Failed airline had major stake in Gatwick carrier

Travel Weekly investigation confirms link between Gatwick charter airline and failed Air Australia. Ian Taylor reports.

Charter carrier Strategic Airlines, contracted to fly 200,000 passengers from Gatwick and Manchester this summer, is 49% owned by an Australian firm in administration and 51% by the failed company’s former boss.

Luxembourg-registered Strategic Airlines SA confirmed it is part-owned by Air Australia, which failed on February 17, but insisted it is separately controlled by a European management team and investors.

The carrier flies on behalf of Olympic Holidays and other operators, after entering the UK a year ago.

Brisbane-based Air Australia went into administration two-and-a-half-months after launching, following a restructure and name change by parent Strategic Airlines Pty.

Strategic Airlines SA commercial director Neil Huston, who is based at Gatwick, said: “The failure in Australia will not impact our operations. All our funding is generated by our own flying.”

The majority stake in the Luxembourg airline is held by David Blake, a British citizen, who was chief executive of Strategic Airlines Pty in Australia. EU rules require airlines registered in Europe to have majority ownership and “effective control” in European hands.

Huston confirmed the Australian company established Strategic Airlines in Europe and said: “The shareholding previously held by the group in Australia is now held by the administrator.”

However, he insisted: “Strategic Airlines Luxembourg was set up as an independent company in 2010 by the European management team.”

Yet a Strategic Airlines Pty permit application to the US Department of Transportation in June 2011 identified Michael James as managing director and David Blake as chief executive, stating: “James and his colleagues diversified the Strategic brand … [and] formed a UK air charter brokerage company and French and Luxembourg airlines.”

The document confirms Strategic Airlines Luxembourg as “51% owned by David Blake”.

In a statement to trade partners last week, the Luxembourg carrier said it was “unaffected by the failure of Air Australia” and that Blake “left the Australian organisation for a move to Europe … following the rebranding in Australia [in November]”.

It added: “The majority shareholding of Strategic Airlines SA is and always has been in the hands of European-based entities.”

Strategic operated three Airbus A320s from the UK last year, carrying 198,000 passengers, and plans to add a fourth this summer.

Travel Weekly has submitted a series of questions to Air Australia administrator KordaMentha, which worked with the Strategic Airlines group through the restructure, but is still awaiting a response.

Olympic Holidays pointed out it contracts flying with multiple carriers and the majority of its flights are not with Strategic.

Customer services and legal director David Wilson said: “Strategic provided a good service for us [last year]. They are investing and improving and we will be expanding our business with them.”

The tour operator denied claims that it moved some flying from Strategic to Aegean Airlines last week, saying: “We made some normal changes to the flight programme.”

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