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Africa

Thousands stranded as France's cash-strapped Aigle Azur cancels flights

media Stranded passengers wait at the counter of French airline Aigle Azur at Algiers' internation airport, 6 September, 2019 STRINGER / AFP

France’s second-largest airline Aigle Azur, which filed for bankruptcy this week, has cancelled all flights starting Friday night as it seeks a takeover bid.

Aigle Azur said it would run only 44 flights on Friday, mainly to Algeria, but urged all other affected passengers to check with their insurance company for a possible refund.

“The company’s financial situation and the resulting operational difficulties do not allow us to ensure flights after the evening of September 6,” according to a statement addressed to employees.

It said the company had been “forced to resort to an unfortunate option that puts out clients, our teams and our partners in great difficulty”.

The cancellations could leave thousands of passengers "stranded" outside of France, admitted Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, the new Minister of State for Transport, all the while insisting the government was looking for a solution to the crisis.

A little help from friends

"There is an international system of support that is activated as soon as an airliner fails to ensure its flights, which allows for another company to step in and resume the flights," Djebbari told French broadcaster RTL.

He added that French authorities were in talks with Air France to ensure that no passenger would be "left behind."

On Friday, Air France said it was willing to modify its operations to accommodate passengers from Aigle Azur, including discounted tickets for people whose flights had been cancelled.

“Of course we’re trying to help by having some fares for their customers from Algeria or other parts,” said Air France CEO Anne Rigail.

Looking for a saviour

The airline had initially pledged to maintain operations after filing for bankruptcy on Monday, following years of losing millions of euros.

The move came after a shareholder coup ousted chief executive Frantz Yvelin last week, accusing him of making “strategic mistakes over the past two years.”

The cash-strapped company is now looking for a knight in shining armour to take on the airline and its 1,150 employees, including some 350 based in Algeria.

The largest shareholder in Aigle Azur is the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which owns Hainan Airlines, with a 49 percent stake.

David Neeleman, an American airline entrepreneur whose companies include JetBlue and TAP Air Portugal, owns 32 percent, and French businessman Gerard Houa owns 19 percent.

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