HNA Group said creditors have filed a court petition calling for its bankruptcy following a failure to repay debts. The Chinese travel conglomerate, whose portfolio includes Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines, was under severe financial stress even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“HNA Group will comply with the court’s instructions of judicial review in accordance with law, promote the debts disposition actively, support the court to protect the legal rights and interests of creditors in accordance with law, and safeguard our normal business to be operated successfully,” said HNA in a statement on its website.

In 2015, privately held HNA embarked on a debt-fuelled $50 billion global shopping spree, acquiring several high-profile companies including airline caterer Gategroup, ground handler Swissport, as well as stakes in Hilton and Deutsche Bank.

Its purchases drew scrutiny from Chinese regulators, which placed limits on financing and deal approvals. The conglomerate subsequently divested most of its freshly acquired assets. By June 2019, it was reported HNA had amassed nearly $110 billion in debt, according to Reuters.

The pandemic was the final straw as virtually all of HNA’s core businesses took a hit. The Hainan provincial government gained control of the beleaguered company in February last year.

“We’ve fumbled in a pitch dark tunnel for three years,” said Gu Gang, HNA’s newly elected Communist Party chief, in a letter to employees reviewed by Reuters. 

“But this time through the work in the past year, we can finally see the light coming through the end of the tunnel … It is only through bankruptcy and restructuring that we can be reborn.”