Spain hires planes to take stranded Air Comet passengers home

24th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Spanish government will chartered four planes to transport 7,000 passengers stranded at airports in Spain and Latin America.

Madrid – The Spanish government said Wednesday it had chartered four planes to take thousands of passengers stranded at airports in Spain and Latin America due to the closure of Air Comet to their destinations.

The first two flights departed on Wednesday night from Madrid to Buenos Aires and Lima, the development ministry said in a statement.

"This is not an easy time of the year to find empty seats on planes and we are making a huge effort," Economy Minister Elena Salgado said in an interview with news radio Cadena Ser.

The government expects to spend EUR 6.3 million to transport the roughly 7,000 passengers who are affected by the collapse of the debt-ridden airline, which focused on flights from Spain to South America.

Spain suspended Air Comet's operating licence on Tuesday after the airline, controlled by Spanish travel group Marsans, filed for protection from creditors and laid off all of its 666 employees.

The airline said it was forced to make the move after a British court ordered nine of its aircraft to be impounded at the request of German bank Nordbank which said Air Comet had failed to make aircraft lease payments.

Air Comet has a fleet of 13 planes and it carried 1,500 passengers a day on flights from Madrid to Bogota, Buenos Aires, Havana, Lima, Quito and Guayaquil in South America.

At the beginning of the month, the airline's workers staged partial strikes before the company agreed to cover unpaid wages, which in some case went back eight months.

Air Comet is controlled by Spanish travel group Marsans, whose president Gerardo Diaz Ferran is the head of Spain's Employers' Confederation.

Ferran blamed the closure of the airline on the British court's decision, which he called "disproportionate", a drop in bookings due to the recession and the global credit crunch.

"We were not able to get credit. The bank would not even take out calls," he told a news conference in Madrid, adding the airline survived due to injections of EUR 143 million in cash from other Marsans companies.

He also blamed the strike by Air Comet workers earlier this month for hurting ticket sales during the busy holiday period and the airline's cash flow at a time when it was already hurting.

"If I had seen this situation from the outside, I would not have chosen Air Comet to fly," said Ferran who is facing calls from some in the Spanish media that he resigns as head of the employers' confederation.

Marsans earlier this month said it had closed the sale of the airline to Dutch company Air Transport, but that Air Transport had failed to make any payments by the agreed deadline.

AFP / Expatica

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