It is that time once again where I pause to remember all the airlines that flew off into the desert this year, never to take to the skies again. It’s a motley group this time around, though several have ties to Etihad, the former king of handouts to failing airlines. With that well drying up, life support has been removed from many weak airlines. We can all, however, breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that Alitalia is still not on this list. Next year will undoubtedly be another active year for that airline. But there are plenty of other stories to be told, so let’s get started.
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Orange Air – January 19, 2017
You may not know the name Orange Air, but if you’ve heard of Branson Air Express, these guys operated some of those flights. Orange started doing sports charters in 2014, but it went into the public charter business soon after. It flew the incredibly silly route from Cincinnati to Branson and then on New Orleans and ultimately Cancun. That lasted for one glorious season. Orange had hoped to ditch its MD-80s and pick up 737s, but that never happened. It ended up just kind of fizzling, laying everyone off and then quietly disappearing into the ether.
Shuttle America – February 3, 2017
Shuttle America is noteworthy because it never should have lasted as long as it did. I remember the early days of the airline back in the 1990s. It had props flying from its Trenton hub to places like Hanscom Field (near Boston) and Greensboro. It grew into a bunch of other small markets along the Eastern seaboard. Around the turn of the century, the airline founds itself in financial trouble and it “pulled a Midway” – it became a US Airways Express carrier. That was an easy transition since it was owned by the same company that owned Chautauqua. It stayed a separate entity for awhile, but it eventually was bought by Republic Airways Holdings. In bankruptcy, Republic decided to consolidate into a single certificate, and that meant the end was near for Shuttle America. It officially went away early this year.
Wings of Alaska – March 13, 2017
Any airline operating puddle jumpers around Alaska for 35 years deserves some kind of recognition, even if it fails. This is the airline where the pilots behind Alaska Seaplanes cut their teeth. It was an operation that became an important force in Southeast Alaska for many years. But in 2008, it was acquired by SeaPort, and SeaPort took the airline into the ground (along with itself). It was reacquired back by locals in 2015, but the damage had been done. It had ceded its place in Alaska, and it never regained its position.
GLO – July 15, 2017
GLO probably lasted longer than most people expected. The idea was to create a niche, short-haul airline to serve some of the markets around Louisiana that required fairly long drives or insanely long connections. (Think Shreveport to New Orleans.) It got off the ground using Saabs operated by Corporate Flight Management, and when I met with the airline’s founder, I know he was feeling optimistic that there was some momentum building. But GLO ran into trouble with its flight provider… and with money. I don’t know details, but CFM stopped flying for the airline, and it all crumbled quickly.
NewLeaf – July 25, 2017
NewLeaf was one in a crop of Canadian attempts at an Ultra Low Cost Carrier model, but it had a turbulent start-up. NewLeaf made its bet that it was better off not operating airplanes and instead just having Flair Airlines operate for it. It took awhile, but it did eventually get in the air. The “airline” even had plans to fly into the US, but those ran into trouble when WestJet decided to respond with flights of its own in the same market (Mesa, Arizona). NewLeaf ran away with its tail between its legs. Eventually, Flair decided to buy NewLeaf outright and operate the airline under its own brand. So, the airline lives on, just not as NewLeaf.
Tigerair – July 25, 2017
Are you scratching your head because you recently saw a tigerair airplane flying? Well, that is possible, but let me explain. The original Tiger Airways was founded in Singapore with partial ownership by Indigo (Bill Franke’s company that now owns Frontier.) It was always a lower-end ULCC, but it grew quickly. Singapore Airlines acquired more of the airline over time (it had a share originally) and then it decided to merge tigerair into its other LCC, Scoot. The tigerair name went away in July, but there are still other affiliated airlines that use the name. Most notably, there’s tigerair Australia which is owned by Virgin Australia. There is also a tigerair Taiwan which is owned by China Airlines. Both still have the right to use the name even though no other airline does anymore.
Eastern Airlines – September 7, 2017
This reincarnation was a bad idea from the start, but the fans of the brand (the few that existed) loved this airline like the original. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to fly. Eastern talked about flying scheduled service and even ordered Mitsubishi Regional Jets. (Yeah, weird.) In the end, its biggest source of income was flying charters to Cuba. But once US-Cuba relations thawed and scheduled service was allowed to begin, Eastern wasn’t given a seat at the table. Its business died. Swift ended up picking up the pieces, and I actually thought at one point that the airline was going to use the Eastern name commercially. Apparently that didn’t happen. Eastern is dead again. Let’s hope it sticks this time.
Aeropostal – September 24, 2017
This is a sad one simply because of how long the airline had been around. Aeropostal used to be proud
Monarch – October 2, 2017
If you lived in Britain, you are well aware of Monarch’s failure. This was a big one with a ton of travelers left stranded, but it also wasn’t very surprising. Monarch was founded back in the day when tour operators were king. It flew pasty white Brits down to warm, sunny destinations and it made good money. But with the advent of the low cost carrier in Europe, these leisure charter airlines lost their place in the world. Monarch tried to change its model a few times, but in the end, it wasn’t to be. Monarch went away quickly, leaving only angry sunburnt tourists in its wake.
Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium – October 27, 2017
To be clear, it’s only the small Belgian airline that went away here, and it was entirely by design. Thomas Cook decided to sell everything in its Belgium operation to the Lufthansa Group’s Brussels Airlines. Employees, airplanes, etc all went over there. In exchange, Brussels Airlines became the Thomas Cook Belgium airline partner. So Thomas Cook travelers can still buy their tours. They may very well fly on the same airplane with the same crew. The airline’s assets are all just part of Brussels Airlines now.
airBerlin – October 28, 2017
This was a big one. Like Monarch, airberlin was born as a leisure charter airline. In fact, it was an American airline that started in Berlin when the Americans still controlled part of the city. Once barriers fell, and the charter market floundered, airberlin found itself in trouble. It tried all kinds of things, including a merger with long-haul carrier LTU. But nothing really worked. In the end, airberlin should be happy it lasted as long as it did. Without Uncle Etihad’s funds, the airline would have died long ago. But even Etihad’s ill-advised strategy couldn’t save the airline. As we all know, airberlin started letting others pick at its carcass before it even stopped flying, and now it’s gone.
Belair – October 28, 2017
Belair died because it got caught up in the airberlin mess. Belair actually had a long history, but the 1925 date may be cheating a bit. The airline (then Balair) actually was one of the airlines that merged to form Swissair. It came and went over the years, but its wheelhouse was to serve as the charter airline of Swissair. Swissair, of course, went bust more than 15 years ago, so Belair floated around over the years trying to find a niche in the world until its acquisition by airberlin in 2007. Over time, the brand went away completely, and Belair just because another operator of airberlin flights. Earlier this year, airberlin had Belair flip over to operate flights for another subsidiary, Niki, instead. Belair stopped flying when airberlin went away.
Island Air – November 10, 2017
Island Air was the last real competition for Hawaiian Airlines on big interisland routes, but apparently there wasn’t room for a duopoly. To be fair, there probably just wasn’t room for THIS duopoly, since the airline never quite knew what it wanted to be. It swapped out aircraft types multiple times, and it shifted destinations. A stint being owned by Larry Ellison may have focused the airline on his Lana’i resorts, but it did not work out. This one is a little personal for me. Way back in 1991, the airline was a subsidiary of Aloha, named Aloha IslandAir. My family chartered a Dash-6 to fly us over to Kona early in the morning to see the big eclipse. I have very fond memories of that one. Island Air will technically live on. Hawaiian has bought the remains and will use the certificate for its commuter operator, ‘Ohana. (‘Ohana is currently operated by Empire.) But that’s not the same thing.
Virgin Samoa – November 12, 2017
It’s not easy to do business in the Pacific. Back in 2005, Samoa had lost its airline, so it entered into a joint venture with what was then called Virgin Blue. The new airline, named Polynesian Blue, was meant to be Samoa’s link to Oceania. When Virgin Blue rebranded to Virgin Australia, Polynesian Blue became Virgin Samoa. The airline lasted for over a decade, which I’d call a success in that region. But sure enough, the Samoan government eventually had a change of heart and pulled the plug on the joint venture in favor of starting its own new airline. Virgin Australia now flies to Samoa, but Virgin Samoa itself is toast.
Darwin Airline – November 28, 2017
I’m sure you can appreciate just how hard it is to avoid making a “survival of the fittest” joke here…. Darwin was another failed airline in Etihad’s orbit. Etihad actually bought a third of it and renamed the carrier as Etihad Regional. Why? Oh who the heck knows. This one was even less strategically sensible than all the other bad Etihad decisions. Etihad did back away, and, oddly enough, Adria Airways of Slovenia stepped in. The Darwin name was brought back, but it didn’t last long. The backup plan was to kill off scheduled service and keep flying otherwise, but even that didn’t work. Darwin is now extinct.
Zetta Jet – November 30, 2017
It’s highly unlikely you’ve heard of these guys, but the story behind the company was pretty awesome. Zetta Jet was a luxury private jet operator, and it was founded as a Singapore company. It ended up taking over a company in the US so it became multinational. The old managing director apparently saw the company as his personal bank account. He bought a couple of fancy yachts, a few luxury cars, and used Zetta Jet aircraft for personal use without paying for about 300 hours. Basically, he drained the company dry so he could live the rock star life. In the end, he was ousted and the company filed for bankruptcy. It never made it out.
Niki – December 14, 2017
What’s that? You want more Etihad carnage? Sure! Niki was founded by car racer Niki Lauda, and it was sold to airberlin. The airline operated as an Austrian leisure subsidiary, and there was enough value there that it wasn’t part of the airberlin bankruptcy filing. Instead, it was going to be sold to Lufthansa, but the competition watchdog balked. Once that fell through, there were no other options, so the airline folded immediately. There are some attempts to revive it (looking at you, Niki Lauda), but I wouldn’t expect to see if come back.
As always, there are many smaller airlines that failed which I don’t write up. Here, we salute their efforts.
Tomb of the Unknown Airline
- Air Carnival
- Air Labrador
- Air Norway
- Air Via
- Atlas Atlantique
- Ava Air
- Avior Regional
- Britex Air Services
- Cardiff Aviation Malta
- Eaglexpress Air Charter
- Florida West International Airways
- Fly 365 Aviation
- Fly Blue Crane
- Fly County Aviation
- Fly Kiss
- Fly Marche
- Go! Aviation Finland
- Höga Kusten Flyg
- Hummingbird Air
- Innu Mikun Airlines
- Mega Maldives
- Nextjet Canada
- Pioneer Airlines
- Sea Air Croatia
- VECA Airlines
- VIM Airlines
- Yute Air