Nature Air: suspensions, mass firings and $1.6m debt after crash
Nature Air, an airline based in San José, Costa Rica, that was officially grounded by aviation authorities on May 2, 2018, admitted to a US$1.6 million debt following a fatal crash and the suspension. But it blames the Civil Aviation Administration – Dirección General de Aviación Civil (DGAC) – for the financial difficulties it faces.
Nature Air’s official website opens up with a banner stating that the airline’s flights are “subject to governmental approval”. This approval was lost on May 2, 2018, when the DGAC announced on the indefinite suspension of the troubled airline’s operations, according to La Nacion. And an approval is not likely to be regained soon.
Nature Air operated scheduled international and domestic services, as well as regional charter services. In the wake of the fatal crash of December 31, 2017, in which 10 passengers and two crew members were killed, regulators imposed a temporary suspension of the airline due to safety concerns. It was lifted on February 2, 2018, however the airline never resumed flights.
In March 2018, Nature Air set a wave of mass firings of its employees, just days after rumors began swirling about the carrier’s critical financial situation. The airline now estimates that the inability to resume its flights has caused losses of up to US$1.6 million in 2018. The debt, as the company says, forced the dismissal of the majority of its staff, going from 105 to just 12 employees today, local media reports.
But Nature Air remains resilient. The airline’s president Alex Khajavi criticized the way in which the DGAC has handled the process against his company since the tragic accident, implying that the regulator’ actions are the cause of the company’s financial problems, including flight cancellations, struggles to refinance its operations and attract new investors. La Nacion reports.
Indeed, some have said that the temporary suspension was not directly linked with the accident but rather with suspicions over Nature Air’s activities. In January 2018, Jorge Valverde Esquivel, the carrier’s operations manager, resigned after reportedly telling the DGAC that there were “irregularities” in Nature Air’s operations, according to the Costa Rica Star.
Despite the turmoil, Nature Air maintains that it is not bankrupt. Yet. In fact, Khajavi points out that the suspension has created “harmful monopoly”, leaving another Costa Rican airline – SANSA – the sole provider in the domestic market, causing a rise in prices and “the disappearance of low-cost airfares to nationals”, La Nacion reports.
On December 31, 2017, 10 U.S. citizens and two Nature Air’s cabin crew members died on Sunday when the airline’s Cessna 208 Caravan crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff. The plane was traveling from Punta Islita Airport (PBP) on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast to Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in the capital San José, the airline’s main hub. Nature Air remains the focus of an ongoing judicial investigation to determine the cause of the accident. Will that possibly be the final blow, is yet to be seen.