The Rise And Fall Of Stobart Air

Stobart Air was an Irish Airline that ceased operations in June 2021. It started life as an Irish regional airline, and through expansion and takeover, it went on to operate services on behalf of Aer Lingus, Flybe, and KLM. It suffered after the failure of Flybe, and finally collapsed after the loss of its contract with Aer Lingus amidst the ongoing pandemic and slowdown.

Stobart Air ATR72
A Stobart Air ATR72 seen in Stobart Air livery. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Wikimedia

Starting out as Aer Arann

Stobart Air has its origins in Ireland in 1970. Aer Arann was a regional airline based in Dublin that offered island-hopping services between Galway and the Arann Islands. During the 1990s, the airline began expanding services, first within Ireland and in the early 2000s, to the UK and European destinations.

As it expanded, Aer Arann formed closer linked with Aer Lingus. And in January 2010, the Aer Lingus Regional brand was formed by the two airlines. Flights were operated by Aer Arann but under Aer Lingus Regional branding. Aer Arann moved all of its operations into the brand in 2012.

Aer Arran ATR72.
Aer Arann ATR72. Photo: Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia

Purchase by the Stobart Group

Aer Arann had been suffering financial problems since 2008, with cost-saving measures and redundancies – but no major route changes. In October 2010, the UK logistics group Stobart Group was revealed as a new part-owner of the airline, with a 5% stake (with the remainder owned by chairman Chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh and UK businessman Tim Kilroe). By December 2012, the Stobart Group has increased its holding to 45%. And in further restructuring in April 2013, it acquired the option to increase this to a 100% holding.

Many changes were made under the Stobart Group. Early in 2011, the airline started services from London Southend Airport – owned by the Stobart Group since 2006. This remained an important base for the airline until the end.

In March 2014, the airlines announced a name change to Stobart Air. By this time, the Stobart Group had an 81% stake. This would finally be increased to 100% in 2017.

Aer Lingus Regional ATR
Aer Arann and Stobart Air initially operated just for Aer Lingus Regional. Photo: Russell Lee via Wikimedia

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Expanding operations

Soon after the name change came a major strategic change. Under the Stobart Group ownership, the airline wanted to move away from just operating with Aer Lingus. So in March 2014, it announced a new agreement with UK airline Flybe to operate six routes to Europe – this increased slowly over the next year. London Southend was a major base for these routes.

Its relationship with Flybe took a new turn in 2018. After Flybe began suffering financial problems, Stobart and Virgin Atlantic joined forces to acquire it. Together with Cyrus Capital Partners, they formed Connect Airways. This was planned to take control of the Flybe assets and form a new operating brand of Virgin Connect. This fell through in 2020, though, amidst a worsening financial situation for Flybe and the onset of the pandemic.

Flybe and Stobart Air
Flybe became a major partner for Stobart Air. Photo: Transport Pixels via Wikimedia

Flybe was not the only airline Stobart Air expanded services with. In February 2019, it wet-leased an Embraer 195 to KLM Cityhopper.

The collapse of the airline

Stobart Air survived the collapse of its Flybe acquisition attempt. In April 2020, the Stobart Group repurchased Stobart Air from the Connect Airways administrator. It continued its operations with Aer Lingus and began talks to expand these.

In November 2020, though, it emerged that Stobart Air would lose the contract to operate Aer Lingus Regional services, following a competitive bidding process. Instead, the contract would pass in 2023 to the new Emerald Airlines, founded by the former non-executive chairman of Stobart Air, Conor McCarthy.

This loss of contract, combined with the ongoing slowdown due to the pandemic, left Stobart Air in difficulty. There was discussion of possible acquisition in early 2021, but this did not materialize. On June 11th, 2021, Stobart Air was placed into liquidation and immediately terminated its operation of Aer Lingus Regional flights.

Stobart Air Fleet

At the time of its collapse, Stobart Air operated an all ATR fleet – with both ATR 42 and ATR 72 aircraft (operating for Aer Lingus Regional). The previous aircraft operated include the BAe 146 and Embraer ERJ 190.

Stobart Air ATR 72
The ATR72 was Stobart Air’s main aircraft. Photo: Mark Harkin via Wikimedia

After the collapse

Aer Lingus, of course, was the main airline affected by Stobart Air’s collapse. Soon after, it announced it would continue the operation of five (out of the total of 12) routes. BA Cityflyer also took on two routes (Belfast City to Exeter and Leeds Bradford), but only temporarily. Several other routes have seen no interest yet from operators.

The Rise And Fall Of Stobart Air
The Stobart Air routes taken on by Aer Lingus mainline. Photo:

After the shutdown, its ATR fleet was grounded. However, it seems likely the Stobart Group’s parent company, Esken, will continue to fund repayments on the aircraft while it seeks to sub-lease the aircraft to other operators.

Stobart Air has a long history of Irish, UK, and European operations, mostly operating for other airlines. Feel free to discuss your experiences of the company further in the comments.