The Romanian citizens affected by the suspension of Blue Air flights have started to arrive in the country, with the planes of the national company Tarom.
5 million lei, i.e. about 1 million Euros, have been allocated by the Romanian government from the reserve fund to cover the costs of repatriation by means of Tarom airplanes of the Romanian citizens who could not return to Romania following Tuesday's decision by the Blue Air airlines to temporarily suspend its flights. The Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă summoned the crisis cell to urgently solve the situation and set bringing home the Romanian citizens stranded on airports outside Romania’s borders as their main priority.
A first plane went to Tel Aviv, Israel, to bring back home almost 150 passengers. But many Romanians are still stuck all over the world and more than 2,000 have turned to the consular services to be helped by the state. The Blue Air operator justified its decision to suspend flights by claiming that its accounts were blocked for its pending debts by the Environmental Fund Administration and that it could no longer comply with its financial obligations.
On Wednesday, the accounts were unblocked, and the authorities established that the debt of 28 million lei for the pollution certificates should be paid in installments in a year’s time. The company claims that it could pay this amount only under normal operating conditions. According to Blue Air, the suspension of flights for a week means the cancellation of more than 400 flights, for which more than 54,000 tickets were purchased. Blue Air's debts are estimated at 230 million Euros, about half of the total revenues made in a normal year of operation. According to the company, the number of employees decreased by almost one third compared to the period before the pandemic.
The fleet consists of 13 aircraft, compared to 32, three years ago, and the number of planes will drop to reach only five in the coming months. Blue Air was established in 2004, had 35 employees and one aircraft, and it subsequently developed at a fast pace. In recent years, however, problems have emerged after the main shareholder was detained by the anti-corruption prosecutors and later received a definitive prison sentence. Until June 2023 Blue Air has an arrangement with creditors in place, made two years ago, a mechanism to avoid insolvency, which allows a company to propose to its creditors a recovery and debt payment plan. Also in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, the company also obtained a state-guaranteed loan worth over 60 million Euros.
In the summer, Blue Air received a record fine of 2 million Euros from the National Authority for Consumer Protection - ANPC, after, between 2021 and 2022, it canceled more than 11 thousand flights, for which payments were made in the total amount of 66.5 million lei (approx. 13.7 million Euros). A lot of people who asked for a refund for the tickets paid for didn't get anything back. Some of them went to court, where they obtained the sums they were due plus a symbolic interest for the period during which their money was blocked in the Blue Air accounts. (LS)