29/08/2008

Zoom Flies Off

An airline, which employed over 700 people - 450 staff in Canada and 260 staff in the UK - has ceased to trade, leaving 100s of passengers expecting to fly to Canada today stranded.

UK-Canadian company Zoom has cancelled all flights, blaming escalating costs for some 40,000 would-be passengers losing their bookings after the collapse of the low-cost transatlantic airline.

Zoom blamed its problems on the "horrendous" price of aviation fuel - which had added $50m to annual fuel bills - and the economic slowdown.

Zoom, founded in 2001, flew mainly to Canada from Glasgow, Gatwick, Belfast, Cardiff and Manchester airports.

BA and Virgin Atlantic were today offering "special" fares for passengers whose flights had been cancelled as the thousands of people due to fly with Zoom in the coming weeks have been told to rebook with other carriers.

Jonathan Hinkles, UK Managing Director of Zoom, put the airline's troubles down to the "significant" increase in the price of fuel and a slowdown in the economy.

He said the airline's fuel bill had increased by about £15m over the past year, representing a rise of about £80-£90 on the cost of a return ticket price on a trip to Canada.

Mr Hinkles told the BBC that 20,000 people in the UK had bookings with Zoom from now until the end of 2009 and there were a similar number in Canada.
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He said: "There are several hundred passengers hoping to travel over the next few days whose plans have been hugely affected by the closure of Zoom. We have seen that a number of other airlines are stepping in to offer special fares to help them complete their journeys."

He added: "Any customer who booked their ticket using a credit card will be able to obtain a refund from the credit card provider and that covers the vast majority of our passengers.

"A number of debit cards are covered under these circumstances and people need to check with their card provider to see if they can obtain a refund.

"Anybody who has booked a flight with us as part of a package holiday would be covered by the package holiday company. The licence that they hold, called an Atol, covers eventualities such as this."

Mr Hinkles said the collapse was brought about by one of the leasing companies which owned one of Zoom's aircraft taking action to seize the plane.

Meanwhile, Zoom's demise will have given other - even the long-established airlines - cause for thought.

Irish 'flag-carrier' Aer Lingus insisted this week that its London Heathrow route from a new Belfast 'hub' would remain in action, despite tumbling passenger numbers.

Aer Lingus Belfast to London passenger numbers are running more than 60,000 behind that of the airline's previously abandoned Shannon to Heathrow link.

Chief Executive Dermot Mannion told BBC Radio Ulster that he was in for the "long haul" and there was no question of pulling out of the route, despite the disappointing numbers recorded and the continuing national and worldwide problems flowing from the credit crunch and the hugely inflated fuel costs now hitting all the airlines.

(BMcC)

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