As we wind toward the end of the year, it is time to take a look back on what we’ve lost in 2018. Dozens of airlines failed this year, and that’s not a surprise. Not all of them were beloved, but they should still be honored for giving it their best shot. Fortunately, we had no Etihad-related failures this year after last year’s banner effort. That’s right, Alitalia lives to see another year, and we can all be thankful for that. Airlines in Venezuela weren’t nearly as lucky, nor were some of the smaller guys closer to home.
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PAWA Dominicana (Dominican Republic) – January 28, 2018
Let’s start off with a rather unremarkable airline. But if that’s the case, why am I bothering? Well, call me a sucker for anything with Pan Am in the name. Sure enough, PAWA stands for Pan Am World Airways, and it had some vague connection with one of the previous Pan Am incarnations. The airline flew from its Santo Domingo hub. PAWA was owned by Grupo Condor which has a whopping three other airlines on this list (Aserca as well as SBA and LTA in the Tomb of the Unknowns.) PAWA was not a great operator, and it probably won’t be missed by many.
Great Lakes (USA) – March 26, 2018
If you’re like me, you’re probably amazed that Great Lakes lasted as long as it did. Great Lakes was a relic from a prior era when airlines could bounce around tiny cities with small airplanes and make money. The 19-seaters it operated started going downhill in the late 1990s after regulatory changes made it much more expensive to operate them. The pilot shortage also hit hard. Great Lakes was spunky and creative. At one point, it stripped out 10 seats from some airplanes. With only 9 onboard, it could recruit pilots with less experience. But at some point, the luck was bound to run out. That happened this year.
SWISS Global Air Lines (Switzerland) – April 19, 2018
I know, you’re probably scratching your head on this one. SWISS is a profitable and key part of the Lufthansa Group. It didn’t fail, did it? Nay, it did not. This is SWISS Global Air Lines, a subsidiary that was created to offer the airline lower labor costs. If you remember the Austrian/Tyrolean situation, it was the same type of end-run around labor agreements. This year, labor agreements were harmonized between SWISS and SWISS Global, so the whole reason for having a SWISS Global disappeared. And so did the airline.
Virgin America (USA) – April 24, 2018
It’s always hard to know when an airline is officially dead in a merger. April 24 was the last date that you could fly on a Virgin America flight, so I’m sticking with that. As long-time readers of the blog know, I had little love for the airline solely from an economic perspective. It never performed well financially, yet I have to give the management team kudos for somehow getting Alaska to pony up an absurd amount of money to buy it out. Virgin America is survived by that safety video song which you will never get out of your head. And in case you start to forget, let me help fix that… ‘Cuz we’re gonna live it on up in the sky…
NextJet (Sweden) – May 16, 2018
I have to pick a select few of the failed airlines to write about every year, so why bother with some regional operator in Sweden that you’ve probably never heard of? Oh, because there’s fame and intrigue here. The fame comes from one of the airline’s investors, Björn Ulvaeus, a member of ABBA. What about the intrigue? Someone broke into one of the airline’s airplanes and sabotaged it. Was it one of Björn’s sworn enemies trying to exact revenge and kill the airline? I’m pretty sure not, but you know, seems like a fun story. Anyway, it worked. The airline is gone.
Aserca (Venezuela) – May 24, 2018
And now for another Grupo Condor failure. I debated whether to put Aserca (originally a major domestic player) or SBA (most recently a big international player) or both on this list, but it’s all the same sad story so I just picked one. They are both airlines in Venezuela, and that says everything. Venezuela’s economy continues to spiral into awfulness, and there was just little chance that any Venezuelan airline could survive. Aserca has a fairly lengthy history by Venezuela’s standards, but there’s only so long any company can survive in a climate like that. It’s a sad symbol of what’s happening to the Venezuelan people.
Saratov Airlines (Russia) – May 31, 2018
Saratov is by far the oldest airline on this list, and it could certainly have been considered one of the older airlines in the world until its demise. It was a part of Aeroflot until that airline was broken up after the Soviet Union crumbled. Saratov kept operating until it ran afoul of authorities, and then things started to deteriorate quickly. First there were safety violations that brought a great deal of scrutiny. But then, Saratov 703 crashed after takeoff in Moscow, and the heat was really turned up. A few short months later, the airline was shut down and its certificate was revoked.
OneJet (USA) – August 30, 2018
I had a soft spot for OneJet. Sure it was only serving a small niche flying small jets on scheduled routes between cities that had lost nonstop air service, but that was a niche that seemed to have some promise. Early buzz was positive, and well-known people flocked to join the airline’s board. Then things turned ugly. It pivoted away from its first base in Indianapolis and took a bunch of money to re-focus on Pittsburgh. Routes came and went, and there was an aborted attempt to acquire another carrier. In August, it shut down saying it would be back after it got its act together. It lied. Now OneJet is in Chapter 7 liquidation proceedings, and pretty much anyone who ever dealt with the airline is angry. They should be.
Open Skies (France) – September 2, 2018
It’s only been a decade since there has been an open skies agreement between the US and Europe. When it first happened, many airlines in Europe relished the idea of being able to fly to the US from places outside their home country. British Airways was one of them, and it set up a subsidiary called Open Skies to fly from Paris to New York with 757s. Open Skies tried a couple other routes and different aircraft configurations, even acquiring L’Avion back in the day, but nothing ever made it a success. The business-focused airline was killed this year and replaced with LEVEL, a leisure-focused one. It was a fun little experiment that I’m sad I never had the chance to fly.
Wataniya Airways (Kuwait) – September 2, 2018
If this one sounds familiar, that’s because it made an appearance way back on the 2011 list. It tried a premium model and failed then, but last year, it came back with a vengeance. With a new, all-coach model, the airline came roaring out of the gate with an order for 25 A320neos and a big plan to expand. The Kuwaiti government thought otherwise. Saying that it was displeased that Wataniya was running a poor operation with outsourced aircraft, the government threatened to shut it down. It did so temporarily, but then earlier this month, it revoked its license permanently.
Primera Air (Latvia/Denmark) – October 1, 2018
Had I asked you if you’d heard of Primera a year ago, the answer would probably have been a solid “no.” But this summer, the little airline that bounced around with business models in Scandinavia made a big splash with low-fare Transatlantic flights. It was a disastrous move. Primera didn’t have enough airplanes and had to cancel a big chunk of flying. What did fly wasn’t enough to make the airline a profit, or even remotely close to it. As Primera tried to fix things for next summer, it ran out of money. It failed as quickly as it arrived on the scene in the first place.
El Al’s Up (Israel) – October 14, 2018
Did you know El Al had a low cost division? Up was founded a few years back to try and serve heavy leisure destinations from Israel. In the end, it flew from Tel Aviv to Berlin, Budapest, Kiev, Larnaca, and Prague. But Up was a wasted effort, and El Al took a long 5 years to get smart and fold it back into the mainline operation. It now serves all the former Up destinations using its own 737 aircraft. El Al has gone the route of many before it, now incorporating lower fares into its standard mainline structure instead of trying to run a separate division that was bound to fail.
PrivatAir (Switzerland/Germany) – December 5, 2018
You never bought a ticket on PrivatAir, but that doesn’t mean you never flew the airline. PrivatAir specialized in business aviation, but it also equipped narrowbodies in all-premium configurations and flew them for major airlines. Its closest partner over the years was Lufthansa, for which is operated a variety of flights including some to the US. Its first route for Lufthansa was between Dusseldorf and Newark, a route now flown by Eurowings. Most recently, it flew for Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Pune in India. But now, it flies no more.
Fastjet (Tanzania) – December 17, 2018
Remember Fastjet? Backed by easyJet, Fastjet was poised to be, well, the easyJet of Africa. It started off flying in Tanzania with an A319, and it hoped to spread across the continent. Things did not go well with easyJet, and the airline’s performance suffered due to overly-subsidized state competition as well as very high taxes. In Tanzania, Fastjet downsized. It moved into Embraer 190s, but those were pulled out as the airline’s performance tanked. Most recently it was leasing a 737-500, but the government shut the airline down. If you really miss Fastjet, fear not. Fastjet Zimbabwe and Fastjet Mozambique still barely exist with 3 Embraer 145s between the two of them.
I can’t write up every airline that fails, because it would take me weeks to put it together. So, below we honor the best of the rest and salute them for their efforts.
Tomb of the Unknown Airlines
- ADI Aerodynamics (USA – Merged into California Pacific)
- Air Arabia Jordan (Jordan)
- Air Costa Rica (if you don’t know…)
- Air Link (Australia)
- Air Viking (Norway)
- Air2there (New Zealand)
- ASL Airlines (Switzerland/Spain)
- Azur Air (Germany)
- BackBone Aviation (Denmark)
- BinAir (Germany)
- Blink (United Kingdom)
- Business Jet Travel Airline (Ukraine)
- CABI Airlines (Ukraine)
- Cello Aviation (UK)
- Cimber (Denmark – Merged into CityJet)
- Cobalt Air (Cyprus)
- Dart Airlines (Ukraine)
- Express Airways (Slovenia)
- Fly Viking (Norway)
- flyorange (Netherlands)
- ImagineAir (USA)
- JetGo (Australia)
- LAW – Latin American Wings (Chile)
- Laynha Air (Australia)
- LTA – Linea Turistica Aereotuy (Venezuela)
- Naysa Aerotaxis (Spain – Merged into Binter Canarias)
- Norfolk Island Airlines (Norfolk Island)
- Orca Airways (Canada)
- Palau Pacific Airways (Palau)
- RISE (USA – Merged into Surf Air)
- Rossair Charter (Australia)
- Royal Wings (Jordan)
- SBA Airlines (Venezuela)
- Skywork (Switzerland)
- Small Planet (Lithuania/Germany/Poland/Cambodia)
- Sparrow Aviation (Sweden)
- VLM Airlines (Belgium – again after recovering from its 2016 failure)
- yourways (Germany)