22 famous airlines that have gone out of business

  • Icelandic ultra-low-cost carrier Wow Air ceased operations on Thursday.
  • The seven-year-old airline shut down operations after failing to secure a fresh round of investment from Icelandair and private equity firm Indigo Partners.
  • Wow Air is the third European airline to go out of business this year after Germania and British Midland Regional shut down in February.
  • Here’s a list of 23 airlines that went bust over the past couple of decades.

Icelandic ultra-low-cost carrier Wow Air ceased operations on Thursday. The seven-year-old airline shut down operations after failing to secure a fresh round of investment from Icelandair and private equity firm Indigo Partners.

Wow Air joins British Midland Regional and Germania as the third European airline to go bust in 2019 amid stiff competition along with political and economic instability.

Over the past two decades, a number of well-known airline brands have disappeared from the aviation landscape. A large number of these brands have gone away due to mergers as airlines joined together in order to survive the brutally competitive market place.

Read more: Wow Air has shut down. Here’s what went wrong, according to the company’s CEO.

Northwest and Delta merged to form the new Delta Air Lines. United and Continental merged to create the new United Airlines with planes painted in Continental livery. TWA was acquired by American Airlines. America West and US Air merged to become US Airways. American Airlines and US Airways then merged to form a new American Airlines under US Airways management. Virgin America was acquired by Alaska Airlines while AirTran Airways and Morris Air were acquired by Southwest Airlines.

In Canada, Canadian Airlines was merged into Air Canada. While in Brazil, Varig was acquired by Gol. The UK’s British Caledonian and British Midland were both acquired by British Airways, itself created by the 1974 merger of British Overseas Airways Corporation, British European Airways, and two smaller regional carriers.

But with the sudden collapse of Wow Air in mind, we at Business Insider decided to compile a list of airlines that went out of business the old fashioned way, running out of money.

Here’s a closer look.


Lakers Airways Skytrain: defunct 1982.

PA Images via Getty Images

Founded by Sir Freddie Laker in 1966, the airline and its fleet of McDonnell Douglas DC-10 “Skytrains” promised low-cost travel across Atlantic for half the price of its competitors. Unfortunately, the airline could not sustain the business and collapsed under the weight of £270 million of debt in February 1982.


Braniff international Airways: defunct 1982.

The Texas-based airline was one of the most interesting and colourful companies in the business from its unique multi-colour livery to its Emilio Pucci designer flight attendant uniforms. Sadly, the airline went belly up in May 1982 after racking up $US733 million in debt. Subsequent attempts to revive the brand have proven to be unsuccessful.


Eastern Air Lines: defunct 1991.

Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Miami-based Eastern Air Lines was one of the biggest names in the US airline business. Unfortunately, Eastern was plagued by labour strife and an inability to compete effectively post-deregulation. Eastern filed for bankruptcy in 1989 before ending flight operations in January 1991.


Midway Airlines: Defunct 1991.

Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Midway Airlines began flying in 1979 following the deregulation of the US airline industry. The Chicago-based airline was able to survive the surge in fuel prices and the drop in passenger traffic resulting from the Gulf War. The airline shut down in November 1991.


Interflug: defunct 1991.

Probst/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Founded in 1958, Interflug succeeded Deutsche Lufthansa (different from West Germany’s Lufthansa) as the national airline of East Germany. The airline failed to find a buyer after the reunification of Germany. Interflug shut down in February 1991.


Pan American World Airways: defunct 1991.

aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images

Founded in 1927, Pam Am is arguably the most iconic name in the airline industry. Unfortunately, the airline ran into financial trouble during the 1970s and 80s before going out of business in 1991.


Tower Air: defunct 2000.

Founded in 1983, New York-based Tower Air operated scheduled passengers flights as well as military and leisure charters using its fleet of Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The airline ran into financial and operational troubles in the mid-1990s before shutting down in May 2000.


Ansett Australia: defunct 2001.

Reuters Photographer

Founded in 1936, Ansett Australia was the second largest airline in Australia when it shut down in September 2001. The airline’s owner, Air New Zealand had to be bailed out by the New Zealand government to avoid bankruptcy following Ansett’s collapse.


Sabena: defunct 2001.

Wertz/Isopress/Getty Images

Founded in 1923, Sabena was Belgium’s national airline until its collapse in November 2001.


Swissair: defunct 2002.

Founded in 1931, Swissair was at one time one of the most respected airlines in the world. Unfortunately, the Swissair’s “Hunter Strategy” that saw it take equity stakes in a handful of other airlines during the 1980s and 90s stretched the company’s finances too far. Swissair ceased operations in March 2002. Its assets were transferred to regional subsidiary Crossair which was then reorganized into the Swiss International Air Lines.


Aloha Airlines: defunct 2008.

Founded in 1946, the Honolulu, Hawaii-based airline ceased passenger flight operations in March 2008.


ATA Airlines: defunct 2008.

Founded in 1973, Indiana-based ATA Airlines filed for bankruptcy and ceased flight operations in April 2008. The airline cited the loss of its military charter business as a contributing factor to its demise.


Mexicana: defunct 2010.

Founded in 1921, Mexicana was Mexico’s largest airline when it ran into financial trouble and shut down in August 2010.


Spanair: defunct 2012.

Founded in 1986, Spanair was for much of its existence a subsidiary of SAS Group, the owners of Scandinavian Airlines. In 2008, SAS Group sold off its controlling share in the Barcelona-based airline. The loss-making airline shut down in January 2012 after the local Catalan government failed to find new investors for Spanair.


Malev: defunct 2012.

Founded in 1946, Malev was Hungary’s national airline until it ceased operations in February 2012 after the Hungarian government declined to continue funding the loss marking carrier.


Kingfisher: defunct 2012.

Kingfisher was founded in 2005 by flamboyant Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya as part of his UB Group business empire. The airline was known for its colorfully painted aircraft and top-notch service. Kingfisher ceased flights October 2012 after the Indian government pulled the heavily indebted airline’s operating licence.


Transaero: defunct 2015.

Founded in 1990, Transaero was one of Russia’s largest privately-owned airlines. Unfortunately, Transaero collapsed in October 2015 due to $US4 billion in debt. Fun fact, two Boeing 747-8 airliners that were due to be delivered to Transaero before its shut down will be converted into the next generation US presidential planes, aka. Air Force One.


Monarch Airlines: defunct 2017.

Founded in 1967, Monarch Airlines a major player in the British leisure charter business. The airline ceased operations in October 2017. According to the Economist, it was the largest airline to ever fail in the UK.


Air Berlin: defunct 2017.

Andreas Wiese / airberlin

Founded in 1978, Air Berlin was once Germany’s second largest airline. The carrier ceased operations in October 2017 after major shareholder Etihad Airways declined to continue financial support of the money-losing airline.


Primera Air: defunct 2018.

Primera Air was a subsidiary of Icelandic tourism company Primera Travel Group. The low-cost carrier ceased operations in October 2018.


Germania: defunct 2019.

Founded in 1978, Berlin-based Germania offered by charter and scheduled passenger service. The airline ceased operations in early February 2019 citing financial insolvency.


Flybmi/British Midland Regional: defunct 2019.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Founded in 1987, Flybmi was once the regional arms of British Midland International. The airline was sold off in 2012 following BMI’s acquisition by British Airways. Flybmi shut down in February 2019.


Wow Air: defunct 2019.

WOW

Founded in 2012, the Icelandic ultra-low-cost carriers collapsed in March 2019 after failing to secure new investment from Icelandair and private equity firm Indigo Partners.

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