So Long - Stobart
An unusual marriage of aviation and road haulage – The partnership formed by UK trucking and logistics giant Stobart Group and the airline they created – Stobart Air. Was it a firm foundation from the outset? Experts in moving goods from A to B, Stobart run a tight ship with their road transport division, why not transition to air transport.
The regional airline launched services in March 2014 taking over Aer Arann on routes within Ireland and the UK using a fleet largely based on the venerable ATR 42-600 and ATR 72-600 aircraft. Operating the franchise for Aer Lingus Regional and a number of routes for Flybe, Stobart used the ATR effectively like a tool, servicing smaller airports where larger jet aircraft would be uneconomical to operate, gather the required passenger numbers or simply too large to land and take off at those airfields.
Sadly, with great regret the company informed Aer Lingus on June 11th this year, it was terminating its franchise agreement as Stobart Air was entering into liquidation, with all Aer Lingus Regional flights cancelled with immediate effect. What a disaster and such an enormous loss. Spare a thought for the management and staff who are facing into a most difficult time on top of an already monumentally testing period for aviation with the pandemic continuing to bear heavily on the industry.
Image by Kas van Zonneveld
The Euro-White livery of the Stobart Air ATRs was given a welcome bit of ‘fizz’ in the form of a blue leaf which featured on the tail and matching blue-hue on the engine coverings of some aircraft. While not the enthusiasts most excitable ‘catch’, the full Aer Lingus Regional livery which a number of fleet members wore, raised the aircraft's profile several notches. The same can be said when for a short time, the “Operated by Stobart Air” titles were affixed to several vibrant purple Flybe ATRs.
Image by Wally H
Some more notable routes serviced by Stobart was the Dublin – Donegal, Carrickfinn and Dublin – Kerry, Farranfore, operated as Public Service Obligation (PSO) being part funded by government. These were the only two internal scheduled flights within Ireland. The airport at Carrickfinn featured not once but twice as the number one Most Scenic Airport in the World. Stobart Air could also be found linking Dublin, Cork and Belfast with Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol & Cardiff among others.
Images by Kevin Horgan
The airline took a new direction from 2018 with the acquisition of eventually five Embraer E-190 and E-195 regional jets. A first foray into jet operations for Stobart Air, and something different for the enthusiast community to observe. The non-existent livery was a disappointment but the new turbofans provided Stobart with additional clout to take on new routes of greater range, bringing more variety to the customer’s table.
Image by Kevin Horgan
Some Embraers were set to task performing services for BA Cityflyer out of London City Airport and also with Flybe on several routes. Growth and expansion appeared in motion but as a business the airline industry can be a delicate balancing act, with many over-stretching in the past.
Images by Kevin Horgan
Airliner Experience was fortunate to have visited Stobart Air – Aircraft Maintenance facility at Hangar 6, Dublin Airport in May 2018. The group of 40 enthusiasts eager to experience the ATR up close were not disappointed. Our hosts on the day were most accommodating as the visitors clambered over, under and within the aircraft which was receiving routine maintenance. Many of us came away from the tour with greater appreciation for the Franco – Italian turboprop having learned greater insight into the workings and attributes of the often taken-for-granted Commuter aircraft.
With Aer Lingus taking over some of the routes in the short term, left absent of connectivity by the demise of Stobart Air and with discussions ongoing with prospective airlines to fill the vacancy on the PSO routes within Ireland, the grounding of Stobart Air is the latest in a series of clouds to darken the aviation sector but this turbulent upset strikes much closer to home.
Images by Kas van Zonneveld, Wally H & Kevin Horgan