Palma.—The Spanish and international airline industry yesterday stepped in to offer Spanair passengers alternative transport as a massive rescue mission was mounted to help thousands of passengers who had been left stranded at airports across the country after Spanair, the country's fourth largest airline, announced late on Friday night that is was grounding its fleet for financial reasons canceling all its flights at short notice.

Faced with the lack of financial visibility for the coming months, the company has decided to cease its operations as a measure of caution and safety,” Spanair said in a statement on Friday evening.

Rescue mission
The airline's last scheduled flight landed on Friday night, leaving rivals such as Ryanair, Iberia, Vueling and easyJet to share out the passengers left stranded.

The company is legally obliged to take care of passengers affected by the closure and needs to produce a plan to help them, Spain's development ministry said in a statement yesterday. The development ministry will open an investigation and ask the airline to compensate passengers for the damage caused, Deputy Minister Rafael Catala said.

The airline could also be fined about 9 million euros, Development Minister Ana Pastor said yesterday.
Spanish media estimate that some 22'000 passengers will be affected over the weekend but Spanair have not confirmed this figure.
Yesterday morning, airports authority AENA said that special lounges had been allocated for Spanair customers at Madrid's Barajas and Barcelona's El Prat airports. “Passengers are turning up at these areas and the other companies are putting them on flights,” an AENA spokeswoman said.
55 Spanair flights were cancelled at Madrid and 54 at Barcelona yesterday alone, with a handful of flights cancelled across the Balearics and at Valencia's Manises airport and El Altet airport in Alicante.

The company said in its statement Friday: “The Spanair management regrets this and apologises to all those people who are affected by this situation.” Spanair, founded in 1986, had hoped to secure a multi-million euro investment deal with Qatar Airways, but it fell through.
Catalan government
The Catalan regional government, which has a substantial share in the company, said it was unable to increase its stake due to crisis budget cuts and EU limits. The demise of Spanair has left flight connections to the Balearics in a very “delicate” situation, according to the spokesperson for the Balearic Socialist Party, Francina Armengol yesterday.

The airline was an important lifeline for domestic and inter-island air passengers and the local opposition parties have called on the Balearic Minister for Tourism, Carlos Delgado, to provide parliament with a full explanation of what happened and what plans he has to fill the gap in the flight market.

Last year, Spanair carried nearly two million passengers to and from and in between the Balearics, in particular to Minorca.