Monday,  March 18, 2019  6:17 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Founder of notorious SkyGreece Airlines back at it again


EXCLUSIVE: Founder of notorious SkyGreece Airlines back at it again
Blake Wolfe

Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.

It was approximately four years ago that start-up carrier SkyGreece Airlines first announced its ambitious plans for the Canadian market.

With proposed flights from Toronto and Montreal to Athens and other Eastern European centres (including Zagreb and Budapest) and the hiring of a Canadian team, it appeared 2015 was going to be a bright year for SkyGreece.

However, within nine months of receiving the Canadian Transport Agency’s approval to operate flights between Canada and Europe, the airline would abruptly announce a temporary halt to operations – stranding hundreds of passengers in Europe in the process – followed by a subsequent bankruptcy announcement a few days later.

And with the memory of SkyGreece’s failure still vivid in the industry’s collective memory, it now appears that one of the airline’s founders has returned to the aviation business with Athens Spirit Airlines.

An April launch date?

According to reports in publications including Deal News and Greek City Times, an application for an air operator certificate was submitted by Athens Spirit Airlines to the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority, to commence operations in April.

The report adds that Greece’s business registry lists the owner of Athens Spirit Airlines, originally founded in 2017, as Dimitris Vasilios Dorizas, a pilot and priest – and one of SkyGreece’s founders.

Attempts by PAX to reach Dorizas were unsuccessful.

Little information on Athens Spirit Airlines exists online (currently, the airline has no website or social media channels) and while no specific routes were named in the reports, Deal News stated that the airline is “funded by investments from wealthy Greeks of the Diaspora and aims to take on Greece’s leading carrier Aegean Airlines,” with plans to operate domestic and international flights aboard a small fleet of four Airbus A319s and two Airbus A340s.

According to a report on the airline in The Greek Observer, Canadians are among Athens Spirit’s financial backers.

Athens Spirit Airlines' fleet will include two A340 aircraft (pictured here) and four A319s

Buyer beware?

Regarding a potential entry by Athens Spirit Airlines into the Canadian market, air traveller advocate Gabor Lukacs of Air Passengers Rights told PAX that “the laws are written in such a way that there’s a short list of requirements for an airline to meet," adding that despite the owner’s previous involvement in a failed airline, it’s unlikely the government or courts would oppose such an application.

“It’s buyer beware – there’s no regulation from keeping this company from operating in this country, which is part of the problem; such companies, with no real assets, can get licensed in another country and use that licence to try and get approved for operation in Canada. In Canada, they would have to show quite a bit of cash on hand before they could get a licence.”

While Lukacs added that he would be more open-minded about Athens Spirit’s viability if Dorizas was able to “provide solid proof that he has either third-party insurance or millions of dollars set aside as a security,” he would advise prospective customers to proceed with caution.

“In the current situation, I would say don’t walk, run away.”

A look back at SkyGreece's collapse

In late August 2015, a SkyGreece departure from Pearson originally scheduled for Aug. 17 was delayed until Aug. 20, with the airline citing a delayed delivery of replacement parts. In the following days, hundreds of passengers were left stranded in Europe as SkyGreece announced a temporary halt to services on Aug. 31, citing “financial setbacks as a result of the Greek economic crisis” and “recent technical issues.” 

A bankruptcy filing was subsequently announced on Sept. 7.

In the months to follow, the collapse of SkyGreece saw thousands of dollars in passenger reimbursement in Ontario alone through the Travel Industry Council of Ontario’s (TICO) Compensation Fund.

The news of a new airline launched by one of SkyGreece’s founders was met with skepticism and anger on social media by travellers who had booked with the now-defunct airline.

Montreal resident Jean-Marc Rivest told PAX that he booked a SkyGreece flight to Athens in 2015, only to arrive at the airport and discover that the flight had been cancelled. 

While he was able to rebook a flight on SWISS, a few days into his travels he was informed via text message by his travel agent that SkyGreece had ceased operations, requiring him to book a return flight home with Lufthansa. He recalled that many other stranded SkyGreece passengers were in a panic trying to rebook their now-cancelled return flights.

Since the flights were booked through a travel agent, Rivest was reimbursed by both his credit card company for the SkyGreece flight, as well as by the Compensation Fund operated by the Office de la protection du consommateur Quebec (OPC) for the price difference between the SkyGreece and Lufthansa fares.

Given Rivest’s experience, his reaction to the news of a new carrier lead by a SkyGreece founder, was as expected.

“I will not travel with them and the Greek government should not allow them to do so (launch an airline) based on their past records,” he said. They are waiting for a major accident.”

Ben Kiss, who’s parents were among the passengers on the delayed Toronto flight, added: “I wish people who will be using the new airline would be aware of SkyGreece's past.  I hope the same thing doesn't happen to others that happened to my parents."

Nick Monasteri, who booked with SkyGreece and was not compensated for his cancelled flight, told PAX: “After the fiasco of SkyGreece and the negligence to its passengers, I believe the founders should not be allowed to launch any other airline without strict supervision from government agencies, being Transport Canada or another - especially after knowing one of the founders has a history with bankrupt airlines.”

Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!

Indicator...