Christmas is done (though Hanukkah is still raging), and that means it’s time to focus on the end of the year. As I do every year, it’s time to look back and remember those airlines that went belly up. It wasn’t a particularly noteworthy year with relatively few failures. That’s a testament to the general health of this industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s all unicorns and rainbows.
Once again, I turned to Thomas at the excellent ch-aviation site to make sure I had a complete list. This year, Thomas put together a free trial offer for anyone who is interested in checking out the site. ch-aviation will boost your airline intelligence providing you with the most extensive and up to date airline knowledge base covering airlines, fleets, fleet ownership information, schedules, airports, senior airline management contacts, capacities and PSS. Request your free 14 days’ trial at: http://www.ch-aviation.com/CrankyFlier
It’s always possible we missed something, so feel free to leave those in the comments below. But here’s what we found.
Air Méditerranée – February 15, 2016
Ah, Air Med. Though it operated for 20 years, I never found anything particular remarkable about the carrier until the very end. See, Air Med was a French low cost charter airline that packed ’em in like so many others. Its A321s had 220 seats onboard. But what I found interesting was that the airline actually invested in a more expensive seat made by Expliseat. Why? It was much lighter and simpler so it saved fuel and was less prone to mechanical problems. The cost savings would have more than paid for the investment, if the airline had lived long enough. I assume other true low cost carriers in Europe were the reason these guys went under.
Air Bishkek – February 2016
Chances are you’ve never heard of Air Bishkek, or even the country it came from (Kyrgyzstan), but this airline was a survivor. It started out as Eastok Avia, changed its name to Kyrgyz Airways four years later, and then finally settled on Air Bishkek a year after that. This name, taken from the capital city where it was based, made it a whopping 6 years before the airline went under. What’s even more remarkable is that the airline was on the European Union list of banned carriers for most of its life. I frankly can’t believe it survived as long as it did, and eventually it’s time came to and end.
Fly Salone – March 20, 2016
Looking for a uniquely-sad African story? Look no further. Fly Salone started only in December of last year as the latest effort to connect Sierra Leone to London. It lasted 3 months. During that time, it created enough drama to keep a soap opera going for years. Oh sure, there were the usual suspects: graft, safety questions, etc, but read the link above and you’ll get a sense of the bigger picture. Did it really only have 1 crew to operate its aircraft? Maybe. Aviation in Africa is just a whole different thing, and it’s a whole lot harder to create a profitable, safe airline there than it is anywhere else. This one didn’t stand a chance.
Sol – March 31, 2016
Sol started as an effort to bring better air service to the Santa Fe province in Argentina. Wedged between Cordoba and Buenos Aires, someone thought Santa Fe was simply being overlooked. Sol was going to be the answer to get air service that could overfly Buenos Aires and connect Santa Fe to the rest of the country. The airline lasted in one form or another for a decade, and at one point it was using its regional aircraft to fly for Aerolineas Argentinas. All good, right? Well, in January of this year, Aerolineas pulled out of the deal and that left Sol with pretty much nothing. It closed up shop soon after.
Senegal Airlines – April 12, 2016
Who’s ready for more African aviation failure? This time it’s Senegal Airlines which was created in 2009 after the long-lived Air Senegal International went broke. Senegal Airlines mostly flew regional routes from Dakar, but it racked up more than $100 million in debt in a short time. The airline was shut down, but this isn’t the end. As is often the case, a new airline will be resurrected from the ashes of Senegal Airlines by the government. Will this new airline actually fill the void? (Er, is there even a void to fill?) Sure, why not? I’m sure the next one will be totally different. Right?
Rayani Air – April 9, 2016
Rayani Air should have been a relatively unremarkable airline, but it actually gained worldwide attention because it was Sharia-compliant. That in itself shouldn’t have been all that newsworthy. It may have been the first Sharia-compliant airline in Malaysia, but there are others out there (like Saudia). The bigger story should have been that this airline ever made it in the air. It operated for only a few months, and in that time, it managed to piss off everyone. Apparently it had trouble running on time, and there were safety concerns. It sounds like the owners simply weren’t fit to run an airline, and so it disappeared.
VLM – June 22, 2016
VLM was one of those airlines that I always thought was bigger than it was. Maybe it was because it sounded a lot like KLM. Or maybe I’m just a fool. But in reality, VLM was a tiny Fokker 50 operator that made a good living, eventually moving on from its Belgian home to thrive at London/City. But, as is often the case, little VLM got itself mixed up with the wrong crowd (in this case, Air France) and things went downhill from there. It was consistently-profitable with high service levels for several years. Then it was semi-merged into CityJet under the Air France partnership. It ended up splitting from CityJet and then floundered while it tried to find a way to make a living. It never recovered and was finally put out to pasture this year.
SeaPort – September 20, 2016
Remember SeaPort? It put together a nice little niche when it began flying from close-in Seattle Boeing Field to Portland, but then all hell broke loose. SeaPort found itself seduced by the prospect of government money and went big into Essential Air Service markets. It put airplanes in Southern California as well as the mid-South connecting tiny towns to big cities while still sticking around the Pacific Northwest as well. This just wasn’t well thought-through or well-executed, and the the whole thing fell apart. A Chapter 11 filing wasn’t the turnaround that the airline hoped. It was soon turned into Chapter 7 and SeaPort was gone just like that.
TransAsia Airways – November 21, 2016
You probably have heard about TransAsia. This was the airline that had one of its turboprops plunge into a river shortly after departing Taipei/Songshan, and it was caught on video so it made the news around the world. TransAsia was actually a long-lived Taiwanese company that took its current form in 1988, primarily flying domestic service in Taiwan. Eventually it dipped its toes into the international arena and took delivery of A330s. At one point it started talking big about A380s to the US, but fortunately that plan never came to fruition. But another hare-brained scheme to launch a low cost carrier, V Air, did actually happen. Combine this with not one, but two accidents in the last couple of years, both caused by pilot error, and things were not looking good. Though the timing itself was a surprise, TransAsia was burning cash so I can’t imagine anyone was truly shocked was the airline failed.
Tiara Air – November 28, 2016
A failing Caribbean airline is usually not much of a story, but in this case, it had a little help in its demise. Tiara was based in Aruba, and it had actually flown for several years. I wish I had flown the airline, only because it flew the Shorts 360, an awesomely-boxy airplane that I’ve never been on. It had its up and downs, but I’m guessing its biggest challenge was the crumbling of Venezuela’s economy. See, the airline flew there, and it had money tied up in the country. Like every foreign airline flying to Venezuela, it wasn’t allowed to take all the money it was owed, and that undoubtedly had a big impact on a small airline. Whether that was really the reason for it demise or if it combined with mismanagement, I don’t know. But there’s no question that Venezuela’s failure is having an impact well beyond that country’s borders.
LaMia – December 1, 2016
Speaking of Venezuela, let’s talk LaMia, the airline that is now a household name thanks to the crash that killed the Chapocoense soccer team. LaMia technically isn’t out of business, just suspended without a functioning airplane, but I’d say the chances of this airline coming back in its current form are nil. It’s remarkable just how shady this airline was. It was first started in Venezuela, and it kept bouncing from city to city, trying to get some traction. Other than some early operations, it doesn’t look like it really flew much thanks to a variety of problems. The Venezuelans finally gave up and leased the airplanes to some Bolivians to use there instead. The airline didn’t even fly for one full year, yet it somehow won contracts to fly national teams of several South American countries. (I’m guessing it offered to do it for really cheap, but I still can’t fathom why a country would trust its precious soccer teams to such a small and questionable company.) After the airline crashed its only operating aircraft by running out of fuel, this airline was clearly done. And so is the list for 2016.
As always, there are many that failed that I didn’t cover in detail. Here are the ones we gathered.
Tomb of the Unknown Airline
- Afghan Jet International
- AG Air
- Air Croatia
- Air Pegasus
- Alpha Express Airlines
FirstNation Airways(It has apparently resumed flying)
- fly Lapland
- Jags Aviation
- Jetstream Executive Travel
- Limitless Airways
- Luftline Georgia
- Mihin Lanka
- MySky (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
- Travel Air (Papua New Guinea)
- Turku Air
I am anxiously waiting for the day we can finally put Baltia on this list.
I think Cranky only lists airlines with an AIR OPERATOR CERTIFICATE :-D
And Baltia is far from that…
Alas-Uruguay, an airline owned by its workers but funded by the Government, flew from March to October, as some kind of reincarnation of PLUNA. The wikipedia article in English is outdated, but the Spanish version tells a good part of the story: https://es.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alas_Uruguay
Efpolcuch – Thanks. I checked with ch-aviation and they have that airline on the “restarting” list, but it sounds like that may just be wishful thinking on the part of their management. Thanks for including.
I’m surprised there’s no mention of Denim Air considering how long it was around, or that V Air wasn’t given its own spot. Oh well. But yeah, it’s interesting how relatively few airlines went bust this year; even Wikipedia’s “Airlines disestablished in 2016” category lists less than a hundred airlines while for past years there would be as many as 200.
MK03 – Denim is also on the “possibly restarting” category, though you’re right that Denim is probably done for. Thanks for adding.
Off-topic a little, but it amuses me how it appeared that CAPA thought Rayani Air actually had a chance at making inroads in the Malaysian market (the analysis they did is behind a paywall but based on the preview they thought it would work). I don’t know why but it amuses me whenever CAPA is proven wrong (they thought Fastjet would work even though it was losing money, and still is, and they thought for a while that Peoplexpress could work).
“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” — Albert Schweitzer
Sad to see SeaPort go. I flew their 8-seater EAS service from Dallas Love to Boone County, AR (you know fares to Fayetteville are expensive when it is less than half the cost to fly EAS to an airport an hour away) and really enjoyed it.
Great fun looking over the pilots’ shoulders and cruising at 8,000 feet on a Cessna, hitting some bumps in the air before landing at an airport with a 600 sqft, single room “terminal”.
What we need to keep the industry healthy is…..ironically….more names to join this list. Remember up until recently there were a couple of dozen airlines with an ever changing cast of temporary players? That was pure insanity. We definitely need another round of mergers. I would like to see something like this play out in 2017-2018, with the ‘surviving’ name first:
And of course it should go without saying that with each merger, Southwest gets thrown a few extra gates and slots to appease DOJ concerns.
This would leave us with just four airlines (which presumably would continue to include their regional affiliates) effectively controlling 100% of the US Air Market:
Two full service legacy haulers plus Southwest plus a nationwide “a-la carte” discounter in the form of Spirit.
I don’t know where Hawaiian would fit into all this.
What more do we need?
Is this satire?
I hope so.
It would be funny if United were to merge with Delta that it would make the widget as its logo.
You missed Transaero, which was a major Russian airline with daily flights to usa and the most luxurious b classing the skies
Transaero was on last year’s list.
Has Limitless Airways definitely died ? I thought they were still operating charters for Swedish travel agency Scandjet
Separately I think you missed European Coastal Airlines who flew seaplanes in Croatia. They haven’t declared bankruptcy but they fired almost all their staff and have had a lot of regulatory and licencing issues.
I thought Air Croatia had died by spring 2015 rather than lasting to 2016
There’s also Air Vallee (based in Italy), Avies (based in Estonia) and Links Air (UK) all of whom have died. I think all 3 airlines have had some major regulatory and licencing issues
David – I think Limitless is done, at least that’s what the ch-aviation database shows. European Coastal isn’t on there, but that’s a good one. I think that’s the one Airways did a spread on recently, but I believe you’re right it is gone. I don’t have Links Air in the database, so I’m not sure what the story is there. I wonder if it actually should have been on the 2015 list. Looks like may have barely snuck into 2016 but not with its own airplanes. The others you mention appear to be attempting to restart and ch-aviation hasn’t written them off just yet. But I’d agree they’re probably toast as well.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the…” and then we get that infamous Cranky RIP airline list!
Of course, things could be worse!
Happy New Year!
One you forgot is Shuttle America who merged into Republic Airlines
The merger does not finalize until the end of January 2017 so I am sure they will be on Cranky’s 2017 list!
You should try the Shorts 360
Rail car with wings
Used to fly HPN BOS
Agreed–flew them INT-CLT during my college days on USAir Express. Rough riding little things!
Christmas is over when the Twelve Days of Christmas are over. :)