Hundreds of local holidaymakers are being turned away from Leeds Bradford Airport following the collapse into administration at the weekend of Monarch Airlines.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had been asked by the Government to charter more than 30 aircraft to bring 110,000 Monarch passengers back to the UK – thousands of them to Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) – after the airline’s board called in administrators KPMG in the early hours of Monday morning.
The firm’s collapse – the largest to hit a UK airline – has also left some 300,000 future bookings cancelled and Monarch customers have been told to keep away from LBA and other airports as there will be no more flights.
Phil Forster, LBA’s manager for aviation development and corporate affairs, told the Harrogate Advertiser series: “As an airport, our operations are running as normal, but we had to turn away around 200 people this morning who were booked onto flights to Dalaman [in Turkey] and Naples.
“It’s not what you want to be telling people. All the passengers fully understood the situation from the airport’s point of view, but it’s been a disappointing morning.”
An offical statement from the airport said: “We are working closely with the Government and CAA officials to help support Monarch customers during this very stressful time and would urge people affected to keep up-to-date on the CAA’s dedicated website, monarch.caa.co.uk, or talk direct to their travel agent.”
Monarch, which was founded in 1968, is headquartered at London Luton Airport and has other bases of operations at LBA, Manchester, Birmingham and London Gatwick.
Administrator Blair Nimmo said the company, which employs around 2,100 people across its airline and tour group, had struggled with mounting costs and competitive market conditions that saw it suffer a period of sustained losses.
CAA chief executive Andrew Haines said the decision to stop trading would be “very distressing for all of its customers and employees”.
“We are putting together, at very short notice and for a period of two weeks, what is effectively one of the UK’s largest airlines to manage this task,” he said.
“The scale and challenge of this operation means that some disruption is inevitable. We ask customers to bear with us as we work around the clock to bring everyone home.”
The regulator said all Monarch customers who are abroad and due to return to the UK in the next two weeks will be flown home.
The flights will be at no extra cost to passengers and they do not need to cut short their stay, the CAA said. New flight details will be available a minimum of 48 hours in advance of customers’ original departure times.
The Government has warned passengers to expect disruption and delay as it works to ensure there are enough flights to return the “huge number” of passengers.
Commenting on the “extraordinary operation”, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “I have immediately ordered the country’s biggest ever peacetime repatriation to fly about 110,000 passengers who could otherwise have been left stranded abroad.
“This is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented situation. Together with the Civil Aviation Authority, we will work around the clock to ensure Monarch passengers get the support they need.
“Nobody should underestimate the size of the challenge, so I ask passengers to be patient and act on the advice given by the CAA.”
Mr Nimmo told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Monarch had been “significantly loss-making” over the last year and those losses were projected to continue in the year ahead.
In the last year the airline had taken 14 per cent more customers but revenue was £100m less, while adverse movement of the pound against the dollar had increased costs including fuel, handling charges and lease payments.
The CAA had been expected to announce on Monday whether Monarch would be able to continue selling package holidays. The low-cost airline and holiday company had a deadline of midnight on September 30 before its Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (Atol) expired. The firm was granted a 24-hour extension until midnight on October 1, but that also passed without any announcement of a renewal.
Customers affected by the company’s collapse have been urged to check a dedicated website, monarch.caa.co.uk, for advice and information on flights back to the UK.
A 24-hour helpline is also available on 0300 303 2800 from in the UK and Ireland, and +44 1753 330330 from overseas.