Aer Lingus has announced it will step in to provide services for some of its passengers who have been left stranded as a result of the immediate closure of Stobart Air.
Aer Lingus Regional had been operated by Stobart Air under a franchise agreement.
Of the 12 immediately affected by Stobart Air’s decision to cease trading, Aer Lingus will operate five routes, and for at least the next week BA CityFlyer will operate two.
Alternative operations for the outstanding routes are still being determined.
All affected customers are being contacted directly and offered details of an alternative flight where feasible. Affected customers also have the option of a full refund.
It is unclear whether Aer Lingus’s move is intended to be temporary or as a permanent replacement for Stobart Air.
Stobart Air announced on Saturday morning it has ceased trading and is in the process of appointing a liquidator.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said the announcement is "concerning news" for the affected workers and for regional connectivity.
“We will be engaging with all stakeholders today [Saturday] and over the comings days to restore connectivity to the regional airports affected by today’s announcement,” Mr Ryan said.
The Department of Transport said it is currently examining the implications and the cancellation of the Government-funded public service obligation routes which operate between Kerry and Dublin and Donegal and Dublin.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton said the restoration of regional connectivity is of "critical importance" and will be prioritised by the Government in the coming days.
Fórsa trade union, which represents 120 cabin crew and pilots with the airline has called on the Government to “wake up” to the ongoing crisis in the Irish aviation sector following Stobart Air’s announcement.
Forsa said staff based in Dublin, Cork and Belfast were "devastated" at hearing the news on Saturday morning.
Neil McGowan of the Siptu union said: “The decision by Stobart Air to cease operations is the latest blow to the aviation industry and airports in Ireland. The move has put hundreds of jobs at immediate risk.
“These routes are of vital importance to these regional airports. It is crucial that these routes are maintained and the Government takes immediate steps to restore these services.”
The Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA) has said it is assisting members who have been affected.
Stobart Air said it is with “great regret and sadness” that the board is in the process of appointing a liquidator to the business and the airline is to cease operations with immediate effect.
“This unavoidable and difficult decision means that all Aer Lingus Regional routes, currently operated by Stobart Air under its franchise agreement with Aer Lingus, have been cancelled,” it said in a statement on Saturday.
Stobart Air operated a number of routes from Dublin Airport and Belfast Airport and all passengers booked on the following Aer Lingus Regional routes are advised to check the Aer Lingus website for up-to-date information on refund or rebooking options:
Belfast Airport to: Edinburgh; Exeter; East Midlands; Leeds; Birmingham and Manchester.
Dublin Airport to: Kerry; Donegal; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Newquay, and Manchester.
Stobart Air said all 480 staff at the airline have been informed and apologised to customers “for the inconvenience caused at short notice”.
“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,” it added.
“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.
“A franchise flying partner to leading domestic and international airlines, Stobart Air has acknowledged the significant contribution, loyalty, dedication of its 480-strong team of skilled and talented aviation professionals.”
John Mulhern, chief executive of Kerry Airport Ireland, described the announcement as "a most unfortunate development" and said a line of communication on the recovery of the Dublin to Kerry route has already commenced with the Department of Transport.
"We have been contacted this morning by the Deputy Government Chief Whip and Kerry TD, Brendan Griffin, who has assured us that he is ahead of the situation and will be supporting the return of the Kerry-Dublin route," Mr Mulhern said.
IALPA said the news reflected a failure of Government policy to support the Irish aviation industry, despite it being “effectively shut down for almost 18 months” .
“Today’s news should sound the alarm bells to Government that they are sleepwalking to further announcements such as this.”
IALPA said the reopening of air travel as provided for by the European Union Digital Covid Certificate including antigen tests should "immediately take place".
“This is the very minimum that must now be done to avoid thousands more job losses in the coming months,” it added.
Ashley Connolly, Fórsa national secretary, said Stobart had been working with the union to try to navigate a path through the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The Stobart collapse means services to Kerry and Donegal are now in the balance, just a month after Aer Lingus announced the closure of its Shannon base," Ms Connolly said.
“Loyal and long-service Stobart staff, who have been through 16 months of financial hardship and uncertainty, are devastated this morning.
“The industry has effectively lost a second summer to the pandemic, with no early recovery on the horizon. What will it take for the Government to wake up and act?”
Ms Connolly said the Government needs to decide if the crisis in the aviation industry “is to be permanent or temporary”.
“Only the State has the power and resources to preserve Ireland’s vital international connectivity – the connectivity that supports thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs – over the coming months, and possibly years,” she added.
Leader of the Seanad, Regina Doherty of Fine Gael said the country's "balance of risks needs to be adjusted" in reaction to the news that Stobart Air would cease trading.
Ms Doherty, who is a former minister for employment affairs and social protection made her comments in light of there being fewer than 50 people in hospital with Covid-19.
She said in a tweet “we are loosing [sic] jobs needlessly and they will not be recovered”.
An earlier statement from Aer Lingus said the company was informed by Stobart Air late on Friday evening that Stobart was terminating its franchise agreement with the airline.
“As a result, all Aer Lingus Regional flights operated by Stobart Air are cancelled,” the statement said.
“Customers who were booked to travel on flights operated by Stobart Air are advised not come to the airport and to check the Aer Lingus website for updated information on refund or re-booking options,” Aer Lingus said.
The statement added: “Stobart Air referred to the continuing impact of the pandemic which has resulted in almost no flying since March 2020.
“Stobart Air has ceased trading and is now in the process of appointing a liquidator.
“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.”
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said passengers will want to know that their money and bookings are safe.
He added: “It is right that the carrier is contacting passengers to discuss their refund or rebooking options.
“It must also ensure that any passengers left stranded as a result are rebooked onto an alternative flight at their earliest convenience.
“Stobart Air ceasing trading will be sobering news for the industry as the pandemic’s impact continues to wreak havoc on the travel sector. With most foreign travel still grounded, it’s vital the Government steps in with tailored support for the travel industry.”
In Northern Ireland, Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said incoming Minister for the Economy Paul Frew needs to seek an urgent meeting with Belfast City Airport and Aer Lingus.
He said: “This is incredibly disappointing news for families and businesses affected by this news and my thoughts are with them and anyone whose job is impacted as a result.” Additional reporting: PA