Firnas to Pitch South Asia Flights to London-Based Muslims

  • Carrier will combine halal food with bigger seats, Wi-Fi
  • Routes to include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran

London-based Muslims are to be targeted by a startup airline seeking to combine a Shariah-compliant approach to funding, alcohol and food with a more upscale cabin product than available to many Islamic destinations.

Firnas Airways plans to commence operations next year with services to South Asia, where it will compete with carriers including Biman Bangladesh Airlines Ltd. and Pakistan International Airways Corp. Other prospective markets include Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Firnas aims to operate Boeing Co. 767 jets in a single-class, 270-seat layout featuring larger-sized 20-inch-wide berths with a 36-inch pitch, Wi-Fi and a tablet entertainment system. It will also be alcohol-free, serve halal meat, use interest-free finance and offer a staggered cabin layout to enhance privacy.

“We’re going to have a better-than-economy-class offering at an economy rate,” Firnas planning chief Abdul Roqueb said in an interview,” adding that incumbents have been “milking” the market amid a lack of competition. “With a higher seat count revenue is higher, so there’s leverage to throw in perks.”

Gatwick or Stansted

Firnas, founded by Bangladeshi businessman Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, who made his money selling Arabian perfumes in the U.K., is exploring options for its London hub, with Gatwick and Stansted airports the frontrunners, Roqueb said. Talks are underway with lessors on sourcing aircraft with terms likely to agreed within six months, he said.

Likely destinations include Sylhet in Bangladesh, a center for gas production, Pakistani capital Islamabad, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and Tehran. Flights from London to New York are also a possibility in the first year, Roqueb said, adding that the carrier is equally keen to attract non-Muslim passengers.

While Firnas, which is targeting a 75 percent load factor, will be competing with Mideast carriers such as Emirates, which offer flights via the Gulf, as well as local operators, direct services will give the startup an edge in attracting its target clientele, he said.

Firnas aims to raise $50 million through sharia-compliant means to fund its plans, with possible financiers in Iran, the United Arab Emirates and U.K.

The airline is named for Moorish inventor Abbas Ibn Firnas, who experimented with human flight in Ronda, Spain, 1,000 years before the Wright brothers.

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