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Firnas Airways: How not to start an airline

Firnas Airways Management

Last night Channel 4 aired a documentary called “How to start an airline” which followed one man’s dream to start an airline with no previous experience and using other peoples money.

The programme followed perfume seller turned self-styled “Halal Richard Branson” Kazi Shafiqur Rahman as he embarked on a journey to start a Sharia-compliant long-haul airline.

Kazi’s only previous aviation experience came as an aircraft cleaner at London’s City Airport (LCY/EGLC) but he has managed to bring onboard respected aviation consultant John Brayford to help guide him towards take off.

The problem for Kazi, however, is that his naivety quickly gets him into hot water by signing a lease deal on a £1m ATR aircraft with no routes to fly.

Aiming to fly the apparently underserved route between Lydd (London Ashford) Airport and Waterford Kazi effectively blew off both airports with his unique negotiating style which involved him expecting the airports to pay him £250,000 rather than the traditional route of airlines paying the airports. During negotiations, he asked Lydd Airport “so how much are you going to give us?”

Kazi was also back-tracking on his Sharia-compliant policy by this point also which saw him labelled a hypocrite by British Muslims TV’s Sisters Hour, after he went on to talk about his Sharia-compliant policy, only to tell the presenters he was probably not going to do that after all.

With no airports and no routes, Kazi has to kiss goodbye to his ATR lease effectively killing his reputation with Aircraft leasing companies.

Things were not looking great for Firnas Airways.

Thankfully John Brayford steps in and gives Kazi a wake-up call in a kebab restaurant in London during which possibly the most cringe-worthy line in the entire programme was uttered. John Brayford pointed out to Kazi that one of the airports said that they felt Kazi didn’t look as if he was there to do business to which Kazi replied: “it was Polo Ralph Lauren though”. Kazi was over an hour late to that meeting that saw Kazi act like a petulant child who was being told off by his headteacher.

Enter businessman extraordinaire and former Links Air boss Jon Ibboston who after seeing an opportunity to offload one his Jetstream 31 aircraft convinced Kazi to buy the aircraft (formerly G-LNKS) which had been hangared in South Wales since Links Air had their operators certificate revoked by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. Jon Ibbotson is also the pilot.

The aircraft was promptly registered onto the Guernsey-based 2 register as 2-LCXO to allow it to fly, not for commercial purposes, so investors could see it.  As Ibbotson points out, even Richard Branson started off with one aircraft, the difference, of course, is that Richard Branson started with a Boeing 747 flying transatlantic. Kazi is starting with a 19 seat turboprop with no routes.

During this time Kazi was using crowd-funding to raise investment for his airline. As he points out in the programme just because he doesn’t have the money in his bank accounts he can find others who do.  Effectively, wanting to start the airline with other peoples money. To date, we understand that around £400,000 has been raised.

As the programme goes on you see Kazi’s dream drop from long-haul routes to the middle east down a Jetstream 31 doing short-hop charter work. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the most common reaction on social media to the programme was the question as to whether this was a spoof.

There is a saying that the easiest way to make £1m in aviation is to start with £1bn so we aren’t too sure where Kazi will end up with his modest start-up amount but he is currently offering private charters from Bournemouth and he says for a 2-hour return trip he will keep it under £10,000 for you. Once he actually obtains an Air Operators Certificate of course.

Probably the most telling part of the programme is Kazi’s education on aviation and how much really is involved financially. You can’t fault his passion for aviation, he is a genuine AvGeek but the big question is whether he will completely learn and get out before he loses everything.

The name Firnas Airways comes from Abbas ibn Firnas, a Spanish Muslim inventor who reputedly carried out the first human flight in 875AD. Sadly for Kazi that fact is probably as fictional as his airline.

If you missed the programme or simply want to rewatch the carnage then it is available on All 4.

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