From the busy yet orderly pattern of departures and arrivals between five UK airports and 22 European destinations, it looked like a typical Monday for the staff and passengers of Britain's oldest independent airline, Monarch.
Yet a glimpse at the airline's Twitter feed revealed mantra repeated many times each hour: “Our flights are operating as normal, carrying Monarch passengers as scheduled.”
Rumours began to spread when aircraft enthusiasts identified unusual plane movements that appeared to constitute a “shadow airline” emulating Monarch's normal schedule. Jumbo jets belonging to United were flown from Chicago to the key holiday airports of Palma and Tenerife South, with smaller planes deployed to Las Palmas and Naples.
As the picture developed on Sunday night and the early hours of Monday morning, there were dozens of online predictions of the airline's imminent demise. It is believed that talks between Monarch and the Civil Aviation Authority continued through the night.
Yet the first wave of Monarch flights took off from Gatwick, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds Bradford on schedule, confounding the pessimists. The carrier then issued a robust rebuttal of rumours, saying the airline is "trading well" and on course to deliver a pre-tax profit of £40m in the current financial year.
Monarch conceded the past few months had been "a difficult period for the holiday industry due to terrorist incidents, Brexit and the resulting devaluation of sterling".
The airline added: "To weather tougher market conditions and to fund its ongoing growth, Monarch expects to announce a significant investment from its stakeholders in the coming days." Monarch's bond with the CAA is due for renewal on Friday 30 September.
The Chinese conglomerate, HNA Group, which owns Hainan Airlines, is believed to have been in discussion with Monarch.
But many questions remain unanswered about the apparent preparations for an airlift. Schedules posted online, which The Independent has been unable to verify, suggest the CAA chartered around a dozen aircraft for repatriation flights.
The schedules indicate they were intended to carry passengers only in one direction, from Europe back to the UK. That follows the normal pattern when an airline folds.
The Independent estimates that the cost of the charter operation could reach £10m. It appears that the bill will be met from the Air Travel Trust Fund, which is paid for by a passenger levy.
A CAA spokesperson said: “As a responsible regulator that puts consumers first, we have robust contingency plans for a wide range of potential issues. These flexible contingency plans enable us to be prepared to act in the interests of consumers on a variety of issues, whenever it is necessary.
“We do not comment on specific operational, financial or licensing matters relating to any of the businesses we regulate."
Several tweets issued by @Monarch are under scrutiny, such as the repeated assertion: “We don’t know how these rumours started”. In addition, travellers were told: “Our flights are ATOL protected”. While many passengers are covered by the CAA-run scheme, some flight-only arrangements are not.
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