Spanair late Friday ceased all operations, and said on its website that the action was due to “exceptional circumstances.” The carrier said all flights will remain suspended, but it did not say whether it planned to file for bankruptcy.
The decision comes after Qatar Airways pulled out of talks to buy a stake in the financially struggling airline. Qatar has been negotiating a Spanair investment for weeks, but told the Catalonian government on Friday that it was no longer interested. The Spanair board of directors convened immediately to decide on the path ahead. But it earlier had received clear indications that the Catalan government was not willing to inject more funds into the ailing airline.
The likely exit of Spanair would be a massive boost to Iberia’s low-fare affiliate Vueling, which, like Spanair, is based in Barcelona and has been complaining about Spanair’s state-backed fare dumping. It would also be good for Iberia because it would eliminate a major local competitor. On the other hand, Star Alliance would lose one of its smaller European members. Spanair would be the third Star member after Ansett Australia and Varig to stop flying.
Spanair has been in crisis mode for years. The airline previously was owned by SAS Group. But following a strategic review, SAS decided to focus on its core market inScandinavia in 2009. A combined 80% stake in Spanair was taken over by a group of local investors and Catalana d’Iniciatives, an investment vehicle controlled by the Catalonian government. It had to provide an emergency loan in January 2011 to keep the airline flying.
Spanair was founded in 1986. In 2008, a Spanair MD-80 crashed on takeoff from Madrid, killing all 154 on board. The accident tarnished the airline’s already bad image even more.
Several airlines, including Vueling, Iberia, Air Europa and EasyJet, offered special conditions for stranded Spanair passengers.
By Jens Flottau