A start-up airline planning to run ski flights from six UK airports was last night struggling for survival after its main backer pulled out.
Powdair, which has more than 5,000 advance bookings for the winter season, made a desperate plea for £1 million in fresh funds by the end of the week after the investor withdrew before its first flight.
The carrier said the unnamed “key financial backer” walked away on Monday morning for personal reasons.
The decision is understood to be linked to the collapse of Swiss carrier Darwin Airline, from which Powdair was due to lease two aircraft.
The airline has set a deadline of Friday (December 1) for a decision on whether flights will start as planned this winter.
Powdair was due to start flights to Sion in Switzerland in less than two weeks’ time from airports including Bristol, London City, Luton, Manchester, Southampton and Southend.
The Swiss city in the Valais region is an hour by car from resorts including Verbier, Nendaz, Crans Montana and Champéry.
The carrier had been focusing on skiers and second-home owners and was offering “season tickets”.
The passes allow passengers to buy more than ten tickets with a fifth off “the cheapest published adult ticket price”.
More than 85 passengers had purchased such bundles, including one who had taken 80 tickets.
But Powdair admitted to having faced many “expected and unexpected challenges” since being established in the summer.
The airline said: “Without funding, we’re now facing the situation of needing to postpone the start of our flight schedule for this winter season, which is currently set to commence on 11th December 2017.
“However, with your support we can still make Powdair a success and take off as planned this winter.
“At this late stage, community ownership is realistically the only way we’ll be able to make Powdair operational this winter.”
Powdair said that all tickets would be refunded and passengers had been contacted to outline its plans to become a “community-owned” airline through crowdfunding.
Chief financial officer Sean Pettit issued a plea for new investment of at least £3 million.
He said: “Just as the Powdair operation begins to snowball, today’s setback is both unexpected and potentially disastrous for our airline, booked passengers and resort partners.
“Operational systems and strategies are already in place, whilst ticket sales are very strong and exceeding expectations.
“Powdair is ready to go, but we now desperately need investment. I’d personally like to hear from anyone interested in owning either a small or large part of our airline.
“Please bear in mind that we’re a very small team working with limited resources and we need to secure at least £3 million to operate this season and at least £1 million by the end of this week in order to operate a reduced but efficient flight schedule this season.”
Head of marketing Zoe Ombier told The Times: “We had no idea when we started that Monarch, Air Berlin and, as of Monday, Darwin, would all go pop within the space of two to three months.
“[This] has massively unsettled the marketplace and it doesn’t matter if you are trying to do something very different from everyone else . . . you have a very difficult time securing investment at a time when everybody is feeling a bit twitchy.”
A statement on the Powdair website said: “If you are worried about booked travel or would like to request a refund, please do not panic. We will be automatically contacting all passengers booked to fly with us between 11-17 December to organise either a full refund or to move you to a later flight.
“We have had a huge amount of interest in investing in Powdair since our announcement [on Monday] and we remain very hopeful of being able to start flying as planned this winter.
“We will make a decision by the 1st December latest as to whether flights will start as planned from the 18th December – or whether we need to delay the start for this winter.
“So if you can afford to wait before changing your travel plans then we would really recommend you do so – Sion is far more convenient than Geneva for the Valais and we would ate for you to book elsewhere and then find out you could have flown with us as planned. But we do understand if you’d prefer not to take that risk.”
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