Satnam Saini, Founder & CEO – Hans Airways
Many people would think that starting a business in a pandemic is a big risk. Perhaps even more people would think that starting a long-haul airline in the midst of a global pandemic which has reduced the majority of air travel to a fraction of its previous demand raises the stakes even higher. In this most challenging of business environments, step forward Satnam Saini, Founder and CEO of Hans Airways, the UK’s newest long-haul airline which is looking to start services between the UK and India this autumn.
“Our raison d’etre is to serve the UK’s Indian community with the type of good value, high-quality non-stop service between the UK and India that it deserves,”
explains Saini from his London office.
“Having flown between the two countries many times in the past I had often thought, I could do this better than flying on Air India and for less than flying on British Airways. So, I decided that I had to do something.”
The Indian community also has a vested interest in the project, as financial support for the airline has come from within the UK’s Indian population.
The culmination of Saini’s vision is Hans Airways – named after both the European first name and the Indian word for swan, culminating in a moniker that exudes the qualities of loyalty and grace – which is currently moving through the process of gaining its Air Operator Certificate, as well as its Operating Licence, from the Civil Aviation Authority.
The airline is looking to acquire, through either lease or ownership, two wide-body +300-seat, Airbus A330-200 aircraft, with 24 seats in Economy Plus and 280 seats in Economy. It will use the aircraft to initially launch direct flights from UK to India, but it may ultimately serve others departure points in Europe alongside destinations in North America and Southeast Asia.
In terms of the long-term prospects for airlines in the COVID-19 environment, Saini’s view is clear.
“Literally the whole country is sat waiting on packed suitcases ready for a holiday or a trip to see friends and family. Once the travel restrictions are eased further and the world learns to live with the pandemic, as it must do, demand will begin to pick-up again. It will probably take until 2023 for all air traffic to reach 2019 levels, but our key market – visiting friends and family leisure traffic – will have returned long before that.”
His enthusiasm is not even dented by the increase in use of on-line meeting tools like Zoom, which have come to the fore during the pandemic.
“We have not really had to change our business model as a result of COVID-19 as our strategy is not reliant on business travellers, so we are not concerned by the recent on-line meeting phenomenon. That said, with our 24 Economy Plus seats, we will be very happy to welcome any business travellers onboard!”
Despite Zoom’s undoubted success, and the fact that it is probably here to stay, Saini believes that nothing can replace the face-to-face contact achieved when meeting in person.
“You cannot replicate what is gained by making direct eye contact, shaking someone’s hand or giving them a welcome home hug. Some people have had to cancel social functions like weddings and engagements, and many have missed the opportunity to visit friends and relatives following family loss. On top of that, some people have homes abroad or in their adopted countries that they need to visit.”
Despite the glamour, sustained success in the airline industry is notoriously difficult to come by, yet Saini believes the airline will prevail while others may not.
“Unlike some of the other start-up airlines in our chosen market we have ‘been there and done that’ before. In the past, I was involved in a series of successful charter flights using UK airlines to fly passengers between the UK and India. We gained a significant amount of knowledge from that experience, all of which we are able to use as we to look to begin scheduled services with our own aircraft.”
Despite being a capital-intensive business, Hans Airways, as a start-up airline, is benefitting from financial shifts in the market.
“The pandemic has made it easier to negotiate with aircraft lessors. Normally, start-up airlines are seen as high risk. Today however, with no legacy liabilities and debt, these new carriers have a lower risk, especially those, like Hans Airways, with a strong board and experienced management team.”
In conjunction with direct market experience, Saini has assembled a team of airline industry stalwarts as board members, which he also hopes will mean the difference between success and failure.
“Our four recently appointed board members have a combined airline and management experience of over 130 years, much of that with well-known carriers like Virgin Atlantic and Austrian Airlines. This again sets us apart from other start-up competition.”
Ultimately, only time will tell if Saini is right, but he has certainly laid some solid foundations to ensure that his airline gets off to the best possible start.