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Stobart Air: What went wrong and what to do if I have a ticket?

·5 min read
Now departed: Stobart Air plane in the colours of Aer Lingus Regional (Aer Lingus)
Now departed: Stobart Air plane in the colours of Aer Lingus Regional (Aer Lingus)

Dozens of flights have been cancelled and hundreds of passengers are stranded after Stobart Air collapsed.

The Irish carrier ceased operations after a rescue deal failed.

What happens next? These are the key questions and answers.

Who was Stobart Air?

For most of its 51-year existence, the carrier was known as Aer Arann. It was created in 1970 to serve the island of Inishmore off the west coast of Ireland.

The carrier expanded, and Aer Lingus contracted Aer Arann to operate short-haul commuter links under the Aer Lingus Regional brand.

Like many regional airlines, the Dublin-based carrier faced financial challenges. In 2014 the Stobart Group took a majority share and the name changed to Stobart Air.

What went wrong?

At the start of 2020 the carrier was flying a busy network of flights for both Aer Lingus and Flybe, with further expansion plans. It operated nearly 1,000 flights a week.

But then the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world, and demand for air travel collapsed. Flybe failed on 5 March 2020, triggering the shutdown of the routes that Stobart Air was flying on its behalf.

As the crisis deepened, the airline’s operations fell by up to 94 per cent.

It moved in to fill some of the old Flybe routes to and from Belfast City airport, under the brand Aer Lingus Regional. But with tight travel restrictions in the four nations of the UK, Stobart Air continued to struggle financially.

An Isle of Man company, Ettyl, planned to rescue the carrier along with Carlisle Lake District airport. But the hoped-for financing was not forthcoming, leading Stobart Air’s board to take the “necessary, unavoidable and difficult decision” to liquidate the company.

Ashley Connolly, national secretary of the Fórsa trade union, said: “Loyal and long-service Stobart staff, who have been through 16 months of financial hardship and uncertainty, are devastated this morning.” Almost 500 workers have lost their jobs.

I have a ticket for an Aer Lingus Regional flight. What can I do?

It depends if the flight is going ahead. Initially Aer Lingus said services linking Belfast City airport with Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds Bradford and Manchester were all cancelled, along with Stobart Air flights to and from Dublin.

Aer Lingus will fly Airbus jets on some former Stobart Air routes on Sunday 13 and Monday14 June: from Belfast City to Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester, and between Dublin and Edinburgh.

Do not go to the airport hoping to fly. unless you are sure the flight is operating.

My flight has definitely been cancelled.

If you are stranded and need to travel urgently, see if there is a suitable “rescue fare” available on another airline. These are traditionally put in place after a carrier collapse.

For example Loganair is offering a low last-minute fare of £60, including a checked bag, on its links to and from Belfast City. While there are no exact route replacements, passengers booked to Edinburgh might fly to Dundee; or Leeds Bradford-bound travellers could go to Teesside.

Ryanair is offering £40 rescue fares for routes between Dublin and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester – including at airport ticket desks.

They are valid for travel originally booked for June, July or August but must be purchased by midnight on Tuesday 15June.

The Independent has asked easyJet if it will offer rescue fares on its flights from Belfast International to Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

What if I just want a refund?

Aer Lingus, which remains a solid airline as part of IAG, will provide your money back – though with thousands of advance bookings it may take some time. There should be no need to contact your credit card firm or travel insurer, if you have one.

I still need to travel but the alternatives are much more expensive.

If you are unable to avail of a rescue fare that is sadly inevitable. Had the flights been cancelled with the airline remaining a going concern, the carrier would need to find alternative transportation for you. But since Stobart Air is in liquidation, that will not happen.

Where are the implications for aviation across the Irish Sea?

In the short term, grim. Post-Flybe connectivity at Belfast City had just about been restored to previous levels (though not with the same frequency due to coronavirus restrictions), and links with Cardiff, Glasgow and Newquay were due to start this summer.

Other planned routes to and from Dublin, serving Cardiff and Exeter, are now shelved.

But other airlines will step in to fill the links deemed to have the best prospects. Aer Lingus may accelerate its planned deal with Emerald to take over its Regional routes in 2022 – and possibly step in itself offering jet flights on key feeder routes between Dublin regional airports in Britain.

The airline schedule analyst Sean Moulton said: “With Covid reducing the demand for travel, it may be a long road ahead for the airports of Ireland and Northern Ireland to rebuild. A number of options are out there – plus maybe some surprises – but how long it takes for all these routes to return is unknown.”

Are other airlines in jeopardy?

In general, yes – because they have been losing money continuously for 15 months. However if one airline collapses, this does not usually signal a domino effect of further failures.

Quite the contrary: removing a weaker player can strengthen the prospects of those who remain.

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