UK START-UP AIRLINE, FIRNAS AIRWAYS IS DETERMINED TO BRING A NEW CONCEPT TO THE MARKET AS KAZI SHAFIQUR RAHMAN, CEO, FIRNAS AIRWAYS, EXPLAINS.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How was the idea to establish an airline serving primarily Muslim travellers and expatriates living in the UK conceived?
KAZI SHAFIQUR RAHMAN: [Earlier media reports] did not exactly define who we are as a brand; they decided to give us an identity themselves.
We are a multicultural airline with a Halal-friendly attitude and aspect; however, that does not mean we will be able to achieve everything which will be Halal, especially in a world that does not fully recognise Halal yet.
There may be aspects that may not necessarily be Halal, especially in a world where the majority of things are not Halal and this is why we like to choose our identity very carefully.
We will be an airline that will treat every customer as they expect to be treated. We will try to understand their communication style and adapt to that. Our customers will [mean] everything and they deserve every bit of attention, does not matter who they are or what faith they follow.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How will the airline’s business model and growth strategy differ from those of other carriers operating in the same regions? What kind of ground and in-flight services will be offered for Muslim passengers?
KAZI SHAFIQUR RAHMAN: As we are set to be a UK-based carrier, we can potentially become the third long-haul full service operator from the UK along with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
This gives us an opportunity to serve the markets and routes they do not serve and does not fit their business model either, as they tend to focus a lot more on the front half of the plane which puts us in a perfect position to focus on the back half of the plane and improve it dramatically by increasing seat pitch and width, and by offering a premium style service at economy prices.
I do not want people flying cattle class any more.
I believe passengers can get a lot more for their money.
In terms of Halal friendliness, we will do small things that Muslims and in fact everyone will appreciate that large operators tend to miss out on.
I am sure that people do not choose an airline based on what food and drinks they offer, it is the comfort, security and safety and value for money that drives their decision-making process.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: Where will the airline operate from and what destinations are on your radar?
KAZI SHAFIQUR RAHMAN: We will not disclose the name of out homebase yet, as we are still evaluating and negotiating the best location and deal for us and naming a particular airport will not help us in any way in the negotiations.
We are looking to fly to any and every unserved and underserved destination, as well as to destinations that have huge commercial potentials; routes such as London – Sylhet, Islamabad, Kolkata, Ghana, Jeddah, New York, Toronto, Chicago and many more. Keep an eye out and you will see a lot of fun destinations coming up.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: The company has recently launched a fund-raising campaign in order to find Middle Eastern investors. How much money are you looking to raise and how will this amount support the launch and further operation of the airline? How strong has interest been so far?
KAZI SHAFIQUR RAHMAN: We are looking to raise USD50 – 90 million to fund the operations from now until the fifth year.
We have calculated and it shows that we [could be] profitable in year three.
It also shows that by year five we will have more than 10 aircraft, if all goes well. Our funding requirement also has a 10 percent contingency to ensure we are ready for any crisis should there be any, and also be ready to grow quicker if needed – subject to opportunity, feasibility and viability.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What is your philosophy?
KAZI SHAFIQUR RAHMAN: We would rather make friends than become competitors, and that is my philosophy.
We will defiantly come in the market and shake things up a little, and that is good news for economy travellers.