Some 110,000 passengers are believed to be stuck abroad as the UK-based budget Monarch airline announced all of its flights and holidays have been "canceled and are no longer operating."
"I am truly sorry that it has ended like this," the company's CEO Andrew Swaffield told employees in a message. "I am so sorry that thousands now face a canceled holiday or trip, possible delays getting home and huge inconvenience as a result of our failure."
Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it was chartering 30 aircraft to bring back stranded holidaymakers "at no cost to them." The first planes, transporting passengers from Ibiza, have already landed in London and Birmingham.
The move to bring the UK citizens back is the biggest peacetime repatriation effort in British history.
"This is a hugely distressing situation for British holidaymakers abroad - and my first priority is to help them get back to the UK," Transport Minister Chris Grayling said, describing the move as "an unprecedented response to an unprecedented situation."
Monarch is the country's fifth biggest airline. It has been struggling financially for some time, and received a cash injection last October. It was forced to go into administration after failing to reach a deal with government regulators. The CAA decided not to renew its license ahead of the Sunday midnight deadline.
More than 2,000 Monarch workers are at risk of losing their jobs.
The disruption comes only two weeks after Irish-based Ryanair, Europe's biggest low-cost airline, unexpectedly canceled thousands of flights. Germany's Air Berlin and Italian carrier Alitalia also filed for insolvency and announced they were seeking new partners earlier this year. Experts say that companies face growing competition and rising costs on the European market.
dj/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)