Almost 500 staff have lost their jobs and thousands of passengers face uncertainty after a regional airline closed down. Stobart Air, based in Dublin, has ceased all operations from today and is appointing a liquidator.
The airline provided a busy network of flights badged as Aer Lingus Regional.
Travellers booked on a dozen flights to and from Belfast City airport have been grounded. Services linking the Northern Ireland airport with Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds Bradford and Manchester are all cancelled.
Links from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Newquay to Dublin have also been cancelled, as well as Irish domestic routes from the capital to Donegal and Kerry.
Stobart Air was founded in 1970 as Aer Arran, originally serving the island of Inishmore off the west coast of Ireland. It had an expanding network of regional routes in the UK and Ireland. Many of the links replaced those left unserved by Flybe, which collapsed in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus crisis.
Like all airlines, Stobart Air had been hard hit by the pandemic and the travel restrictions involved. In April an Isle of Man company, Ettyl, announced plans to buy the carrier, along with Carlisle Lake District airport. But that deal has now collapsed.
Stobart Air is part of Esken, formerly the Stobart Group.
The airline announced: ““Given the continued impact of the pandemic which has virtually halted air travel since March 2019 and in the absence of any alternative purchasers or sources of funding, the board of Stobart Air must take the necessary, unavoidable and difficult decision to seek to appoint a liquidator.
“All 480 staff at the airline have been informed.
“Last April, Stobart Air announced that a new owner had been identified. However, it has emerged that the funding to support this transaction is no longer in place and the new owner is now unable to conclude the transaction.”
Aer Lingus issued a statement attributing the failure to Stobart Air doing “almost no flying since March 2020”. It added: “Aer Lingus apologises 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.”
A spokesperson for Belfast City Airport said: “We were informed by Aer Lingus this morning that Stobart Air who operated the Aer Lingus Regional franchise has ceased operations.
“As a result Aer Lingus flights to and from Leeds Bradford, Edinburgh, Exeter, Manchester, East Midlands and Birmingham have been cancelled.
“The Aer Lingus Heathrow service is not affected and is still operating.
“We apologise to our passengers for this inconvenience and are working with Aer Lingus to ensure these routes are operating again as soon as possible.
“Passengers booked on these flights should not travel to the airport but should instead contact Aer Lingus.”
Belfast City was hard hit by the collapse 15 months ago of Flybe. The carrier accounted for seven out of 10 passengers and eight out of 10 flight movements.
The airline schedule analyst, Sean Moulton, said: “The airport is having to rebuild its network again from the loss of its largest airline. However this time, the airport has existing partners to which could aid the recovery of its network.”
Airlines including Loganair are offering “rescue fares” to help passengers complete their journeys.
The Scottish carrier tweeted: “If you were booked on a flight operated by Stobart Air, Loganair will offer a rescue fare on all of its routes to and from Belfast City of £60 one way including checked baggage to enable you to travel on any of our flights to complete your journey.”