Stobart jobs are latest to fall foul of coronavirus demand

Cantillon: Number of Irish aviation jobs lost since Covid-19 struck now well past 4,000

On the same day that the High Court appointed Deloitte partners Ken Fennell and Mark Degnan as liquidators to Stobart Air, EU leaders signed laws giving effect to the digital Covid certificate, meant to restore freedom of movement in the bloc and restart travel.

It came too late for Stobart, which ceased trading at the weekend when hopes of a sale were finally extinguished. The collapse will likely lead to the loss of 480 jobs. The carrier, which operated the Aer Lingus regional franchise, had seen travel restrictions wipe out 94 per cent of its business.

With no realistic buyer on the horizon, its owner, London-listed Esken, pulled the financial plug, leaving the Stobart board with no choice but to cease trading. It joins a growing list of carriers, including one-time sister company, Flybe, forced to the wall or into some form of rescue process, over the last 18 months.

Suffering industry

The number of Irish aviation jobs lost since Covid-19 struck in 2020 is now comfortably past 4,000. Tougher government restrictions, including a ban on non-essential journeys and draconian hotel quarantines, mean the Republic’s industry has suffered particularly.

News that German giant Lufthansa Technik could sell its Shannon operation throws a potential question mark over another 503 jobs. That process has some way to go, so there may yet be hope for those workers.

Lufthansa’s move has nothing to do with local factors. It’s actually a reminder that world aviation is grappling with the pandemic’s fallout.

Travel laggard

But that does not change the Republic’s status as an EU travel laggard. On Monday, aviation industry information service OAG estimated that western European airlines would collectively add another 1.1 million seats this week. The Republic has just lost an airline that flew 30 routes.

And while the digital Covid certificate system will be formally implemented on July 1st, we will wait until July 19th to apply it here. Even then, world airlines will still sell far fewer seats this year than was thought at the end of 2020, while restrictions persist in many jurisdictions.

But the public mood on travel has shifted so, whether justified or not, the Government will find itself in the firing line when aviation jobs are lost here.