By Alicia Buller
Kazi Rahman, star of the UK TV documentary "How to Launch an Airline" reveals the lessons learned from the aborted Firnaz Airways launch and how he plans to come back bigger than ever...
A little over a year ago, British Muslim entrepreneur Kazi Rahman was gearing up for the maiden flight of a lifetime – the launch of the UK’s first halal airline, all of his own making.
Today, his hopes are dashed as he talks to Arabian Business via speakerphone, while cruising London’s streets in his luxury car. “We had to effectively pause everything,” he says. “We didn’t have the liquidity to carry us through, it was very disheartening.”
Dubbed by the UK tabloids as the ‘self-styled halal Richard Branson', Rahman was all set to launch Firnas Airways in March 2019 after years of fundraising and high profile raising.
The halal carrier, which initially leased a 19-seater Jetstream 31 plane, was slated to serve no alcohol, Islamic in-flight meals and instate a modest cabin crew dress code.
But the 34-year-old star of the UK television documentary ‘How To Start An Airline’ saw his hopes of starting a long-haul airline quashed because was unable to secure any routes, despite raising over $440,000 through his private network and the UAE-headquartered crowdfunding platform Eureeca.
More woes later befell the business when the company encountered aircraft maintenance issues and the drying up of investor funds.
What would Rahman do differently if he could do it all again?
“I’ve learnt so many lessons. A lot of the problems came from a shortage of funding. I’ve learned that liquidity is so important,” the CEO says, “Initially I thought I would raise some funding and stretch it out as much as possible. Liquidity is literally the bloodline of any company – not just aviation. We need to be more cautious and make sure we have contingencies after contingencies.
“I’ve also learned that having a solid team that really believes in what you’re doing is critical. It’s important to put together a team that is energetic and solution driven.”
Amid these lessons, Rahman says he will be ‘pivoting’ his business to become a travel service provider rather than an airline company.
“The reality is I’m an entrepreneur, I want to make a success of something and I’ve had investors back me who have faith in me. They are anticipating return on investment and I still plan to deliver it,” he says.
“I could say I’m going to close shop but we have carried on and reevaluated the business model.”
After carrying out focus groups to gauge interest, Rahman says he will launch a halal-focused full service travel agency in the next three to six months.
“After our setbacks, it became clear that’s what we need to do. This is a low-cost strategy to move forward,” he says.
“If you want to stay in the game in business, then you have to remain fluid and be able to rethink strategy. We had to go back to the drawing board and really think,” says Rahman.
“So many airlines are failing and going bankrupt because of coronavirus… this is a scary thought to me, going into a game where it’s so negative.”
Rahman plans to tap into the solid long-term projections for halal tourism, despite the current backdrop of a severely depressed global travel market.
According to the State of the Islamic Economy Report 2018/2019, Muslim travellers around the world are hungry for travel experiences and this is driving the sector’s colossal growth. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the report predicted that global Muslim spend on travel will grow to $274 billion by 2023, up from $177 billion in 2017.
The new apparition of Firnaz Airways will offer high-end full-service travel packages with a halal bent, says Rahman. The firm will charter VIP aircraft between 30 and 65 feet for flights to halal-friendly locations in Europe, as well offer hotel packages, butler services, live onboard entertainment, and city tours.
Rahman says the newly pivoted company will focus on Muslim and Asian HNWIs.
The firm will offer three tiers of service: flight only; flight plus accommodation; and a VIP bells-and-whistles option with butler service and guided tours.
“We want to cater for halal-friendly travellers, this is going to be our sweet spot. People are craving this. Each package is a very high-end product –it’s a full service experience,” he says.
“The products will likely cost between £2,000–3,000. This is the level of service we are looking to offer. It’s definitely not for everyone, it is a hard sell, but there are a group of travellers who are looking for these types of services.
“We are planning these flights from 2021… what we have done in the past is we have rushed into things but this time we really want to get it right. I think it’s very much achievable.”