New UK-based airline Firnas Airways has revealed plans to roll out a unique network strategy that exploits underserved routes to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The start-up airline will introduce direct services from the UK to Sylhet in northern Bangladesh – a route in high demand – as well as strategic unexploited destinations across India, Pakistan, Iran, West Africa and Saudi Arabia.
Firnas Airways, which is named after the world’s first pilot, Abbas Ibn Firnas, also plans to operate flights to North America and Europe, providing passengers travelling from key gateway cities such as New York and Toronto with new air links to the Middle East, Africa and Indian Sub-Continent via the UK.
“As a full-service network airline we will operate services on unserved or underserved routes with strong commercial potential, driven by pent-up demand,” said Kevin Steele, the newly-appointed Managing Director of Firnas Airways.
“We believe at least half of our customer base will bepoint-of-origin given the UK’s large population of Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Iranian, West African and Middle Eastern expatriates who engage in diaspora travel.”
Steele is spearheading the airline’s network strategy based on more than 30 years of aviation industry experience, most recently as the former Managing Director and CEO of Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
He has also held senior management roles with several Middle Eastern, European and African carriers including Arik Air, Sama, Etihad Airways and British Airways.
The Firnas Airways management team recently launched a funding campaign to support the airline’s start-up costs, which include the initial acquisition of three aircraft.
Investors are being wooed to raise US$50 million that will help buy or lease Boeing 767 or Airbus 330 variants.
The airline plans to acquire another seven aircraft over the next five years taking its total fleet to at least 10 by 2020.
Steele said investors could be assured of a strong return on investment given Firnas Airways would target air routes other British carriers and some other countries’ airlines currently either do not serve or underserve, which would merit a small yield premium.
“Not only do we anticipate high load factors with strong yields, but with a unique network structure we will be able to achieve extremely high aircraft utilisation of more than 15 hours per day, with spare aircraft available as a backup,” he said.
“We can also factor in oil prices, which are at an all-time low, reducing our cost base considerably. In addition, we will adopt innovative ways to interline with other carriers as soon as we commence operations, which is very important for new airlines.”
Firnas Airways aircraft will each seat between 250 and 350 passengers across a two-class configuration.
The on-board service will be family-orientated and tailored to each specific market, according to Steele.
“For example, passengers travelling to Islamic countries will be offered halal food, Qiblat indicators and prayer mats,” he explained.
“We’ll also provide children’s fun packs to appeal to the large number of families we expect to travel with us.”
Firnas Airways Founder and CEO, British entrepreneur Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, said the British carrier would offer a “world-class premium service at economy prices”.
“Safety and security will also be our top priority and we are already working with the relevant authorities to push the boundaries in this field,” he said.
Talks with airports in London, Manchester and Birmingham are currently underway with a view to Firnas Airways establishing its UK hub soon.