After months of uncertainty and numerous attempts to secure funding or sell parts of the company, Thomas Cook Group entered compulsory liquidation on September 23 and its UK entities ceased trading with immediate effect at 3am that morning, despite several of its aircraft still airborne.
The company reported losses of £65m and debts of £1.25bn in its half year results for the six months to the end of March, causing its share price to fall as low as 8.4p during May and analysts at Citigroup to describe its shares as “worthless”. A rescue bid came in late August with China’s Fosun Tourism acquiring 75% of the tour business and 25% of its airline in a £450m deal. Thomas Cook’s lending banks and bondholders also contributed a further £450m, receiving three quarters of the airline and the remaining stake in the tour operator. While this provided a glimmer of hope to the company, the banks demanded it arranged an additional £200m to see it through what they anticipate will be a tough winter for the UK’s travel industry.
Efforts to repatriate those stranded by the collapse – understood to be around 150,000 – have been given the name Operation Matterhorn and are being coordinated by Titan Airways on the government’s behalf. The Stansted-based wet-lease specialist has drafted in aircraft from across the world, including from Malaysia and the United States to assist in the airbridge.
Airliner World research confirms at least 48 aircraft have been wet leased in from 24 airlines for the programme, including five Boeing 767-300s, four A340s, four A330s, two Airbus A380s and single examples of the 777-200ER and 747-400. Airlines including Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, British Airways and Jet2 have also stated that they will be assisting in bringing tourists home to the UK.
The Civil Aviation Authority stated on September 23, the first day of the repatriation “64 flights operated to bring back more than 14,700 passengers”, adding that it planned to fly “a further 74 flights, with seats for more than 16,800 people to travel back to the UK” the following day.
While the firm’s British airline ceased operations immediately, its airlines in Germany, Denmark and Spain have continued almost unaffected as they are independent arms operating under the Thomas Cook umbrella. Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia briefly suspended flights on September 23 before resuming its services the following day. Frankfurt-based Condor is 49.9% owned by Thomas Cook Group, however in a statement confirming the airline was still fulfilling its schedules, it stated that “in order to prevent liquidity constraints Condor has applied for a state-guaranteed bridging loan, which is currently under review by the Federal Government”.
The carrier’s last revenue service was flown by A330-200, G-MLJL (c/n 254), – TCX2643, from Orlando/International to Manchester – touching down at 8.33am. The widebody jet’s arrival at the Northwest hub ended 178 years of the travel brand’s UK operations – Thomas Cook, a Derbyshire cabinet maker, began offering railway excursions in 1841, first taking around 500 people from Leicester to a teetotal rally in Loughborough on July 5 that year. Passengers were each charged one shilling for the return journey.