It’s that time again where we review the airlines that we lost during the year. And you know what? It was a very short list this year. As always, I keep a list of my own, so I can at least keep an eye on the highlights. That list wasn’t long, but I figured I’d just missed something. As always I turned to the ch-aviation database which is by far the most complete one around… and well, it still wasn’t very long. I guess COVID just knocked everyone out in 2020 and 2021, and there wasn’t much left for this year.
Fear not… we have some to honor, just not a ton.
Air Leap (Norway and Sweden) – January 24, 2022
Air Leap has a confusing history. It came to be out of the ashes of FlyViking an airline which barely made the Tomb of the Unknown in 2018 — but that was as a virtual airline called Next Move. Its next move was to rename as Air Leap and then merge it with the remains of Nextjet to get an operating certificate. But it didn’t get an operating certificate, so it farmed out flying until it got its own… eventually. Once it got its certificate, it then went out and created another virtual airline over in Norway, because things weren’t complicated enough. The Swedish airline flew the flights for the Norwegian airline. Are you bored yet? I’m bored. So let’s just leave it at this. The airline flew props around Scandinavia. Now it doesn’t.
Royal Flight (Russia) – March 16, 2022
You would think that the massive sanctions on Russia due to the Ukraine invasion would have taken down more airlines… and maybe they have but we just don’t know it yet. Royal Flight did, however, publicly fail. It started as Abakan-Avia back in 1992 in the remote city of Abakan, less than 400 miles north of Mongolia. Like most airlines from back then, it was carved out of one of the many Aeroflot units. It took on its current name when it was bought by a Russian tour operator in 2014, and it flew holiday charters from bigger Russian cities. With the inability of Russians to travel to most holiday spots outside the country, Royal Flight couldn’t make it. I saw one report saying the final straw was that its Turkish shareholders pulled the airplanes out of the country for fear of what Russia would do if they stayed. That tracks.
Comair/Kulula (South Africa) – May 31, 2022
Finally, we get to an airline that you may have heard of. Though to be fair, you likely never saw an airplane painted in Comair colors. Started in colonial times, Comair was always meant to focus on travel within Southern Africa. In recent times, it was one of the British Airways franchise partners that operated fully under the BA name and code using 737s. If you flew to South Africa, you also probably knew Comair as “that full service airline I could fly between cities so I didn’t have to fly South African.” It started a low cost operator called Kulula as well which should be best known for its excellent flying 101 livery. When tourism stopped during the pandemic, the entire South African airline industry crumbled. Despite a few half-hearted efforts, no plan to save the company ever came to fruition. With Comair gone, that leaves little SUN-AIR out of Denmark as the only BA franchise partner left. And more concerning, it leaves teetering South African as the only full service operator in South Africa… though Airlink has tried to step in some limited ways.
Eswatini Airlink (Eswatini) – June 1, 2022
Of all the South African airlines, it was Airlink that survived the pandemic best. It extricated itself from its South African partnership and has positioned itself well for the future. The same can’t be said for its joint venture Eswatini Airlink. Eswatini Airlink started out as a joint venture between Airlink and the government of Swaziland to create the small country’s flag carrier. Swaziland — on the eastern edge of South Africa also bordering Mozambique — changed its name to Eswatini in 2018 and the airline followed suit. It wasn’t much of an airline, just connecting Manzini to Johannesburg, and it didn’t have its own certificate. It just used Airlink aircraft. The two entities broke up with Airlink still serving the main airport in Manzini on its own and the government now starting a new flag carrier creatively named Eswatini Air that may some day fly.
Airbahn (United States) – June 20, 2022
Airbahn was not an airline but rather a strange fever dream that was officially (forcibly) abandoned this year. The airline was to be based in Southern California and it even had an airplane — an A320 it had sitting at Ontario Airport that came from Pakistan’s Airblue, an actual airline owned by the same owners as Airbahn. The idea was to fly A320s in an ultra low-cost model on short-haul routes around the west. The obvious question is… why? There’s no shortage of low-fare west coast operations, and this really didn’t seem to make any sense. Certification proceeded at a snail’s pace, and eventually DOT said it had gone too slow and ended the process in May. June 20 was the last time anyone ever posted anything on social media, so I’m going with that date as the unofficial end of the road. The airline has now left the country.
CommutAir (United States) – July 26, 2022
Let me guess… you are confused. Isn’t CommutAir a large operator of ERJ-145s for United Express? And the answer is no, it’s not. CommuteAir is that airline. CommutAir officially died last year when the owners decided it was hugely important to have an “e” in there so that people would stop calling it “kahm-ut-air” or something like that. Was that a thing? I have no idea. I’m really only even writing about this because it was such a slow year. The new name became official in June, and that means CommutAir is no more, barely, some might say unfairly, qualifying the airline for this list. Unless you have a strong love of the letter “e,” this is not exciting.
Tchadia Airlines (Chad) – August 8, 2022
Did you know Chad had a flag carrier? I might need to back up. Did you know Chad was a country? It is, and it’s a geographically big one with 16 million people lying just south of Libya. The former French colony wanted a national carrier, so in 2018 it signed up with Ethiopian to create Tchadia Airlines. It did not go well. The airline was small, with only a couple of Q400 turboprops. It primarily flew domestic routes but also touched a couple of neighboring countries. Despite its modest size, it only bled money and this year was the end. The airline was set to be liquidated. This is a real shame for those living in the capital N’Djamena. Now there are no good domestic options, and travel requires going through another African hub or even Paris.
ExpressJet/aha! (United States) – August 23, 2022
CommutAir was just the appetizer. The real (former) United Express operator flying Embraer 145s that went bust was Expressjet along with its last stand at staying alive, aha! I covered ExpressJet’s long history when it failed in 2020. But the 2020 event apparently wasn’t enough to keep the airline in the ground. With nothing to lose, the ExpressJet team came up with the annoyingly-named aha!. This branded operation was really meant to be like a small airplane version of Allegiant. It started up with a Reno base using ERJ-145s flying around the west. The idea was to bring in tourists on infrequent flights and try to sell packages when possible to get more money. That explains what the name was said to stand for… air, hotel, adventure! (Don’t forget the crucial exclamation point.) None of this really worked as planned. The airline tried a few different routes but none of them worked well enough to keep it flying. They called it quits, and it looks like this time there will be no resurrection.
Blue Air (Romania) – September 6, 2022
I suppose we can categorize this one under “probably dead” since there seems to be some sort of rumored plan to return to the skies. But Blue Air is not flying airplanes right now, and my money is on that not happening again. Blue Air was an early success story among low-cost attempts in central and eastern Europe. With flag carrier TAROM effectively being a walking zombie, Blue Air came in and started offering services all over with narrowbodies, even acquiring 737 MAX 8s. Early in the pandemic the airline went bankrupt but kept flying. While the pandemic was problematic, I think it’s safe to say that the bigger problem was Wizz Air which has had more departures than Blue Air since 2010 and has only kept growing. Technically, Blue Air isn’t dead. It still has a couple of old airplanes, and its license to operate is suspended, not revoked. The government has talked about nationalizing the airline, but the plans all seem very squishy. So we’ll call it dead for now.
Elite Airways (United States) – November 5, 2022
Is Elite Airways still alive? I have no idea. Was it ever really alive? What is the meaning of life? That’s kind of where I am with Elite, a Portland (ME)-based airline that sometimes flew and sometimes didn’t. But I think it’s time to call it dead. It hasn’t flown any sort of commercial service for months, and the very last date any of its airplanes flew anywhere (according to FlightAware) was November 5 when an airplane went from Vero Beach to Smyrna, most likely for parking and abandonment. The airline liked to sneak in and out of small airports between the Northeast and Florida, at least on a scheduled basis, but it just doesn’t look like there’s anything left there. I think it’s fair to call this one dead… but there have been plenty of un-dead experiences in airline land so we’ll see. (An article this week would seem to solidify this proclamation of death.)
Tomb of the Unknown Airline
- Blu-Express (Italy)
- Fly Macaw (United Kingdom)
- GCA Air (Colombia)
- Green Airways (Germany)
- Infinity Airlines (Chile)
- Jota Aviation (United Kingdom)
- Kamchatka Airlines (Russia)
- Shenniao Airlines (China)
- Tanana Air Service and Shannon’s Air Taxi (US) merged into Grant Aviation