Air Comet, the second biggest Spanish airline operating between Spain and Latin America has shut down on December 22, just before the 2009 Christmas holidays – leaving thousands of holiday passengers at airports around the Spanish speaking part of the World.
Established in 1996, Air Comet started operations in March, 1997 as Air Plus Comet, and was based at Madrid Barajas Airport in Spain, at Terminal 1. In 2007 it took over the routes of the bankrupt Air Madrid, that (also) left thousands of Holiday passengers behind over the Christmas period of 2006 and that’s when it simplified its name to Air Comet.
It operated scheduled flights to a number of Central and South American destinations, including Havana (Cuba), Bogota (Colombia), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Lima (Peru), Quito and Guayaquil (Ecuador) as well as Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) – just to name a few. It temporarily suspended its flight Santiago de Chile earlier in 2009 due to focusing on other markets.
Air Comet’s parent company, Grupo Marsans had ordered a number of new planes, including four Airbus A380 superjumbos that were to have 620 seats and were to be operated on the most popular routes to South-America. Besides the big A380’s, Grupo Marsans also ordered 10 A350’s and 17 new Airbus A330’s, the first of which was already delivered in August, 2008. It now looks like, the A380’s will never be operated under the Air Comet brand and livery…
The problems came in early 2009, when in February, IATA has suspended Air Comet from the IATA Clearing House system, as it failed to pay its January balance. Then since April it failed to pay the salaries to a number of its employees. Then on December 22 it announced that it ceases operations immediately. This announcement came after the German HSH Nordbank – the owner of the Air Comet fleet – requested a court order as the airline has not been paying its leasing fees for some time (summing up to EUR 17 million by now). According to the Bank, they offered Air Comet the option to continue operating the aircraft for a few more days to be able to bring Christmas holidaymakers to their destinations. But according to the Spanish transport ministry, the airline did not even have enough money left to pay for fuel and fees, thus it has withdrawn Air Comet’s Operating License immediately.
The airline said it plans to lay off all 640 employees and file for bankruptcy. In the meantime, the plans to take over Air Comet by the US Air Transport Group Private Equity firm have failed, due to the repossession of the whole fleet – see the HSH Nordbank reference above.
Dozens of angry Air Comet customers blocked the entrance to Barajas’s Terminal 1 on December 23. They described the company’s management as “thieves”, according to the AFP news agency.
The Spanish Government is spending 6.3 million Euros on renting 4 airplanes to bring home about 7000 stranded passengers of Air Comet.