Tuesday 20 March 2018

UK entrepreneur eyes Irish airport for startup airline

Firnas Airways managing director John Brayford, CEO Kazi Rahman and COO John Ibbotson
Firnas Airways managing director John Brayford, CEO Kazi Rahman and COO John Ibbotson
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Could service-starved Waterford Airport have not one but two airlines flying from the southeast into Britain? Don't pack your bags just yet, because while it could be a runner, it's still, well, up in the air.

New UK startup Firnas Airways says it's working on its regulatory checklist and securing necessary finance to formally launch the UK's newest independent regional airline.

Targeting a third-quarter start date, it's earmarking airports to service short-haul routes with 31 19-seat BAE Jetstream aircraft at first.

Founder Kazi Rahman - named British Muslim Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 - said the "investment programme is on schedule and going extremely well", with Firnas aiming to "complement a market dominated by low-cost carriers and full service, legacy airlines".

It has identified "unserved and under-served smaller airports with strong catchments", and Waterford is one of them.

Targeting airports with "quick turnarounds and customer-friendly service", it's also eyeing Oxford, London Southend (currently served by Stobart/Flybe) and Isle of Man Ronaldsway.

It will initially look to fill gaps in the 19-seat charter market, "moving into regular, scheduled flights" with larger aircraft.

The team behind the launch include Rahman, John Brayford, a former British Airways and Flybe senior executive, and financial officer Azhar Khan, the former CFO of the UK division of Qatar Islamic Bank.

The news comes just over a week after Aer Southeast, which last year failed in its bid to launch Waterford-UK routes, including London Luton, Birmingham and Manchester, said that it's now part of a company that has its own air operator's certificate, and intends to commence services this year.

n Speaking of regional connectivity, Cork Airport is in the running to land a new route to Germany - most likely Cologne - with Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings.

How the route is chosen is odd though - it'll be decided by public vote, with Cork pitted against the likes of Aarhus (Denmark), Stavanger (Norway), Kosice (Slovakia), Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Friedrichshafen (Germany). And it's not the first time that the German airline has committed to a route based on demand.

Shannon Airport narrowly missed out in a similar competition from Eurowings last year, and was pipped at the post by Mostar, despite coming ahead of challengers including Belfast International, Biarritz and Triest.

Leeside businesspeople keen to connect to Germany can vote for the winter 2018 route on vote-and-fly.com.

"I'm urging everyone to take the time to vote for Cork Airport over the next week, and get us into the final three. We need the public's support," said Cork Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy.

n After a quiet few years here, Australian airline Qantas is keen to grab a slice of booming Ireland's Asia-Pacific business traffic.

Pauric Gallagher, who handles the airline's Irish business, told the Sunday Independent that it's aiming to compete with the Gulf airlines - and newcomer Cathay Pacific - for passengers between Ireland and Australia.

The ace in the pack? Qantas is launching a direct service from London Heathrow to Perth using Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the first non-stop connection between the two continents in aviation history, from March 24.

It's already fuelling reports of price-slashing by competitors, with Qantas targeting time-poor corporate travellers who don't want to change planes in the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, or in the case of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong.

The downside is a flight of 17 hours, with the Australian airline turning to sleep and fitness experts to keep passengers sane and refreshed.

It said the in-flight menu was devised with researchers - including dieticians and metabolic scientists - from Sydney University to "encourage sleep at optimal times during the flight".

The blurb says the menu will boast the "latest scientific knowledge on nutrition and hydration" to keep you fresh, but sleepy, and reduce jetlag.

So expect a menu featuring kale and quinoa for breakfast, tuna, barramundi and salmon for the main meal and drinks including hot chocolate to make you sleep and probiotic-infused Botanica cold pressed juice shots to wake you up.

Time will tell...

Sunday Indo Business

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