Passengers stranded as another European airline collapses

Primera Air's finances started to erode as it continued to offer new routes while contending with higher fuel costs, delayed airplane deliveries and issues like corrosion on its aircraft.
Primera Air's finances started to erode as it continued to offer new routes while contending with higher fuel costs, delayed airplane deliveries and issues like corrosion on its aircraft.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/PRIMERA AIR

RIGA, LATVIA (NYTIMES) - Primera Air, a small low-cost airline that spent the last year expanding its reach from northern Europe to hubs in North America, filed for bankruptcy and ceased flying on Monday (Oct 1) night, leaving passengers stranded at airports on both sides of the Atlantic.

The airline had been jostling for a toehold in the crowded European market, where consolidation and the fierce battle for customers have led to the collapse of several airlines in recent years, including Air Berlin, Alitalia and Monarch in Britain.

But Primera's finances started to erode as it continued to offer new routes while contending with higher fuel costs, delayed airplane deliveries and issues like corrosion on its aircraft.

On Monday night, after 14 years of operations, the company said it had failed to get an agreement for a short-term loan from its bank.

The abrupt end left many hundreds of passengers stranded at airports. At Dulles International Airport outside Washington, Ms Pavithra Selvakumar, a 24-year-old student, was stuck trying to get back to Britain after her Primera flight was cancelled.

There was no staff at the airline's desk, she said on Tuesday, and she was among 30 to 40 people trying to sort out their journeys. Some of them cancelled their vacations.

"I could see a girl crying here, there were old people, people with kids," Ms Selvakumar said.

At Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, flights for about 370 Primera passengers were cancelled, officials said.

At London's Stansted Airport, 400 travellers were affected.

Despite low prices and new trans-Atlantic routes, the company could not grow fast enough to outpace rising oil prices, said Mr Andrew Charlton, managing director of Aviation Advocacy, a consultancy. All low-cost airlines "have to live on the edge of their cash flow to get big enough to get the scale to be successful", he said.

As the summer holiday period came to a close and bills started to pile up, the company decided to fold.

Other European airlines have done the same in recent weeks.

Swiss airline Skyworks filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of September, while VLM, a Belgian airline, went into liquidation in August.