Iata could reduce its fortnightly billing and settlement plan (BSP) to weekly payments following the failure of budget leisure flight consolidator Omega Travel Ltd, a travel lawyer has predicted.
Omega defaulted on its BSP in August before its Atol for 4,069 passengers was suspended on September 3 by the CAA. Omega did not attempt to renew its licence ahead of the September renewal window, a CAA spokesperson confirmed to TTG.
A winding up petition was served against the business by Diners Club International on August 29 before a winding up order was made on November 12.
Begbies Traynor was appointed liquidator on Friday (November 16) and is chasing more than £20 million the business is understood to owe creditors. Omega recorded turnover of £188 million in 2016, which grew to £299 million last year.
The situation mirrors that of the 2014 failure of AirFastTickets UK, which defaulted on its BSP owing around €14 million in the UK.
As a result, Iata introduced a more stringent fortnightly payment schedule for Iata-accredited agents in the UK, despite dissent from Abta.
“I think they [Iata] will push for a weekly system - that’s the case in some European countries already,” Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, told TTG this week, a move he said could be restrictive and “potentially damaging” for travel agents.
“Iata’s main interest is protecting the airlines. If the current system is costing airlines money, they will act,” said Bowen. “They have learned their lesson from AirFastTickets. If there’s a debt, they withdraw accreditation.
“Everyone knew Omega was going under. Their business model was based on selling air fares below the price other agents could buy seats from airlines, forcing them to discount.
“They were undercutting everyone - you either drive the competition out of business and then raise your prices or go bust yourself. I don’t think there’s going to be any money for the liquidators to find.”
Bowen added a weekly regime risked “destroying” reputable agents’ cash flow. “It’s very time consuming,” he said. “Doing all the checks and direct debits weekly would just make businesses less profitable.
“Around 95% of agents pay their BSP fortnightly. A huge loss like this [Omega] is bad news for everyone. It reignites airlines’ concerns about giving credit.”
Omega was founded in 1965 specialising in travel to and from the Far East. Shortly after defaulting on its BSP, it changed the name of its business to Milburn Travel Ltd and parked the Omega name with another business.
It has previously traded as Omega Travel, Omega Flight Store, Sagitta Travel Agency, Newtrip, Jade Travel, Far East Travel Centre and Chinese Travel Shop.
Joint liquidators Paul Stanley and Dean Watson of Begbies Traynor have launched an urgent investigation. “We are arranging interviews with staff and directors at the company, as well as liaising with creditors,” said Stanley.
“We are at an early stage in proceedings but we are making significant progress and have identified at least £20m owed to creditors.”
TTG was unable to reach Omega’s Chinese-based owners for comment. Iata did not respond to TTG’s request for comment.