By Winston Shek
Stobart Air Plans Liquidation, Terminates Operation
On Saturday, Stobart Air — the operator of Aer Lingus’s regional services — announced that it would appoint a liquidator, canceling its franchise agreement with Aer Lingus Regional and forcing the cancelation of dozens of flights.
In a memo to its 480 employees, Stobart Air said it was unable to close a deal with suitor Ettyl Limited over the assets of its parent company, Esken Limited, due to a lack of funding. As a result, Stobart Air terminated its franchise agreement with Aer Lingus and its wet-lease agreement with British Airways. Now, the regional carrier will appoint a liquidator.
Initially, Stobart Air was launched in 1970 as Aer Arann, a regional carrier in Ireland. In 2010, Aer Arann created Aer Lingus Regional with Aer Lingus, rebranding to Stobart Air in 2014. Prior to Covid-19, Stobart Air carried more than a million passengers each year for Aer Lingus Regional, with 940 flights a week across 43 routes in Western Europe. Additionally, the airline helped operate FlyBe services as part of the parent consortium Connect Airways. At one point, Stobart Air flew an Embraer E195 for KLM Cityhopper for flights to Geneva and Amsterdam.
However, in 2020, Connect Airways — a consortium formed by Stobart Group and Virgin Atlantic to purchase U.K. regional carrier FlyBe — collapsed, causing the 49% that Connect Airways owned to be purchased by Stobart Group. Additionally, with low travel demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Stobart Air flew fewer flights than ever before, with poor load factors. Furthermore, Stobart Air lost its contract extension with Aer Lingus Regional, with newly-formed Emerald Air taking its place in 2023.
Before its collapse, the Dublin-based airline flew 12 ATR-72-600 aircraft and one ATR-42-600, utilizing eight aircraft during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Late on the evening of June 11, Stobart Air notified Aer Lingus that it was terminating its Franchise Agreement with Aer Lingus with immediate effect,” Aer Lingus said in a statement. “As a result, all Aer Lingus Regional flights operated by Stobart Air are canceled. Stobart Air referred to the continuing impact of the pandemic which has resulted in almost no flying since March 2020. Stobart Air has ceased trading and is now in the process of appointing a liquidator. Aer Lingus apologizes to customers for the inconvenience caused by the cancellation at such short notice of all flights operated by Stobart Air. Aer Lingus is now communicating to customers to advise them of their options for refund or re-booking.”
Approximately 11 routes are affected, from Aer Lingus Regional’s Irish hubs in Belfast City and Dublin to various cities in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including flights from Belfast City to Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds/Bradford and Manchester, and Dublin to Donegal, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kerry, Manchester and Newquay.
As a result, Aer Lingus has organized replacement flights on several routes, with five routes using mainline aircraft and two routes operated temporarily for at least a week by BA CityFlyer. Specifically, flights from Dublin to Edinburgh and Manchester and flights from Belfast City to Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester will be operated by mainline Aer Lingus. Meanwhile, BA CityFlyer will operate flights from Belfast City to Exeter and Leeds/Bradford. However, Aer Lingus Regional flights to London Heathrow remain unaffected, already flown by Aer Lingus’ mainline fleet.
Additionally, U.K. regional carrier Loganair has offered rescue flights to and from Belfast City. However, these flights apply to their current network and do not replace any flights on Aer Lingus’ network.
According to the Irish Times, the Department of Transport is looking into restoring Irish-funded public-obligation routes, similar to Essential Air Service (EAS) in the U.S., for flights from Donegal and Kerry to Dublin.
In a statement from the Irish Times, Irish Minister of Transport, Eamon Ryan, states, “We will be engaging with all stakeholders today [Saturday] and over the coming days to restore connectivity to the regional airports affected by today’s announcement.”