Airlines We Lost 2023

Airlines We Lost

Where does the time go? It is the last post of the year, and that means it’s time to honor those airlines that didn’t quite make it to see 2024. After last year’s relatively anemic list, we saw some rebound this year with more failures. As always I turned to the ch-aviation database which is by far the most complete one around.

So, who made the list this year? There were a whole bunch I’ve never heard of — like my favorite name of the year, RoadRunAir — but that’s not out of the ordinary. There were also some names you know and may have even loved at one point. We’ll start off with an airline that has actually made this list once before…

flybe (United Kingdom) – January 28

Oh, little flybe. Back in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, the already-troubled British regional carrier folded instantly. But, as we all know, flybe has to be one of the greatest brands ever in the history of the airline industry so it was definitely worth bringing back. Definitely. Flybe took longer trying to restart than it actually did flying again. The airline started off in 2022 with a Birmingham base followed by Belfast, but it did not go well. The airline went in and out of routes, apparently even deciding to cancel Isle of Man service about 30 minutes before it was supposed to start. In the end, the airline collapsed again, helping us all relive the pain of March 2020 when it happened the first time around.

Flyr (Norway) – January 31

Flyr had a brilliant plan. The idea was “well that whole Norwegian thing worked so well, we should do it!” To be fair, this plan was just to fly to leisure destinations in Europe from Norway, but Norwegian didn’t get rid of that part of its business. So what was the point of Flyr? I know for one Cranky Concierge client, it was the only way to get nonstop from Athens to Oslo on specific day, so… there’s your value proposition. But the airline ran a troubled operation, and it did not take long for it to descend into financial peril. There were efforts to keep the airline alive, but the funding fell through. And once that happened, it was all over.

Aeromar (México) – February 15

I’m not sure why, but I have a soft spot for Aeromar, the oldest airline on this year’s list. Maybe it’s because Aeromar is a throwback to a different time in Mexican aviation. It survived thanks primarily to its slot-holdings in Mexico City, buzzing around with ATR props all over the country and even dipping into the US. The airline had a codeshare with Continental which eventually transferred to United, but it often struggled financially. At one point, you may remember a hare-brained scheme to make the airline into Avianca México. This, of course, was before the whole Germán Efromovich-empire Avianca collapsed into bankruptcy. Despite a few other rumors, Aeromar couldn’t find a savior and gave up earlier this year.

Viva Air (Colombia/Perú) – February 27

This was the year of the great Colombian shake-out. Several airlines failed (including one below), but none was bigger than Viva. Viva started off in Colombia but expanded beyond to Perú and had grand plans. It was backed by Irelandia and had occassionally run into trouble in its quest to be the most important low-cost operator in the area. That trouble greatly accelerated during and after the pandemic. The airline was bleeding, and it turned to Avianca to buy the airline. That transaction was completed BEFORE the government actually weighed in on whether a combination would be allowed. (Read here for more on this convoluted story.) In the end, Avianca bought the airline, wasn’t allowed to actually do anything with it unless it agreed to onerous conditions, and finally gave up and shut it down. What a waste.

Ultra Air (Colombia) – March 30

If you blinked, you might have missed Ultra Air. The airline only started in 2022, and it was another in the onslaught of Colombian low-cost operators trying to make a buck. It was founded by William Shaw, one of the people behind the launch of Viva back in the day, so the idea was to, I dunno, reclaim greatness or something like that. Like Viva, Ultra Air hubbed in Medellín, but it never got very far. With 5 A320s in the fleet, the domestic-only airline folded just over a year after it launched. It just wasn’t meant to be, and now Colombia is left with Avianca and LATAM again ruling the roost.

Niceair (Iceland) – April 6

Niceair wasn’t actually an airline but rather a bold attempt to get people to visit the Northern Icelandic city of Akureyri for their vacations starting with Copenhagen and London as the two year-round destinations. (You’d have thought a flight to Nice would be good, but no.) Akureyri is tiny with fewer than 20,000 people. It is, however, a popular tourist spot that requires a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik if you don’t fly in. This may have been an interesting idea, but the execution was a train wreck from the start. Niceair contracted with Hi Fly Malta to operate an A319, not realizing that Hi Fly Malta wasn’t permitted to operate the London route thanks to air treaty issues related to Brexit. Once that was resolved, the airline limped through less than a year of flying before the aircraft Hi Fly was using was apparently either detained or repossessed by lessors. Niceair never resumed flying again.

Go First (India) – May 2

If any airline is the posterchild for bad luck, it’s Go First. The airline started as GoAir operating A320s and grew slowly into the fourth largest airline in India. In 2011 it ordered 72 A320neos, and that would be the backbone of the fleet starting in 2016. The airline went international in 2018, not an easy feat for Indian airlines, but it retrenched during the pandemic. At that time, it renamed itself Go First, and so… “go [out of business] first” it did. It was trying to raise money in recent months, and I’d assume financial performance wasn’t good, but I couldn’t find specifics. Either way, what pushed this airline over the edge was that nearly the entire fleet was made up of A320neos powered by Pratt & Whitney engines. When those engines ran into trouble, Go First was toast. This was certainly not the only problem at Go First, but it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. And so far, that back remains broken despite efforts to fix it and return to flying.

Air Moldova (Moldova) – May 2

There is nothing particularly notable about Air Moldova, but I still found it worth writing up just because of the historic nature of the airline. Air Moldova was one of those airlines that rose after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It came out of the local Aeroflot operation that was left to its own devices in the early 1990s. In 2018, Air Moldova was privatized and one of the owners was the now-defunct Blue Air. You can guess where this is going. The airline was always small, boasting a whopping three A321s at the time of its demise. It had financial troubles and now appears to be gone for good.

Fly Gangwon (South Korea) – May 18

Fly Gangwon was a tiny South Korean airline funded by the province of Gangwon that I can’t quite figure out. My guess is that they just wanted to create an airline that would do it Gangwon style. (I know, I know it’s Gangnam, but I just couldn’t resist.) It flew from Yangyang (in Gangwon) to the huge tourist spot of Jeju. The only other route it started pre-pandemic was down to Clark in the Philippines. That’s all it did consistently through the pandemic, trying and failing on other routes. In 2022 it got crazy and acquired an A330 which it flew from Yangyang to Hanoi. Why? I have no idea, but VietJet also flies that route, so there must be a big ex-pat population. But none of it worked, and now it’s gone. Those who want to go to Jeju will just have to drive the 1.5 hours to Seoul/Gimpo first.

Calafia (México) – August 14

I had never heard of Calafia until one day when I saw the airline in Puerto Vallarta. It was a strange little airline that was based in Cabo San Lucas (CSL, not the main SJD airport) and had a few ERJ-145s and a Brasilia buzzing around. The airline lasted an incredible 30 years, which puts it older than most Mexican airlines flying today, but for most of that time it was flying small props. In 2016, the airline tried to get bigger, but it retrenched during the pandemic. It’s not clear to me how many airplanes were even flying in the end, but something happened with the federal regulators down there, and the airline just went away.

Red Way (USA) – August 31

You probably know about the arc of Red Way. This was the virtual airline started thanks to a whole bunch of COVID funds that the locals near Lincoln pushed into action. The money was meant to act as a backstop if this operation — using a GlobalX A320 — failed to make money on these sub-daily flights from Lincoln to places all over the US. In the end, it wasn’t a backstop at all but rather a key source of revenue. The operation lasted just a couple months before the company in charge pulled the plug, realizing there was no hope. Now there is word that promised refunds haven’t fully materialized, and the state auditor is calling it a “riverboat gamble.” So, while Red Way isn’t flying any longer, it is still making a lot of enemies.

Buta Airways (Azerbaijan) – Oct 1

Remember when the whole “airline-within-an-airline” craze set the US on fire? CALite, Metrojet, Song, Ted… 20 to 30 years ago that was what all the cool kids did. And it apparently took that long for this trend to make it to Azerbaijan. See, Azerbaijan Airlines decided it wanted an in-house low-cost operator back in 2016 that it would call AZALJet. Then it changed its mind and called it Buta Airways instead. This airline picked up eight Embraer 190s and flew them mostly around former Soviet countries and eastern Europe. This year, Azerbaijan got the message that this trend was over. Now Buta has been merged into Azerbaijan Airlines, but just to make things more silly, they’ve adopted the new name AZAL for the combined carrier. Clear as mud.

Novair (Sweden) – October 1

I have very little to say about Novair. It was a Stockholm-based operation that primarily flew travelers from Sweden (and other Scandinavian countries) on charters to warm weather places for the travel agency Apollo. So why am I even writing this one up? Well, Novair at one point flew three or four L-1011s. It’s so rare that I get to talk about an L-1011 that I take any chance I can get. The airline flew three -500 series aircraft only from 1997 until 2000, but it may or may not have flown a -1 up until 2004. I’m getting mixed messages. In the end, it flew only two A321neos, and it just wasn’t able to get enough charter business to bother flying any longer. Maybe if it still had those L-1011s….

Swoop (Canada) – October 28

About the same time that Azerbaijan learned that it should stop having an airline within an airline, WestJet got the same message. WestJet had been on a years-long spree of trying to become as complex as possible. It had mainline WestJet flying short-haul. It acquired widebodies for long-haul and started Encore regional. It then contracted with an even smaller regional to create WestJet Link. And yes, there was Swoop acting as the low-cost carrier within the already supposedly low-cost carrier WestJet. Swoop tried a few strategies, but its death was certain once the new WestJet pilot contract was signed. Swoop’s airplanes and crews were all brought back in house. Next year, recently-acquired Sunwing will also fold in.

Thai Smile (Thailand) – December 31

Are we having fun yet with all these airlines-within-an-airline? I am, but that’s only because they’re finally going away. Thai Smile was apparently created to fill a gap between low-cost and full-service airlines. What gap, you ask? Beats me. But Thai also owned a piece of Nok Air which must have just been so different that a separate brand was needed in the middle. With its 12 A320s, Thai Smile stretched itself pretty far throughout Asia. Now, the airline will be merged back into Thai. It’s widely believed this fate could have been avoided if the airline had actually painted a smile on the nose, just like PSA, but somehow it failed to do that. Now it’s gone.

Tomb of the Unknown Airline

  • Air Antilles (Guadeloupe)
  • Air Guilin (China)
  • Air Guyane (French Guiana)
  • Air Sphinx (Egypt)
  • Air Timor (Timor-Leste)
  • Alas La Rioja (Argentina)
  • Amaszonas (Bolivia)
  • Azman Air (Nigeria)
  • Cascadia Air (Canada)
  • Equair (Ecuador)
  • FlyM (Mozambique)
  • Kairos Air (Italy)
  • MYAirline (Malaysia)
  • RoadRunAir (USA)
  • Skåneflyg (Sweden)
  • Vertical de Aviación (Colombia)
  • Voyage Air (Bulgaria)

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24 comments on “Airlines We Lost 2023

  1. Did Voyage Air in Bulgaria actually do any substantive flying ? They had a website to book flights… but AFAIK, (almost) nothing seemed to appear when their aircraft was searched on FR24

    1. David – I have no idea, but I do know that they lost their AOC and had the only aircraft in the fleet taken. How much flying they did… dunno.

    2. I’m surprised MYairline only got a mention in the Tomb of the Unknown Airline considering it was quite the story, with passengers being stranded, fishy things like the CEO retiring days before its collapse, and allegations of it being a fraud due to the aforementioned CEO’s shady past. With all the drama I was kind of expecting a full entry, it was quite the story in Malaysia.

  2. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to recognize all the airlines we lost in 2023. Let’s have a moment of silence for each… and with that we say amen.

  3. No way you can get from Yangyang to Gimpo in an hour and a half unless at 3am at quite a bit above the speed limit.

  4. I sometimes find the stories of these failed airlines to be very interesting. Air Antilles is one on the list, and I have actually flown them before between islands.

    They were owned by an outfit out of Guyana, the same one that owned Air Guyane, but primarily flew between French islands.

    They survived the pandemic but were struggling. Then they had a long nasty pilot strike… and then in the summer one of their planes landed well of the runway in St Barts and hit a helicopter.

    Just a thought, maybe those pilots didn’t need a raise….

    Since then the holding company for both airlines went under.

    Air Antilles will likely be back some time early in 2024. The government of the French side of St. Martin bought a 60 % stake and owns the planes and other assets now.

    Just find these failures interesting to follow.

  5. I flew on Red Way (inaugural flight) yet when they closed down, I got a full refund to my credit card for whatever reason. Same for several others I know. I guess that’s where the refund money went – refunding people they did actually carry. The auditor’s report is quite the fun read.

  6. I wasn’t aware that Calafia died, they were the only service to Puerto Penasco Mexico’s big empty airport, albeit once a week.

    1. See my post above.

      The same holding company out of Guyana owned both them and Air Guyane. Due to a variety of reasons (typical of these airlines) the holding company went broke. Air Guyane bit the dust, but the government of French St. Martin has purchased Air Antilles and is going to restart it, serving PTP, FDF, St. Barts, and the French side of St. Martin.

  7. >I have no idea, but VietJet also flies that route, so there must be a big ex-pat population.?
    To answer your question, Korea is a popular tourist destination for Vietnamese, but there’s also a significant Korean population in Vietnam, mostly in places like Da Nang. Major Korean companies like Lotte also have large operations there. I’m guessing that may have been a reason.

    1. David – ch-aviation still shows them as active in the database, but I honestly don’t know if they’re flying

  8. That Red Way article was fun to read, it’s unusual for a forensic auditor to get that blunt about things, their reports and public statements are usually pretty dry.

    The so-called “consultant” that advised them on the entire project has to be either out of his mind or knowingly milking them for money. If they thought there was a market, they could have used some of the funds to legitimately waive fees for a year for Allegiant, who would know far better than them if those leisure routes could ever work without subsidy. Omaha is only about an hour up I-80 and already has Allegiant, the Big Domestic Four and other carriers.

    Smaller cities need to realize that modern economics mean that if there is a good-sized airport 90 minutes or less away, unless you’re a tourist destination in your own right or offer easier access to places that would be 2+ hours to drive to (e.g. SRQ) or an unusual situation like XNA (“Walmart HQ Airport”), flights to a couple of hubs is all you’re reasonably going to get.

    1. > Smaller cities need to realize that modern economics mean that if there is a good-sized airport 90 minutes or less away, unless you’re a tourist destination in your own right or offer easier access to places that would be 2+ hours to drive to (e.g. SRQ) or an unusual situation like XNA (“Walmart HQ Airport”), flights to a couple of hubs is all you’re reasonably going to get.

      Exactly. Just in the eastern half of the Northeast you have ORH (Worcester) stuck between BDL, PVD, and BOS, while PSM (Portsmouth) is stuck between MHT (Manchester, NH), PWM (Portland, ME), & BOS. The stars would have to really align just right for tertiary airports like ORH or PSM to get more than few flights a day on 50+ seaters, and (frankly) if they did, that would probably mean that there would be bigger opportunities for airlines at other (larger) airports to better serve the demand.

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