked away. The airline only had a couple of props to its name and it never prospered. Eventually the government gave up and shut it down, letting other airlines fill the (very tiny) void in Sarajevo.
Syphax Airlines – July 31, 2015
There were such high hopes for Syphax. In the wake of the Arab Spring overthrow of the Tunisian government, Syphax was founded by a local businessman. The airline had big plans, it picked up some widebodies and even placed orders for A320neos. But the airline never found solid financial footing, and the Tunisian market didn’t flourish as hoped. As the losses mounted, the orders were canceled and the airline shut down. There was word that it was going to restart with new capital, but I don’t believe that ever actually happened. Put this into the growing pile of broken dreams in that region.
SkyGreece – August 27, 2015
What a silly idea this was. SkyGreece was actually a Canadian-owned airline primarily meant to connect Greek people in Canada and the US with their homeland. The airline picked up a 767 and actually briefly flew to Montreal, Toronto, and New York. But as silly as the idea was, the execution was worse. Flights were unreliable (it used contractors which it apparently didn’t like to pay) and within a couple months, this experiment was done. It never should have made it off the ground in the first place.
CanJet – September 2, 2015
You might be asking yourself “Didn’t CanJet fail years ago?” Well yes, and no. CanJet has had nine lives, or close to it. After starting in 1999, it soon merged with Canada 3000, an airline that failed shortly after. It came back as an independent airline in 2002 and flew for four years until that didn’t work. Then, it became a charter carrier. Things were looking up as it picked up some charter business and began to grow. Ultimately, it lost the bulk of its business, and that was that. It was finally put to sleep this year.
BizAir Shuttle – September 3, 2015
Remember how I said SkyGreece was a silly idea? BizAir Shuttle makes SkyGreece look brilliant. When United Express carrier SkyWest retired its last props, it had to cancel service to a handful of cities including Carlsbad in North San Diego County. That was the last commercial service at the airport, so somebody thought there was opportunity. They took a Dornier 328JET (one of the few commercial jets that could operate on that short runway) and flew it to LA and Vegas. The problem in LA was that BizAir Shuttle had no agreements with other airlines, so it was a cumbersome process to fly anywhere beyond LA… and nobody wanted to just fly to LA. Demand tanked and service disappeared. I just wish I had flown the 328JET when I had the chance.
Korongo Airlines – September 4, 2015
It might not seem surprising to hear about yet another failed airline in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After all, most of them fail or crash (or both) at some point. But Korongo was going to be different. Brussels Airlines wanted to have a feeder operation in Congo for some time. (As a former colony, Congo has plenty of Belgian business interests.) After one aborted attempt, Korongo was founded with 70 percent owned by a Belgian consortium including Brussels Airlines. The airline’s launch was delayed multiple times, but it did finally get airborne. Why did it fail? This is the saddest thing. It had an incident with the only airplane in its fleet and couldn’t operate. Looking at the competitive landscape, they figured it best to just quit.
Virgin Atlantic Little Red – September 26, 2015
2015 clearly was the year for many bad ideas to fail. Though to be fair, Little Red wasn’t started for commercial reasons alone. When British Airways bought bmi, it had to divest some slots at Heathrow. Some of those were set aside to serve UK destinations. Virgin Atlantic thought it worth a go, so it contracted with Aer Lingus to operate Little Red flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Manchester. Planes were empty, fares were low, and the service hemorrhaged. Presumably once Delta took its stake in Virgin Atlantic, it told the airline to knock it off. So it did.
US Airways – October 17, 2015
This has already been covered extensively, but 2015 marked the official end of US Airways. In reality, US Airways died in 2005 when it was days away from liquidation. America West’s decision to step in and put together a merger was the only thing that kept US Airways going. Really, the surviving airline was America West, but since they kept the US Airways name, it seemed otherwise. After the American merger, it was only a matter of time until the US Airways name was gone. That day came on October 17 when flights were all sold under American’s code. US Airways was an unlikely survivor and the last airline born as one of the original local service airlines in the US. It should be remember for that. (Just forget about all the bad stuff.)
Transaero – October 26, 2015
When the Soviet Union fell apart, it wasn’t just Eastern European countries that formed their own airlines. New airlines began to pop up in Russia itself to challenge Aeroflot. Transaero actually started by leasing airplanes from Aeroflot and was the first private scheduled carrier in Russia. It made bold moves, including operating Western-built aircraft early in its life. The airline grew a lot, but not in a seemingly smart way. It had a motley fleet with a bunch of different classes of service. As the Russian economy tanked, Transaero’s past issues began to catch up to it. With a crushing debt load, it was forced to shut down and its fleet scattered to anyone who showed an interest.
Estonian Air – November 8, 2015
Estonian was another one of those airlines that came out of the break-up of the Soviet Union, and like Air Lituanica from its neighbor Lithuania, Estonian didn’t make it through 2015. Estonian first caught my attention in 1999 when I visited Helsinki. I didn’t realize until then that Tallinn, the capital, was a mere 63 miles by air from Helsinki. As far as air service goes, Tallinn wasn’t a huge market, but low cost carriers had begun to creep in as they did in Cyprus. easyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair, and Vueling all have a presence at the airport. There just wasn’t a need for another flag carrier.
Island Airlines – December 11, 2015
If you’re like me, you probably thought this was Island Air in Hawai’i. After all, that airline hasn’t been doing well and has struggled to find its place in the world. But Island Air keeps flying. This is Island Airlines, the oldest airline to fail on this year’s list. It had been flying to Nantucket since 1930. The predecessor to Island Airlines was the first to fly into Nantucket, long before Sandpiper and Aeromass launched their brutal rivalry. Times changed, and eventually, Island Airlines just didn’t see a way to continue.
Those are the most notable failures this year, but as usual there were many more that I didn’t feature. Here they are.
Tomb of the Unknown Airline
- Adriatic Skyways
- Air Lituanica
- Air Melbourne
- Ak Bars Aero
- Alitalia Express
- Appalachian Air
- Asia Airways
- Business Air (Thailand)
- Falcon Air Express
- Fil-Asian Airways
- Freedom Air (Guam)
- Guinea Lineas Aéreas
- KAPO Aviakompania
- LAC (Lignes Aériennes Congolaises)
- León Airlines
- Nordic Flyways
- Nordic Global Airlines
- Midex Airlines
- Osprey Wings
- Pegasus Asia
- Seabird Airlines
- Sky Bishkek
- Skyforce Aviation
- Snowbird Airlines
- South Supreme Airlines
- Southeast Airlines (Kenya)
- Transportes Generales Aéreos
- Turks Air Cargo
- Volare Airlines
- Wizz Air Ukraine
Rest in peace, failed airlines. Let’s hope for fewer failures in 2016.
Great read but very sad seeing airlines disappear! I think one of the reasons i found your website as i took a more interest in aviation after having an ex-MD for an airline do a presentation at a networking event for my profession. It was really interesting, so decided to google up and ended up here! I have suscribed tot he RSS feed.
Can’t believe you passed a chance to do a small piece on your preferred worst airline !… Even if just the Express part of it disappeared …
“preferred worst airline” I love the way that rolls off the tongue
Chris – I know, I thought about that. But this is actually smart. They just had these zombie subsidiaries alive in order to squat on slots at Linate Airport. (At least, that’s why they lasted this long.) I assume they got the slots transferred so they shut it down.
I had no idea Falcon went under. Lots of good people worked there!
I’m always surprised by the size of the list each year, then again, most are not noteworthy. Failed experiments are common in most businesses. Just surprising how many entrepreneurs and governments will throw millions at airlines thinking they have a better plan. Opening a new restaurant concept on the corner is cheap by comparison.
Most of those failed airlines I’ve never even heard of. Guess long gone are the days when an airline would have a sales office in other countries even if they didn’t even fly an international routing. Years ago EK had just a sales office in the USA at a time when the middle east wasn’t even thought of as a destination. Now look where Emirates is today.
Will you do a list of American cities that lost air service in 2015? Or maybe in the past several years.
jim – Did any American cities lose air service in 2015? I’m guessing maybe some tiny spots where the EAS carrier went under?
Yes, Wilmington Delaware lost service in 2015 when Frontier pulled the plug on the remaining flights to ILG. This returned Delaware to its previous status as the only of the 50 states without regularly-scheduled commercial air service.
At least some of Tyrolean’s planes will live on in the CommutAir fleet.
What’s your take on Surf Air coming in to Carlsbad to “fill the void” from BizAir Shuttle?
Chicago Chris – Totally different niche, I think. Surf Air has a much better chance of success there. And I’m sure Surf Air has done its homework. (I doubt BizAir Shuttle ever did.)
A great overview, just like every year! But I would point out that Air Bosna/B&H Airlines once started operations because of the break-up of Yugoslavia rather than the break-up of the Soviet Union. The two countries actually didn’t have much to do with each other, in spite of the common socialist ideology.
Andreas – Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about Yugoslavia history so forgive me here. But I always thought it was similar to the Arab Spring where dominoes began to fall. In Eastern Europe, the dominoes certainly fell in a number of countries. But you’re saying Yugoslavia was unrelated?
Yeah, the breakup of Yugoslavia was a totally separate deal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakup_of_Yugoslavia
I for one am looking forward to more coverage on the brutal rivalry between Sandpiper and Aeromass.
I read this column each year and the entry for Island Airlines got me wondering if Aeromass and Sandpiper are still around?
Last I checked they are replaying their rivalry on Netflix at any moment you’d like.
Sadly, they are no longer available on Netflix. For me, they left in the middle of season 4. :(
I actually watched Wings when new episodes were still being produced. It was a funny, entertaining show. Unfortunately as with all shows it ran its course and production stopped.
As for deceased airlines, RIP. Other than maybe US Airways I don’t think I flew any of them (admittedly I am not much of a flyer, the business end is much more interesting). I guess the storied American Airlines (or at least its name) survived thanks to the demise of US Airways, I know management at the old American was attempting to come up with a plan to save the airline as a standalone operation but I suspect with their management (especially their labor problems — it is very telling when the labor unions support a merger with another airline) it was a matter of time before liquidation without a merger or buyout of some sort.
Let the banter between Roy and Faye be a lesson for generations of passive-aggression to come.
Sadly, I believe they’ve both shut down. The owner of Sandpiper has moved on to a role as a high-powered educator/spy handler. Meanwhile the owner of Aeromass appears to have retired back in the ’90s.
Well I’m just glad IMDB can help me decipher that.
Though the owner of Aeromass seemed to have a brief stint as a Greek hero before disappearing….
Sent from my computer that moonlights as a phone.
CF – I think you may have missed Air Croatia (not the much better known Croatia Airlines). Tiny carrier registered in the UK but with aircraft in Zagreb flying the route OU didn’t want. Began flying in spring 2015 and lasted a few weeks before suspending operations.
David – Interesting. I bet CH-Aviation has it still as suspended instead of defunct since it looks like they keep trying to come back. I’m gonna say that’s not going to happen.
Was there any chance BizAir Shuttle could have gotten partnerships with the airlines? Or would there really have been no reason for the airlines to want to partner with BizAir?
LRK – I doubt it. The legacy airlines don’t really have enough reason to bother.
Just saw 3 or 4 Transaero 747s at MLB over the weekend, along with an AN-124.
CF – Check out Ultimate Air Shuttle. Still going strong and one of the few airlines where you can fly that 328JET you missed out on.
Ah yes, the 30 seaters that fly from Sunken Lunken in Cincinnati….
Hehe.. I used to live in the Cincinnati area, and even biked around Lunken a few times, but I never heard it called Sunken Lunken.. But it makes sense!
Ultimate was actually the operator of the BizAir Shuttle flights.
I’m with Cranky on regretting not getting to take a ride on them, but IIRC their airfares on CLD-LAX were much too high to justify it just to get a ride on the DoJet. CLD-LAS seems like it should have worked better for a standalone airline since SoCal-LAS is such a big local market, but they probably couldn’t compete with Southwest and Spirit out of SAN and SNA; CLD could likely command a bit of a price premium but not enough to actually make money at it.
Lurker – I thought about them, but I think they actually shut down in 2014. They didn’t make my list last year though.
What, no Tigerair Philippines? Technically it isn’t dead (it just rebranded into CebGo), but you did predict last year that there would be another Tigerair on the list, and it’s kind of dead as Tigerair no longer has a local presence in that country and the airline has a completely new identity now.
Also, another from the Philippines: AirAsia Zest (formerly Zest Airways, formerly Asian Spirit), an airline with a rather long history, which finally merged with AirAsia Philippines this month. So the US isn’t the only country with its share of mergers!
Also, as far as I know, Business Air is still around. They’re grounded last I heard but they were still trying to take-off again and their Wikipedia page suggests they’re not dead yet. They aren’t even the only airline to go under in Thailand this year I think; I think there was another airlines whose name is escaping me at the moment.
Just a correction, Tyrolean Airways ended operations March 31st, not March 1st.
Just to clarify, ‘holidayjet’ was never an airline, it was a brand made by germania flug and hotel plan. The brand itself is not in operation at the moment, which is why the aircraft was repainted back to the germania livery.
US Airways isn’t gone, it’s just renamed American ;)
Metrojet (Russian airline) – will it be able to restart in summer 2016?
You forgot the beloved airline of pacific wings!