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Air Comet were 'given the choice to continue operating'

Sun 27th Dec 2009

Special charter flights have rescued nearly half of the 7,000 passengers left stranded by the collapse of Air Comet, according to information released Saturday by Spain's airport authority./p>

Air Comet's operating license was suspended on Tuesday of last week after the airline filed for protection from creditors and laid off all of its 666 employees. This resulted in thousands of travellers being stranded at airports in both Spain and Latin America, with the Spanish government stating last Wednesday that it had chartered four planes to make sure that they all got to their destinations.

The first 400-seat charter flight took off from Barajas airport for Lima on Saturday, according to a spokesman for Aena, Spain's publicly-owned airport management company.

The Spanish infrastructure ministry, which oversees transport, reported that by Friday the charter flights had already transported 2,905 of the stranded passengers.

However it has also been reported that approx passengers, mostly immigrant workers from Peru and Ecuador who had hoped to travel home for Christmas, were still protesting at Barajas to demand more rescue flights.

Air Comet said its troubles came to a head when a British court ordered nine of its aircraft to be impounded at the request of German bank Nordbank which said the airline had failed to make aircraft lease payments.

El Pais reported that Air Comet was given the option to still operate on a temporary basis through mediation between the Spanish government and Nordbank, but refused, choosing instead to "ditch the 7,000 passengers". This was conformed by Spain's Infrastructure Minister Jose Blanco, saying the Air Comet management had preferred to shut down operations.

The Ecuadorian government and several Spanish consumer groups are planning legal action against Air Comet for fraud. Blanco responded by stating that on Saturday the airline would be "punished according to the law and the case against it".

Madrid said it expected to spend 6.3 million euros (9.0 million dollars) to repatriate the passengers affected by the collapse of the debt-ridden airline, focussing on flights from Spain to South America.

The Airline has a fleet of 13 planes and carried up to 1,500 passengers a day on flights from Madrid to South American cities including Bogota, Buenos Aires, Havana, Lima and Quito. At the beginning of December, the airline's workers staged partial strikes before the company agreed to cover unpaid wages, which in some cases went back eight months.

Air Comet is controlled by Spanish travel group Marsans, whose president Gerardo Diaz Ferran is the head of Spain's employers federation CEOE. Ferran blamed the closure of the airline on the British court's decision - which he called "disproportionate" - as well as a drop in bookings due to the global economic downturn.

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