American businesswoman Michelle Ballarin says other parties hold shares in Icelandair on her behalf of which she is the true owner. In 2019, Ballarin purchased Icelandic low-cost airline WOW air’s assets after the company went bankrupt. She told RÚV reporters there were plans to merge the still-defunct airline with Icelandair.
Iceland Review reported on WOW air’s bankruptcy in March, 2019, when the company unceremoniously ceased all service, stranding passengers on both sides of the Atlantic and prompting what were then the largest layoffs in Icelandic history. Later that year, Ballarin purchased WOW air’s assets and stated at a Reykjavík press conference that she planned to resurrect the airline. Nearly one and a half years later, WOW air remains defunct, but Ballarin nevertheless appears to have big plans for the brand as well as broader ambitions in Iceland’s aviation industry.
Icelandair – the only remaining commercial airline in the nation after the fall of WOW air – experienced its own financial struggles throughout last year as the COVID-19 pandemic brought travel more or less to a halt. The company managed to stay afloat, however, thanks to government support and restructuring its finances, in part through a successful public stock offering last September. In the stock campaign, Icelandair rejected an offer of ISK 7 billion [$274.688 million; €231.961 million] from Ballarin, who would have gained ownership of one-fourth of the company had her offer been accepted. Ballarin now claims, however, that other parties hold shares in the company on her behalf.
Ballarin says she plans to purchase more shares in Icelandair and merge the airline with WOW. An interview with Ballarin, where she discusses WOW air and her thoughts about the future of aviation, is featured in investigative journalism program Kveikur tonight.