U.S. bankruptcy filings may have had their smallest decline since 2011, according to data released last week by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, but a small regional carrier in Hawaii recently became the latest aviation company to find itself in Chapter 11 this year.
Honolulu-based Hawaii Island Air Inc., the second-largest airline in the Aloha State, filed for bankruptcy in its home city on Oct. 16. The company, which has lost money for 17 straight quarters amid a recent expansion plan, said it sought Chapter 11 in order to head off legal fights with lessors seeking to ground its fleet.
According to a list of Island Air’s 20 largest unsecured creditors, the company owes $197,691.42 to Holland & Knight for legal services. The debtor is seeking to hire Honolulu’s Case Lombardi & Pettit to advise it in bankruptcy court, where filings show the local firm is holding a retainer balance of $61,308.21 for its work in Island Air’s Chapter 11 case.
Honolulu-based venture capital Jeffrey Au and other investors bought Island Air in early 2016 from billionaire Larry Ellison, who had purchased the airline three years earlier after the Oracle Corp. founder acquired most of the Hawaiian island of Lanai, thanks in part to the efforts of one partner DLA Piper. (Island Air subsequently stopped flying to Lanai.)
Island Air’s bankruptcy came two weeks after British budget carrier Monarch Airlines Ltd. entered administration—the U.K.’s commercial insolvency process—as a result of what it called “mounting cost pressures” and increasingly competitive market conditions in the European short-haul market. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is advising global accounting giant KPMG in its role as administrator for Luton, England-based Monarch, according to Legal Week.
Kirkland & Ellis, a firm that has been busy on the bankruptcy beat this year, snagged a role representing the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as it chartered more than 30 aircraft to help repatriate some 110,000 Monarch customers stranded overseas after the airline collapsed earlier this month. Legal Week reported that Kirkland has advised the CAA on a number of occasions, while Freshfields has previously acted for Monarch on several restructuring efforts.
Freshfields took the lead for Monarch three years ago this month when it secured a key investment from majority stakeholder Greybull Capital LLP, a private equity firm now poised to take a financial hit from a deal that allowed the airline to continue operations and fund future growth plans. That deal allowed Monarch to restructure its pension deficit, a move that saw Stephenson Harwood sign on to advise the U.K.’s Pension Protection Fund (PFF), a role that the British firm recently reprised, according to Legal Week.
Air Berlin, Germany’s second-largest airline, flew its final flight Friday after filing for bankruptcy in August following the decision by its largest shareholder, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways PJSC, to cut off financial support. Freshfields and Baker McKenzie have been advising Air Berlin, according to German legal publication Juve, which notes that other large firms like Clifford Chance, DLA Piper and Latham & Watkins are counseling other clients in the matter.
Freshfields also swooped in earlier this year to advise Etihad-backed Alitalia SpA, the long-struggling Italian national carrier, on its Chapter 15 filing in New York. Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the largest German airline, submitted a $590 million bid last week for parts of Alitalia, which is facing a deadline to sell off assets. (Lufthansa, advised by Latham and Hengeler Mueller, is also poised to absorb more than half of bankrupt Air Berlin’s fleet in a $249 million deal.)
In the U.S., several smaller regional carriers have skidded into bankruptcy this year.
In September, Zetta Jet USA Inc., one of the fastest-growing charter operators in the Asia Pacific region, filed for Chapter 11 protection in Los Angeles. Local bankruptcy boutique Levene, Neale, Bender, Yoo & Brill is advising Zetta Jet, which earlier this month received court approval to hire DLA Piper partner Jonathan King, co-chair of the firm’s white-collar, corporate crime and investigations practice, as Chapter 11 trustee. Zetta Jet has been able to continue its operations as it battles certain shareholders in a Singapore court.
August saw Alaska’s Peninsula Air Inc., one of the state’s largest regional carriers, watch its grand expansion plans melt down as it filed for bankruptcy in Anchorage. PenAir is being advised in bankruptcy court by Cabot Christianson, an Anchorage lawyer who also grabbed a lead bankruptcy role this summer representing Alaska Dispatch News LLC, operator of the state’s largest newspapers, in its own Chapter 11 case. Christianson is working with Hogan Lovells partner Robert Cohn, the Washington, D.C.-based head of the firm’s aviation group, in representing PenAir, according to court records.
In July, Dynamic International Airways LLC, an operator of charter flights to regional cities in China, tapped Las Vegas-based Garman Turner Gordon and North Carolina’s Bell Davis Pitt to advise on its bankruptcy filing in Greensboro, North Carolina. Court filings show that the High Point, North Carolina-based debtor owed $369,921.85 to McCarter & English at the time of its insolvency. McCarter & English has represented Dynamic in litigation.
And in April, New Orleans-based startup GLO Airlines, also known as FlyGLO LLC, saw a contractual dispute cause the charter flight operator to file for bankruptcy in its home city, shut down and ultimately sell off its operations. New Orleans-based Heller, Draper, Patrick, Horn & Dabney and fellow local firm Fishman Haygood advised FlyGLO in its bankruptcy case.