VLM was bought by SHS Aviation, a company run by unknown Chinese owners, in the summer of 2016 after a bankruptcy. After two years of chaos and mismanagement, the Chinese liquidated VLM (officially SHS Antwerp Aviation) at the end of August. 85 employees were made redundant.
Initially the liquidator Youri Steverlynck (Monard Law) announced that there was a lot of interest in the remains of VLM. After Brexit, British companies were particularly interested in VLM’s Belgian Air Operator Certificate.
The liquidator had high hopes for a “limited restart” in Antwerp. He organised a bidding round that attracted several candidates who wanted to take over VLM completely. But the three selected candidates could not keep to their financial commitments. “Nobody wanted to invest in Antwerp,” says Birgitta Van Itterbeek, SHS Aviation’s lawyer.
Because VLM’s licence expires today, the liquidator decided to play the sure hand, only selling the aircraft and spare parts. The three remaining Fokker 50s go to the freight airline, Amapola, based in Stockholm. Amapola bought all three other Fokkers belonging to VLM this summer. On Tuesday the last VLM Fokker, named after founder Freddy Van Gaever, will leave the airport located in Deurne.
Nor has a solution yet been found for the Antwerp-London City line, VLM’s only profitable route. Airport manager Marcel Buelens says he has spoken to candidates, but there are no concrete offers yet. Since the liquidation of VLM, the airline Flybe has had a daily flight from Antwerp to London Southend.
The Antwerp Airport Authority was able to recover half of VLM’s outstanding debts of 500,000 euro by means of a settlement agreement. According to Van Itterbeek, the proceeds from the sale go to the staff and the National Social Security Office.
The seizure order that former CEO Harm Prins earlier placed on the aircraft and shares of VLM had been swept aside by a court ruling.