Since Covid-19 first arrived at our shores last year, few sectors of the economy have been as hammered by it as aviation.

With all non-essential travel banned and the vast majority of flights grounded, the sector has been torn apart by the pandemic.

The knock-on effects have been widespread – hitting not only airlines, but also airports, the people who work in the industry and the countless suppliers to it.

Tourism has also been hugely upended, due to the cuts in connectivity and the tight restrictions on cross-border movement.

Against this backdrop, it was inevitable that airlines serving the island would face massive challenges.

CityJet entered (and has since exited much smaller from) examinership.

This restructuring process was also utilised by Norwegian, which had been running transatlantic routes from Ireland.

Though it also slashed its services, Ryanair's scale and strong balance sheet has carried it through, and it is now well poised for recovery, whenever it comes.

Although it has been losing hundreds of millions of euro, Aer Lingus has also coped because it has the backing of giant parent International Airlines Group.

But it has also had to cut back hugely on its services and its staffing, most recently announcing the closure of its cabin crew base in Shannon.

On the other hand, Stobart Air, the provider of the Aer Lingus Regional service, has faced even steeper difficulties and is now facing liquidation.

The writing had been on the wall for some time for the small carrier though.

Not only had its flight schedule been stripped by 94% since the start of the pandemic, but it followed a turbulent period where control of the carrier changed hands a number of times.

It also appeared increasingly likely that it was set to lose the Aer Lingus Regional contract when it expires at the end of next year.

Conor McCarthy’s new venture, Emerald Airlines, has been given preferred bidder status and the expectation is that a memorandum of understanding will soon lead to a final contract in time.

Without the Aer Lingus business, Stobart Air was set to be greatly diminished.

In April, the company’s owners Esken (formerly Stobart Group) announced it would be sold to Ettyl- a new Isle of Man based company led by young entrepreneur boss Jason Scales.

But two weeks ago, Ettyl told Esken that its original funding plan to support the transaction was no longer available and that it was in discussions on alternative options.

"It is now clear that Ettyl is unable to conclude the transactions on the original terms or to obtain an alternative funding package within the required timescale," said Esken in a statement today.

"Esken has therefore exercised its right to terminate the contracts for the transactions with immediate effect."

But the decision was to have a bigger impact than just that specific deal.

Esken said that in the absence of any alternative purchasers or sources of funding for the Stobart Air business within the timescales required, it had advised the Stobart Air board that it will not continue to provide financial support to the business going forward.

"As a result of this the Board of Stobart Air has terminated its franchise agreement with Aer Lingus, will cease trading and is taking steps to appoint a liquidator."

Ettyl hasn’t commented on what went wrong its end.

But on Twitter, Jason Scales said "the past few weeks have been some of the most challenging I have ever experienced".

"After issues were flagged to do with an Ettyl funder, we fought hard to conclude a deal that rescued #StobartAir."

"My thoughts are with every amazing Stobart Air employee today. I'm sorry."

The situation leaves and already under pressure Aer Lingus in a real jam over the 12 routes, in the short term at least.

It has decided to operate five of the routes itself, a move made feasible by the fact it has many underused aircraft to hand at present.

Two more will be run for the next week at least by BA City Flyer.

The Public Service Obligation routes of Dublin/Donegal and Dublin/Kerry routes will also have to be addressed in short order.

That leaves three more routes without any short-term solution.

In the medium to longer term, the question is now whether a deal can be done with Emerald Airlines that would allow it to step into the breach much sooner than had been expected.

But setting up air services isn’t simple and apart from aircraft, pilots and crew, there is also the question of licences and other regulatory hurdles to overcome.

It is also unclear commercially whether Emerald Airlines would want to take on a contract at this time, when there is still so much uncertainty around international travel.

That in turn puts the focus and the pressure on the Government.

It has been roundly criticised by all those involved in the aviation sector for months now about its cautious approach towards reopening international travel and the perceived absence of a plan to save and rebuild the sector.

Last November it did announce an €80m funding package, although it was in the main aimed at airports rather than airlines.

Airlines have benefited from the wage subsidy schemes and Aer Lingus has tapped the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund’s pandemic recovery fund.

But until they can get back flying again with decent volumes of passengers, the carriers continue to tread water, capacity remains constrained and other countries with less cautious outlooks grab the new routes being opened.

Regional cities and communities with small airports are also facing into the restart of the tourism sector, with serious concerns about whether they will have connectivity into the future.

It’s a complicated and difficult situation for all concerned and one that won’t be solved quickly or easily.

A serious issue too, with the future of connectivity on to and off this air transport-dependent island now at stake.