A Spanair jetliner crashed during takeoff Wednesday, leaving 153 dead in Spain’s worst air disaster in 25 years – adding more chaos to a struggling airline’s murky and uncertain future.
Palma, Mallorca-based Spanair has 3,524 employees and operates 327 daily flights (42 chartered and 285 scheduled). It has a fleet comprising 65 aircraft – nearly half of them (36) are aging MD 82/83s plus 22 Airbus 320/321s and 7 Boeing 717s.
The airline, which was set up 20 years ago with the help of Scandinavian airline SAS (SAS owns 94 percent of Spanair), has been under a lot of pressure from all sides lately – management contemplating cuts, pilots threatening to strike and owners trying to get rid of the airline. The credit crunch and oil prices didn’t help either, only added to the Spanair chaos.
According to the report in Flight International, pilots accused management of failing to put together a solid business plan.
In 2007, SAS put Spanair up for sale but was forced to withdraw it since the investors, deterred by heavy losses reported by the airline, failed to materialize.
Then there was Iberia. Spanair’s bigger rival, Iberia, looked to buy and merge with it but abruptly withdrew from the talks in May, opting to talk with British Airways instead.
After failed attempts to sell and the Iberia fiasco, SAS had only one option left – streamline and downsize. Reducing capacity by 25 percent and shedding 1,000 jobs would keep Spanair flying, at least according to the management initiative reported by Flight International.
That initiative had been countered by SELPA (Spanish pilots union) that claimed the airline is wallowing in “organized chaos” and the management is failing to mitigate the ‘structural weakness.’ “The carrier has no control over expenditure, and aspects such as investment in the fleet, have not materialized” said SELPA.
The Wednesday crash happened during the second attempt to take off. While preparing for a first takeoff attempt, the plane’s pilot reported a breakdown in a gauge that measures temperature outside the plane. The gauge was fixed, delaying the departure. The aircraft in the crash was an MD-82. The MD-82 was widely popular among the world’s airlines in the 1970s and 80s, but it has had a number of fatal accidents, the deadliest of which was a crash of a Slovenia’s Adria Airways flight in Corsica in 1981 when all 180 people on board died.
eTurboNews has contacted SAS, Lufthansa (with whom Spanair was operating a “code-share” flight) and Star Alliance (of which Spanair is a member) seeking comments on the deadly crash. So far calls to SAS and Lufthansa have not been returned. Star Alliance spokesperson Marcus Ruediger confirmed that Spanair is a member of Star Alliance. Asked whether Star Alliance has any internal safety and maintenance requirements for its members, Mr. Ruediger responded that Star Alliance is a marketing tool rather than safety and maintenance watchdod, but valid airline safety certificate is required to join the group.