August 29, 2008

Zoom and Bust ; 700 Jobs Go As Scots Airline Folds

By John Ferguson

HUNDREDS of holidaymakers were stranded last night after a Scotsowned airline collapsed.

The failure of Zoom - who employ 250 people in the UK and 450 in Canada - came after two planes were impounded in Glasgow and Calgary over unpaid bills.

Last night, passengers who had faced a day of uncertainty were told their holiday flights were off because all Zoom's planes had been grounded.

A total of 205 people booked on yesterday's 10.55am flight from Glasgow to Halifax and Ottawa had been waiting in the departure lounge since morning.

They were joined by 156 people due to travel on the 12.40pm Glasgow to Vancouver service, who had initially been told there would be a 12-hour delay to their flight.

Zoom, owned by Motherwell FC chairman John Boyle and his brother Hugh, have run up debts for fuel, airport fees and aircraft leasing charges thought to run into millions.

The company last night admitted they had ceased operations from 6pm and both the Canadian and Scottish ends of the operation would be filing for insolvency.

They blamed "horrendous" fuel costs and the economic climate, saying their fuel bill had jumped by nearly pounds 25million in one year.

The Boyles described it as a "tragic day" for passengers and more than 600 staff and revealed they had been fighting desperately to save Zoom.

They said in a statement: "We have done everything we can to support the airline and left no stone unturned to secure a re- financing package that would have kept our airline flying.

"Even as late as yesterday we had secured a new investment package but the actions of creditors meant we could not continue flying."

They added: "We are desperately sorry for the inconvenience that this will cause passengers and those who have booked flights.

"The collapse of Zoom is a matter beyond our control. Only last year, Zoom made a profit but that turned into a loss in the last year due to the unprecedented increase in the price of aviation fuel and the economic climate."

Remo and Veronica Pacitti, from Clarkston, Glasgow, were due to fly out to Vancouver yesterday to join a luxury cruise in Alaska for a joint 70th birthday celebration.

They arrived at the airport at 10am for the 12.40pm flight only to be handed a letter when they reached the check-in desk informing them of a 12-hour delay.

Speaking before the collapse announcement, retired chip shop owner Remo said: "I feel we have been treated with contempt by Zoom. They haven't even offered us a meal or a bottle of water."

Hotel manager Margaret Hamilton, 60, from Ullapool, and her daughter Kerry, 34, an office manager, said they were "disgusted" by the way they had been treated.

Margaret said: "I feel numb and absolutely disgusted. We just wanted them to be honest and truthful but so far they have told us nothing."

Furious Janet Gemmell, 73, from Glasgow, was last night stranded in Calgary.

Janet had been due to fly home on the Zoom plane to Glasgow via London Gatwick which was detained at Calgary on Wednesday.

She said: "It is a disaster. It would help if the company were upfront about what was happening but they kept insisting it was a technical problem instead of financial."

Glasgow Airport owners BAA last night said they had been instructed by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority to detain a Canada- bound Boeing 757 operated by Zoom.

A spokesman confirmed the matter concerned the non-payment of charges to European air traffic control company Eurocontrol and to the UK's air traffic control company Nats.

Calgary Airport Authority duty manager Wayne Reimer said: "The owners of the aircraft terminated the lease agreement with Zoom.

"Several other agencies have also been left in arrears including the Calgary Airport Authority who are owed in excess of pounds 200,000."

Zoom also operated scheduled services to Europe, as well as charter services to South America, the Caribbean, and Southern US destinations with Canadian tour operators.

Most of their UK workforce are based at Gatwick and the Canadian staff in Ottawa.

The Boyles, who made their fortune by selling Direct Holidays to Airtours in 1998 for pounds 80million, founded Zoom in 2002.

Last night, they advised customers who booked through agents to seek compensation through the ATOL scheme.

They added that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic were offering special fares to assist Zoom customers who had lost their flights.

(c) 2008 Daily Record; Glasgow (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.