Some Irish tour operators have had to make alternative travel arrangements for their customers after charter airline Futura Gael suspended trading.

Panorama, Sunworld and Direct Holidays have confirmed that they had planned to operate flights with Futura this weekend to a number of destinations and were currently seeking alternative aircraft.

Futura Gael, an Irish-based subsidiary of Futura International Airways, said it suspended trading pending new investment into the company.

Futura Gael said it had suspended all flights but could not say for how long. The company employs 90 people at its Dublin offices and on its Irish-based aircraft.

A spokesman for the company said it had started a process of looking for an investor with a view to resuming operations in the future.

In 1989, Aer Lingus founded Futura International Airways - Futura Gael's parent company - to operate as its charter arm. In November 2002, Aer Lingus sold off 80% of the company in a management buyout for a reported €28m. Aer Lingus sold off the remaining 20% for an estimated €11.3m in October last year as part of the overall sale of the airline to British-based equity firm Hutton Collins & Co.

Meanwhile, Futura International Airways today sought bankruptcy protection from a Spanish commercial court, joining a series of carriers forced out of business by soaring fuel costs.

The airline's statement, which said it is unable to honour its payments, will be examined by a court in Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, where the company is based, a legal source said.

Futura suspended operations today in order to inform its employees of the court procedure, the Spanish infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

It said the head of the civil aviation authority had asked the company to provide - by Friday - a report on its situation, a reorganisation plan as well as steps to guarantee its operations. The authority will then decide whether or not to suspend Futura's operating license, the ministry added.

'The problems faced by the sector, especially the excessive and speculative increase in oil prices over the last few months, have placed Futura in a very difficult financial situation,' Futura said in a statement.

The airline carried 3.7 million people last year.