Italian Carrier Ernest Airlines Loses Air Operators Certificate

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Italian carrier Ernest Airlines has had its license temporarily suspended by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC). According to the ENAC, the airline failed to submit some documents to meet European Union regulations and therefore the suspension is only temporary until the documents are provided.

Ernest Airlines plane
Ernest Airlines have had their license suspended. Photo: Riik@mctr via Flickr

The Italian budget carrier was initially issued a warning by the ENAC in December of last year. Clearly, the suspension of its license at midnight last night shows that the airline has failed to meet the standards set by the European Union’s Regulations.

However, in a statement, Ernest Airlines said,

We have activated all the actions aimed at obtaining the revocation of the same provision, and we need time to provide all the necessary evidence as per Regulation (EC) n.1008 of 2008 to demonstrate our financial sustainability necessary for the resumption of our operations.”

Although the airline is attempting to cooperate with the aviation authority, regaining its license may not be enough to keep the airline in the sky. Three out of four of the airline’s planes have been sent to storage and competitor airlines have already scooped up the routes which Ernest Airlines have been forced to give up.

Competition

Ernest Airlines mainly flies to Eastern European destinations such as Albania and Ukraine. The Airline previously carried 42% of passengers flying between Italy and Albania.

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Yesterday, January 13th, 2020, Hungarian based airline Wizz Air announced new routes between Tirana in Albania to Bologna, Milan, Pisa, Verona and Venice. All Ernest Airlines destinations.

Wizz Air new routes
Wizz Air has opened new routes previously operated by Ernest Airlines. Photo: Eric Salard via Flickr

The demand for routes between Albania and Italy is based on the large diaspora residing in Italy. Approximately 441,000 Albanians and 239,000 Ukrainians now live in Italy. The demand for a low-cost carrier is niche but profitable. However, there may not be space for both Wizz Air and Ernest Airlines if Ernest does get its operating license back.

Ernest Airlines

Ernest Airlines was founded in 2015 but didn’t receive its operating license until 2017. Established by a group of Italian and Swedish investors, the airline was specifically set up to cater for the Albanian and Ukrainian market in Italy. It now also offers some domestic flights.

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The airline operates a small fleet of four Airbus aircraft. Three A320s have been placed in storage while the remaining A319 is grounded due to the license suspension. All four aircraft are leased and the lessors are not happy to wait for the airline to solve its problem.

The lessors have taken measures into their own hands by removing the planes from the airline’s possession. The A319, although not in storage, has been returned to the lessor.

Ernest Airlines new aircraft
Ernest Airlines had plans to expand in the coming year to increase its fleet size to 8 aircraft. Photo: Julia Novitska via Wikimedia

The airline mainly operates out of bases in Milan Bergamo, Milan Malpensa, Rome Fiumicino and Tirana in Albania. However, the airline has expansion plans for a base to open in Kyiv in the coming year. The airline’s plans for growth also include adding more Airbus A320s to its fleet. Plans which are now almost certainly on hold.

Ernest Airlines is cooperating with the ENAC’s demands for paperwork but failed to act in time to keep its license, despite a warning last December. Now, even if it does clear its name, it may be too late. With competitors closing in on the airline’s routes, getting back in the air may be impossible.

What do you think of Ernest Airlines’ future? Is this the end of another budget carrier? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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