By Alicia Buller
London-based Kazi Rahman used to work cleaning plane toilets, but now he wants to follow in the footsteps of his Virgin hero with the launch of a new halal airline Firnas Airways
A self-styled 'Halal Richard Branson' says he is launching Britain's first 'Sharia compliant' airline in March 2019, despite facing significant setbacks this year.
Kazi Rahman says Firnas Airways will begin by serving private routes early next year.
The halal carrier, which has leased a 19-seater Jetstream 31 plane, will serve no alcohol, Islamic in-flight meals and instate a modest cabin crew dress code.
Rahman tells Arabian Business: “If I’m reading the signals correctly [with Brexit], where there is food and medical shortages then there is a requirement for small operators like us to pick up those kinds of things. It could be an opportunity.”
The 32-year-old star of the UK television documentary ‘How To Start An Airline’ saw his hopes of starting a long haul airline dashed this year because was unable to secure any routes despite raising over $440,000 through his private network and the UAE-headquartered crowdfunding platform Eureeca.
However, the optimistic businessman says this won’t stop Firnas Airways becoming king of the skies.
After all, Rahman is no stranger to adversity. He arrived in the UK from Bangladesh in 1997 speaking no English and has lived a somewhat rags to riches story after eventually getting his first job as a cleaner at London city airport.
The self-made businessman, who started with just $800 in his pocket and made his money importing perfumes, insists the world needs a halal-values airline that doesn’t serve alcohol.
“We will compensate with alcohol-free mocktails. Some people don’t like to drink alcohol – Muslims or non-Muslims,” he told Arabian Business.
Rahman insists he wants to create a ‘peaceful’ airline.
He says: “I’ve been following the stories in the media about how Muslims get discriminated against these days. We’re not trying to burn bridges but it’s more about inclusion for everyone and we want to demonstrate our vision of what an airline business could look like.
“That doesn’t mean certain people can’t fly with us, it means that everyone is welcome. Just because of someone’s name, language or whether he or she makes a prayer before they take off – it doesn’t mean something’s going to wrong. We’re trying to build bridges and create inclusion for everyone.”
Rahman stresses that his airline’s Muslim-friendly characteristics are not the only allure for customers.
He says: “We’re trying to differentiate ourselves as an operator that offers a different service that is up-to-date with what the modern traveller requires. It may not be that they want business class all the time, it’s about fitting to the market and what they want.”
The airline founder says he has a ‘three-phase strategy’ geared towards his ultimate goal of being a long haul operator from the UK. “To get to that stage, we need to jump through many hoops and we have to take it slow.
“This involves taking baby steps and by 2022, we see ourselves operator long-haul flights to places like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
The airline has yet to receive its Air Operators Certificate (AOC), which it requires to take off. But when it does, Rahman says he’ll work with other companies and sell ad-hoc private chartered flights from his airline’s base in Oxford, UK.
“Because we have a 19-seat aircraft, we will be available to everyone and anyone who wants to take a private trip out to Scotland for an excursion or Paris for a shopping day,” says Rahman.
“We’re keeping it simple at this stage and not getting into scheduled routes because that presents a lot of problems within the EU because there are a lot of fines you could face if you don’t operate on time, all the time.”
Ever the optimist, Rahman says: “The margins are slim in airlines but the world is your oyster because the world is your market. If you want to scale up you can do so.”
The entrepreneur says once Firnas Airways is cleared for landing he’ll seek next stage funding from angel investors.
Rahman says he wants to achieve a return of ‘five to ten times’ his current shares investment.
“If I invest £10,000, I want a return of £100,000 in 5/6 years time. That’s strictly from a shareholder point of view.”