Posted on: 12 March 2010 by Mark Howells
The Oxford–Edinburgh service launched by Varsity Express on 1 March ended on 8 March after the company fell out with its aircraft operator, Humberside-based LinksAir, over funding.
On its website, Varsity Express stated that the reason for the suspension of services was due to “operational issues between Varsity Air Services Ltd and the airline and AOC holder [LinksAir] who have been contracted to operate the Jetstream 31 type on our behalf and that was being used on the route. All further ticket sales have been suspended until further notice. All passengers effected by the suspension of service either have been or are currently being informed of the situation”.
The statement continues: “The board of Varsity Air Services Ltd are in current negotiation with potential aircraft operators and AOC holders who could provide the operational capability required to allow the resumption of services, on what has already proved to be a very popular, viable and sustainable route. The board are hopeful that Varsity Air Services Ltd will be able to resume full operational services in the very near future.”
Sources close to the carrier believe that while claiming to be well-financed, Varsity Express did not have adequate funding to sustain a scheduled service. The company’s agreement with LinksAir was for AMI (aircraft, maintenance and insurance), with Varsity providing flight crew and covering the cost of all landing fees, navigation, fuel and handling. The company failed to pay these charges, leaving the AOC holder to cover and, after a week of flying, the AOC operator felt it could no longer support the venture and the two parties fell out.
According to one source, the route was full and passenger acceptance very positive. Advanced bookings were strong too, which has led Oxford Airport to enter into dialogue with other carriers which have shown interest in reinstating the link.
For Varsity Express director Martin Halstead, this is the second venture of its kind to end prematurely. His previous airline, AlphaOne Airways, only flew a few flights between the Isle of Man and Edinburgh before ceasing operations. That too had been a business which had used the AOC of another operator.