By Bulent Imat
Wexford Capital Acquires Bankrupt Via Airlines, Set To Launch New Carrier
Wexford Capital, a Florida-based investment firm, announced that it and some of the firm’s partners received bankruptcy court approval to reorganize and acquire Via Airlines, a regional airline based in Maitland, Florida. The court’s approval will allow Via to relaunch flight operations when approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and recertified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“We are excited to re-enter the regional airline space. Leveraging our decades of experience investing in the airline industry, we are excited about the opportunity to create the next best-in-class regional airline,” said Arthur Amron, a partner of Wexford Capital, in a statement.
The re-branded airline is planning to provide regional air services to strategic destinations that have been hit hard due to novel coronavirus pandemic. Wayne Heller, Republic Airways’ former chief operating officer, will act as the chief executive officer of the airline.
“We are evaluating initial launch markets and strategic partnerships, including, but not limited to, the Southeast, Midwest and Alaskan markets,” Heller said. “Although the pandemic has decimated and challenged the airline industry today, we believe that a quality regional air services provider will continue to be highly desired and vital for the transportation of people and goods throughout the U.S for the foreseeable future, and we intend to be part of that solution.”
Via Airlines To Have An Experienced Executive Team
Founded in 1997, Via was a regional airline providing scheduled air service in the U.S. Before starting scheduled passenger flights in December 2014, the airline was only offering charter flights. The regional airline employed approximately 150 people and operated a fleet of eight aircraft including 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145 jets, 30-seat Embraer ERJ-120s and a Cessna Citation XL. The airline was operating 19 routes from its two hubs, Orlando Sanford International Airport and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Via Airlines announced that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and ceased all operations on Oct. 8, 2019, due to pilot shortage and financial issues. Prior to bankruptcy, Atlanta-based Ashley Air, LLC agreed to acquire the airline, yet was unable to fulfill its financial commitments like injecting capital to the airline alleged the airline. According to the bankruptcy filing, Ashley Air also did not pay employees’ wages and did not refund passengers for canceled flights.
The airline was forced to scale back on flights from some of its routes and delay the launch of some routes due to a lack of qualified airline pilots, which particularly affected regional airlines. The airline’s suspension of flight operations to and from Birmingham, Ala. was a good example of the pilot shortage problem. Although the airline previously announced that it had selected Birmingham as a focus city, it had to cease all flights to and from Birmingham.
“Regrettably, upon considering the carrier’s on-going challenges in recruiting, training and retaining a suitable level of qualified crews, Via Airlines’ Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to suspend all flights to/from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport effective immediately,” said Don Bowman, vice president for Business Development and Distribution for Via Airlines in May 2019.
Wexford Capital also founded and drove the transformation of Republic Airways into a regional airline with over 200+ modern regional jets and the new airline will be supported by a highly experienced management team.
Via Airlines is returning to the scheduled commercial flights with a new name and a new executive team — and possibly without pilot shortage problem — in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic that forced airline companies to lay off pilots.