HUNDREDS of passengers have been stranded across Europe following the sudden collapse of a British airline.
British Midland Regional Limited, which operated as flybmi, announced on Saturday evening that it was filing for administration. It is understood 1,500 passengers had been scheduled to fly with the airline on Sunday..
A total of 376 employees based in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Belgium are employed by bmi Regional.
The East Midlands-based airline had operated flights on routes to 25 European cities, including Aberdeen, Bristol, City of Derry, East Midlands, London Stansted and Newcastle.
It was claimed some passengers were still able to make bookings on Saturday, hours before the announcement of the collapse came.
A tweet from the airline a day earlier invited people to book a trip with flybmi to Munich for winter sports.
Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?, said: “Some customers have claimed that tickets were being sold in the hours before the airline went bust, knowing full well those tickets would never be honoured, and passengers will rightly be outraged if this is proved to be the case.”
In a statement, the airline said difficulties which led to the collapse had included increases in fuel and carbon costs, and challenges “particularly those created by Brexit”.
A statement on its website said: “The airline has faced several difficulties, including recent spikes in fuel and carbon costs, the latter arising from the EU’s recent decision to exclude UK airlines from full participation in the Emissions Trading Scheme. These issues have undermined efforts to move the airline into profit.
“Current trading and future prospects have also been seriously affected by the uncertainty created by the Brexit process, which has led to our inability to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe and lack of confidence around bmi’s ability to continue flying between destinations in Europe.
“Additionally, our situation mirrors wider difficulties in the regional airline industry which have been well documented.
“Against this background, it has become impossible for the airline’s shareholders to continue their extensive programme of funding into the business, despite investment totalling over £40 million in the last six years.
“We sincerely regret that this course of action has become the only option open to us, but the challenges, particularly those created by Brexit, have proven to be insurmountable.”
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), said: “The collapse of flybmi is devastating news for all employees.
“Regrettably Balpa had no warning or any information from the company at all.
“Our immediate steps will be to support flybmi pilots and explore with the directors and administrators whether their jobs can be saved.”
Just two days before the announcement, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had announced the route between City of Derry Airport and London Stansted would be subsidised by the Government, in partnership with the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland for another two years until May 1, 2021.
Discussions are now under way to find an airline to operate the route, which is a public service obligation.
A DfT spokesman said: “It is very disappointing that flybmi has gone into administration and we know this will be a very difficult time for those who have lost their jobs as a result.
The spokesman added: “This will also of course be disruptive for passengers. We are fully focused on supporting those affected and are in contact with airports, airlines and other transport providers to ensure everything possible is being done to help them.”
FLYBMI’s customers have been told not to come to the airport unless they have re-booked flights with alternative providers.
Flybmi said it would not be able to purchase, rearrange or reschedule any flights on behalf of customers.
An extensive Q&A on the airline’s website - the only page now accessible to customers - lays out various options for those affected.
Customers have been advised to contact their payment card issuer to get a refund for flights. Those who have booked through a travel agent or partner airlines are advised to contact their agent or airline.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said travellers should contact their insurance provider as their policy may include cover for scheduled airline failure.
It advised passengers whose flights were part of a package holiday to contact the travel firm they booked with.
If the firm holds an ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence), it is responsible for flight arrangements and must either make alternative flights available so the trip can continue or provide a full refund, the CAA said.
A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “Where alternative travel plans are made, any existing travel insurance policy can usually be transferred to cover the new arrangements.”
However, the ABI said standard travel insurance policies may not cover the failure of the air carrier and said passengers should check their policy.
Rory Boland, travel editor for the consumer body Which?, said: “This is terrible news for flybmi passengers, who will be seeking urgent advice on what steps to take. As all future flights have been cancelled, flybmi customers should explore their options for refunds.”