Airlift to bring home 110,000 after Monarch collapse

The first of 110,000 stranded Monarch passengers have been brought home after the biggest-ever collapse of a UK airline.

Monarch aircraft on the tarmac at Birmingham Airport, grounded by the airline's collapse. Credit: @Barbel_737
Monarch aircraft on the tarmac at Birmingham Airport, grounded by the airline's collapse. Credit: @Barbel_737

A huge civilian airlift is in operation, with 3,000 passengers returned to Birmingham yesterday – the first of 18,000 Monarch customers due to return to the West Midlands this week.

A total of 860,000 customers are affected by Monarch Airlines going into administration, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said. This includes 110,000 who are currently abroad and 750,000 with future bookings.

Yesterday a total of 11,843 passengers were returned to the UK on 61 flights organised by the CAA.

The Luton-based carrier, which was about to mark its 50th anniversary, went into administration early on Monday, triggering uncertainty for customers and a huge effort to get people already on holiday back to the UK.

The CAA said it had been asked by the Government to charter more than 30 aircraft to bring the passengers home, with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling calling it the "biggest peacetime repatriation" effort.

Asked how long the CAA has been planning the operation, chief executive Andrew Haines replied: "We had notification from Monarch four and a half weeks ago that there were issues they were dealing with.

"Unfortunately we didn't get final confirmation until 4am this morning and my understanding is that the board resolution to go into administration didn't take place until close to midnight on Saturday night."

Most Monarch passengers currently abroad are in "classic holiday resorts" in Spain and Portugal such as the Costa del Sol, the Algarve and the Canary Islands, Mr Haines said.

Flights will match Monarch's original schedule "as close as possible", Mr Haines said. "There will undoubtedly be some disruption but we have been able to secure 34 aircraft from 16 different airlines to run a programme."

EasyJet and Qatar Airways are among the airlines providing aircraft.

Mr Haines said "the nature of administration" means Monarch's fleet is not immediately available for use.

An airlift plane carrying passengers from Ibiza was the first to arrive at Birmingham yesterday morning. The airport is one of Monarch's biggest bases, with around 500 people working for the airline there.

Monarch operates around 20 flights a day in and out of Birmingham, carrying around 1.5 million passengers a year. The airport is now talking to other airlines in the hope they will take on the routes Monarch has been operating.

KPMG partner Blair Nimmo said Monarch, which employs around 2,100 people across its airline and tour group, had struggled with mounting costs and competitive market conditions which saw it suffer a period of sustained losses.

Administrators are now considering breaking up the company as no buyer has been found to purchase Monarch in its entirety, he said.

The Unite union, which represents around 1,800 engineers and cabin crew working for Monarch, claimed that ministers rebuffed requests by Monarch to provide a bridging loan, charged at commercial rates, to tide the company over while it restructured the business to focus on its long-haul operations.

National officer Oliver Richardson accused the Government of being "content to sit on its hands and allow one of the UK's oldest airlines go into administration".

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