Page last updated at 16:35 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 17:35 UK

Silverjet calls in administrators

Silverjet promotional image
Silverjet is not the only airline to be struggling with high fuel costs

Business airline Silverjet has gone into administration after financial problems forced it to suspend all its flights, leaving passengers stranded.

The cancellations left about 7,000 UK and 2,500 non-UK customers needing to make alternative plans at short notice.

The firm said other airlines were not obliged to honour unused Silverjet tickets and advised passengers awaiting return flights to make their own plans.

It is the latest carrier to run into trouble over the soaring cost of fuel.

Over the past few months, rival business airlines Maxjet and Eos have both gone out of business while other carriers are struggling.

For sale

Silverjet said it was "with deep regret" it has appointed administrators.

"The Silverjet team has worked exceptionally hard to try and turn this situation around, however with the time available, we were unable to secure the funding required to continue our operations," said Lawrence Hunt, Silverjet's former chief executive.

Mark Silk explains how passengers heard the news

Silverjet administrator Begbies Traynor said it was negotiating a potential sale of the business with "interested parties" and urged potential suitors to come forward, but shareholders are unlikely to benefit, according to Silverjet.

"A number of interested parties have already been in contact, ahead of our appointment as administrators, and we are confident of achieving a sale given the attractions of the company," said Mark Fry, partner, Begbies Traynor.

He considered that the carrier's unique position as the last business class-only transatlantic airline operator underpinned its potential as a going concern, given adequate funding.

Silverjet operated two daily services between London Luton and Newark Liberty International Airport, which serves New York City, and one between Luton and Dubai.

The average cost of a return fare was 1,000.

Stranded passengers

Both outgoing and incoming flights between Luton and Newark were cancelled on Friday, as was the outgoing flight to Dubai.

The last service departed from Dubai at 0730 BST.

You can see the difficulties they are in. It's going to be very difficult to operate a single-product model
Laurie Price, aviation expert

Passenger Mark Silk arrived at Luton shortly after 0800 BST to board a Silverjet flight to New York with his mother and said he was initially "stunned by how good the service was".

But 10 minutes after they checked in their luggage, he said: "The same people who checked us in came back to us shaking, one of them was crying."

"They apologised... they'd just heard the news."

He said the founder and former chief executive Laurence Hunt had personally apologised to the affected passengers already at the airport.

"He was looking very disappointed, which must be an understatement for how he was feeling," Mr Silk added.


For other passengers booked on later flights, a notice taped to the door of the Silverjet departure lounge was the first word they received of the travel situation.

"We hope to be able to bring you our very 'sivilised' flying experience again", the message concluded, angering some passengers who were not amused by the choice of words.

UK customers that have booked just an airline ticket from Silverjet are not eligible to claim a refund from the CAA's Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) scheme.

Fare: London to Newark/Dubai 1099
Number of aircraft: Three Boeing 767
Number of seats: 100
Seat size: 6ft 3in flatbed

But those who paid by credit card are urged to contact their credit card companies to see if they are eligible for a refund, or check any travel insurance policy taken out about airline insolvency cover.

Customers who booked flights and chauffeur drive or valet parking and those who booked flights through a travel agent are protected under ATOL.

The CAA said passengers returning to London from New York or Dubai should make their own flight arrangements home with other carriers and apply for reimbursement afterwards.

Cost pressures

Shares in the carrier were suspended earlier this month when it failed to obtain a critical $5m (2.5m) loan.

But as recently as last week Silverjet said it would continue its services as scheduled but warned that it needed to secure additional funds urgently.

At the time, it said it was in discussions with a number of parties looking to invest in the firm.

Former Silverjet chief executive Lawrence Hunt
Lawrence Hunt apologised to passengers but many were not happy

Silverjet started services in January 2007 and operates three aircraft.

Airlines across the board are struggling to deal with rising cost pressures, many of them having to raise fuel surcharges and start charging for services such as checking in bags.

Aviation analyst Laurie Price told the BBC that the soaring cost of jet fuel was a "serious problem" for airlines, particularly business airlines.

"You can see the difficulties they are in. It's going to be very difficult to operate a single-product model," Mr Price added.

At the other end of the spectrum, budget airlines are also being squeezed.

Oasis Hong Kong, which operated daily flights between London and Hong Kong, applied to go into liquidation in April.

Low-cost short-haul airlines Easyjet and Ryanair have both warned recently that profits will be significantly lower in 2008.

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