It’s the end of the year, and that means it’s time for one of my favorite annual traditions… a look back on all the airlines we lost in 2019. We had some high profile failures this year, especially after the summer when many realized they weren’t going to make it through the lean winter. If the economy keeps turning down, I imagine we can expect more next year. But let’s not worry about that. Today, we celebrate those that have gone.
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There was no surprise in seeing California Pacific join the list this year. It hadn’t been able to successfully get off the ground despite years and years of trying. Then, the founder bought an airline flying essential air service out of Denver and it was airborne. Things fell apart very quickly. They couldn’t keep a schedule running thanks to problems with airplanes and a shortage of crews. It was barely two months before the airline threw in the towel. The old essential air service routes operated a bit longer but eventually it all just caved in, and California Pacific is nothing but a memory.
Let me guess. You have no idea what this is right? Is it yet another Lufthansa Group subsidiary? Not quite. “Stiftung” is a foundation, and this is the foundation that maintains and operates old aircraft to keep the Lufthansa historical fleet alive. But at the beginning of this year, Lufthansa unceremoniously decided to pull the funding from the foundation, and that means it is in trouble. There were Junkers Ju-52s flying passengers up until Lufthansa walked away, but now, those flights have ceased. As an airline, this is no longer a thing, but the foundation still seems to exist on the ground.
Here’s another one that you might have mistaken for a Lufthansa subsidiary, but you’re thinking of Germanwings. Germania actually was around for a really long time, but it’s been in trouble for half its life. It started as a charter operator and by the end of the last millennium, it was mostly operating for TUI. Then it lost the contract, and it flailed around. It started scheduled service, operated some flights for Hapag-Lloyd Express, started a low-cost carrier called gexx, and bought part of dba. Nothing stuck. After heavy losses, it couldn’t hold on any longer. Now it’s gone.
Wait, didn’t bmi disappear into British Airways years ago? Most of it did, but not all of it. Flybmi started as Business Air and became BMI Regional. British Airways picked apart bmi and had no interest in BMI Regional, so that was sold off. The airline was cast off as a British regional airline without parent feed. It did establish codeshares with Lufthansa Group and Air France among a few others, but that was limited. It was only last year that the airline was re-branded as flybmi. Flybmi only flew ERJs in the end, but its parent company also owned Loganair. So, it shut down flybmi and had Loganair cherry-pick the best performing routes. This is the end of the old bmi name, and it’s the end of an airline headquartered in Castle Donington.
This one had me confused since I thought it already shut down, but it turns out that was the short-lived Aruban subsidiary that died a couple years ago. InselAir was barely hanging on in the end, back to its roots as just a Curacao-based airline flying short hops on Fokker 50s. But really it was the airline’s proximity to Venezuela that did it in. With a ton of money being held in bolivars in Venezuela, it was in serious trouble, and it could never recover. But hey, an airline that survives for more than 10 years in the Caribbean can be considered a true success just for making it that long.
Is there any failure more likely to become a business school case study than this one? WOW burst on to the scene to try to undercut the original low fare airline, Icelandair, in its Keflavik hub. It grew insanely fast, and it made really stupid plans, including the acquisition of widebodies. Eventually, the money ran out, and the mercurial CEO had to try to save anything he could. He failed. Indigo sniffed around and looked interested in throwing a lifeline, but it walked away and WOW collapsed. Even today, there are attempts to revive something from the ashes. It may happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Encompass Aviation (USA) – April 2, 2019
Oh boy, talk about a mess. Not many people even know of Encompass, but it’s an interesting story. The subscription-based airline Surf Air used to fly its own airplanes. Then it decided to get fancy and wanted to separate itself as the commercial company from the operating airline. Encompass was the airline used to start flying on behalf of Surf. But, well, Surf ran into all kinds of problems and it placed a bunch of blame on Encompass, so it cut ties and went to another operator. Encompass sued Surf, then Surf counter-sued Encompass. The whole thing blew up, and really, there was no reason for Encompass to even exist anymore. Now it doesn’t.
With so many Etihad-related failures last year, I was sad to think that we wouldn’t have any this year. Fortunately, I was proven wrong back in April when India’s Jet Airways folded. Jet had all the makings of an airline that should have survived. It had been flying in India since 1993 and it had a long history of success. When Etihad came in to invest, it didn’t go well, but there were still strong ties with Air France/KLM and Delta that made for promising commercial ventures in the future. It wasn’t enough. Jet ran out of money, and despite desperate attempts to keep it going in some form, the whole thing collapsed after what was an impressively-long run in the volatile Indian market.
This was not a good year for Avianca. Its main Colombian-based airline ran into trouble. United briefly took over, kicked out old Synergy Group ownership, and brought back in the former TACA owners who were relegated to minority interest after the merger between the two airlines. But at least that Avianca survived. Avianca Brasil, once Oceanair, was also owned by Synergy but it had nobody to save it. With only 10 planes, it never made it very far toward its goal of becoming a big player in Brazil. When Synergy ran into trouble, Avianca Brasil limped along for another few months until it finally folded.
This is an odd one in that I don’t actually know what day the airline disappeared. It was a tornado of terribleness through its existence, but in the end, things just fell apart in a haphazard fashion. Via used to just be a charter carrier, but 5 years ago it got into the essential air service game. There was a focus on Charlotte, but then it took its ERJs and just went all over the place. I remember seeing things like Austin to Tucson operating occasionally, but Via never was very good at operating. It left its essential air service communities high and dry, and those cities clamored to kick them out. Austin service ended on May 30, so that’s what I’m going with. Via blamed pilots, but I think there were probably a whole lot of other things to blame. This is one of those airlines where the public is better off having them gone. They did more harm than good.
Why am I including a rooftop bar in this year’s list? Oh, well, maybe it’s because Joon actually also flew airplanes. Who knew? Joon was the previous Air France management’s attempt to create a low-cost carrier to serve both long and short flights from France. No, not Transavia. That’s a… different one… that Air France owns. Joon was really a gigantic branding exercise that wasn’t a standalone airline. So people would connect between Joon and Air France and wonder what the heck was going on. It was a useless endeavor, and once Ben Smith took over as CEO, he marked it for death. I’m glad he did.
What can be said about Avianca Argentina that hasn’t already been said about Avianca Brasil? The airlines had no relation except that they were both acquired by Synergy and both used the Avianca name. This one was called Macair Jet until Synergy bought it. It had plans to use ATRs and A320s to fly domestic and international services. I think the A320 made an appearance but it didn’t stay for long. In the end, it was just an ATR operator with a few routes. The market in Argentina is pure insanity, and Avianca never had much of a chance after all the new entrants poured in.
I had no idea that Aigle Azur had such a long history, though it sounds like it took a break in there. After the first decade, Aigle’s assets were given to what would become UTA. But in 1970, Aigle made a return. Aigle grew into an African specialist, but but it spread its wings all over with both narrowbodies and a couple widebodies. It primarily flew from Paris/Orly. David Neeleman took a stake, as did HNA Group, but HNA has been having trouble for years, so that was probably more detrimental than anything. In the end, a lot of infighting kept the airline from having a chance to reorganize.
This was certainly one of the higher-profile failures this year, so I don’t need to tell you much about it. Thomas Cook as a company was around for over a hundred years before it failed. The airline was a major charter operator from the UK which was cobbled together when JMC (itself formed by a merger of Flying Colours and Caledonian which used to be British Airtours) was renamed Thomas Cook Airlines. That was merged into MyTravel (formed by a merger of a different Airtours and Inter European). Thomas Cook Scandinavia survived the bankruptcy with new owners renaming it Sunclass. Condor survives as well, and the Thomas Cook heart is being painted over. But Thomas Cook Airlines UK didn’t make it. It appears that right before the end of the year, the tiny Thomas Cook Balearics subsidiary also called it quits.
Adria Airways (Slovenia) – September 30, 2019
Plucky little Adria finally met its demise this year after years of just plain weird decisions. I wasn’t aware that Adria actually pre-dated the breakup of Yugoslavia by decades. It wasn’t until Slovenia’s independence that Adria became the flag carrier for the country. Adria became an important CRJ operator alongside A320s and even joined Star Alliance early in the game. Then it added 737-500s and CRJ-900s adding a silly amount of fleet complexity. It just kept losing money, but management desperately tried new things, like opening bases in Poland. In 2016, the airline was privatized, and the new owners also bought Darwin Airline from Etihad to rename it Adria Switzerland. The owners then sold the Adria brand in a cash grab. Darwin failed, then the walls started closing in on Adria. It finally gave up. Clear? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
XL Airways France (France) – September 30, 2019
It really was the year of the failing French airline. XL was another charter-y airline that abandoned its short-haul fleet for an all-A330 long-haul fleet serving leisure destinations. XL UK failed before, and now the French one is gone too. XL was something of a zombie in its final days. It had stopped selling tickets, yet it still kept flying. I assume it had sold most of its tickets far enough in advance, but I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t keep selling tickets on airplanes it was planning on flying anyway. After a last hope of getting Air France to buy it fell through, XL folded completely, and those airplanes stopped flying.
Peruvian Airlines (Peru) – October 4, 2019
I think Peruvian Airlines is actually gone, but frankly, I’m not entirely sure. Over the years, it has operated just about every type of old 737 you can imagine on a domestic network. (There was a short-lived adventure into Bolivia too.) Peruvian seemed like a carbon copy of Star Peru, an airline which I flew years ago and can’t believe still exists. At one point, it also had a DC-8 freighter operation, but that went away awhile ago. Anyway, I feel like this airline was rumored to be shutting down for awhile, and then one day, it actually happened. Is it coming back? I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being resurrected some day. But then again, maybe not.
Remember Fastjet? It was going to revolutionize Africa flying as a true low-cost carrier. Backed by airplanes from easyJet and ownership to boot, it started in Tanzania and had big ambitions. They have all crumbled. Africa is not an easy place for an airline, especially a low-cost carrier thanks to high taxes and government corruption. It pulled up stakes in Tanzania awhile ago. Mozambique is the latest one to fold. What’s left? Almost nothing. Fastjet Zimbabwe has a couple ERJ-145s it flies to Harare, Bulawayo, and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe along with Johannesburg in South Africa. I’d be amazed if this makes it in the long run.
I never understood ANA’s subsidiary strategy. It had a million of them, and Vanilla was one of two low-cost options. (The other was Peach.) Vanilla started life as Air Asia Japan, a joint venture between ANA and Air Asia. That did not go well, and in 2013, Air Asia walked away. ANA renamed the airline Vanilla Air. It was based at Tokyo/Narita and topped out with 6 A320s. Meanwhile, Peach was started as a joint venture between ANA and and a private equity firm. It was based in Osaka and used Kansai as its primary hub. Other than both being named after foods, these airlines had too much in common. It’s shocking that it took as long as it did, but this year they were merged into a single Peach Aviation.
Far Eastern Air Transport (Taiwan) – December 13, 2019
When I was a kid, I remember seeing photos of this airline with FAT on the tail, and I thought it was hilarious. That was the extent of my experience with the airline until 2008 when it failed the first time around. It even made my 2008 Airlines We Lost list. But then a funny thing happened… somebody decided that it was time to get FAT again in 2011. That effort took to the skies, but it didn’t last long, and so, FAT has melted away again. The saddest part of this is that FAT was still operating MD-80s until the end (alongside the ATR-72s it had in its fleet), so we’ve lost another of the few remaining operators of that glorious airplane.
Tomb of the Unknown Airline
- Aerolínea de Antioquia (Colombia)
- Air Nelson (New Zealand – merged into owner Air New Zealand)
- Air Philip (South Korea)
- Al Naser Wings (Iraq)
- Asian Express Airline (Tajikistan)
- Astra Airlines (Greece)
- Bulgarian Eagle (Bulgaria – owned by Germania)
- Cambodia Bayon Airlines (Cambodia)
- Direktflyg (Sweden – merged into Amapola)
- Egyptair Express (Egypt – merged into owner Egyptair)
- Fly Jamaica (Jamaica)
- Fly Orana (Australia)
- Globus (Russia – merged into owner S7)
- Indonesia Air Asia X (Indonesia, obviously)
- KC International Airlines (Cambodia)
- KD Air (Canada)
- Mount Cook Airline (New Zealand – merged into owner Air New Zealand)
- New Gen Airways (Thailand)
- Privateways (Germany)
- R1 Airlines (Canada)
- Shar Ink (Russia)
- Sky Gabon (Gabon)
- TAM Bolivia (Bolivia)
- TAME Amazonia (Ecuador)
- Tandam Aero (Moldova)
- Taron-Avia (Armenia)
- Tristar Air (Kenya)
- Ukraine Air Alliance (Ukraine)
- Uni-Top Airlines (China)
- Wisdom Airways (Thailand)