Despite recent failures, the aviation industry looks set for several new launches this year, reports Jenny Southan.

Sir Richard Branson relishes telling the story of the birth of Virgin Atlantic. On he recalls what happened in the early 1980s when his flight from Puerto Rico to the British Virgin Islands was cancelled: “I had a beautiful lady waiting for me in BVI and I hired a plane and borrowed a blackboard and as a joke I wrote ‘Virgin Airlines’ on the top of the blackboard, ‘US$39 one way to BVI’. I went around all the passengers who had been bumped and I filled up my first plane.” After that he bought a second-hand B747 and “made it that much more special than all the other airlines we were competing with”.

Unfortunately, many new airlines end in failure within months – be they wholesale start-ups, rebrands or offshoots of existing carriers – proving that it isn’t as easy as Branson made it look. There are all sorts of factors involved, but if an airline isn’t making money fast, it won’t be able to keep flying. The cost of fuel is a huge overhead, so if tickets aren’t being sold, funds soon run dry.

Sometimes airlines are trying something different, such as operating with all-business class layouts, but as we have seen from the historical failures of Maxjet, Eos and Silverjet when they tried this, as well as La Compagnie’s all-business New York JFK route out of London Luton (the French airline is hanging on to Paris Orly), taking chances isn’t often rewarded.

Early last year, for example, budget airline Primera Air took a gamble in expanding its business out of Scandinavia to include long-haul routes from London Stansted and Birmingham to the US. However, by October it had collapsed entirely, leaving passengers stranded because it hadn’t secured long-term financing. Fierce competition in the transatlantic market proved too tough for the airline, despite the success it had observed its low-cost competitor Norwegian having in this arena.

Other airlines that met their end recently include Russia’s Saratov Airlines, Cypriot low-cost start-up Cobalt, regional airline Jet Go Australia, US regional carrier California Pacific Airlines and Nigerian flag carrier Nigeria Air, the last of these after only a few months.

Then, in January, it was announced that, at just over a year old, Air France’s “millennial-oriented” subsidiary, Joon, would be shut down. “The brand was difficult to understand from the outset for customers, for employees, for markets and for investors,” Air France stated.

Still, not everyone is being put off. Japan Airlines (JAL) is setting up an as-yet-unnamed low-cost airline for 2020 that will be based out of Tokyo Narita and will ply medium- and long-haul routes to Asia, the Americas and Europe. Two B787-8s are being assigned to the carrier, which will receive 10-20 billion yen (£71 million-£141 million) in funding from JAL. Japan Airlines has also invested US$10 million in a new supersonic airline called Overture, which is being developed by Boom Supersonic in the US. (Branson is backing it, too.) If that gets off the ground, it really will be something special.

Here are a dozen new and forthcoming airlines (including one all-business class endeavour) that are attempting to capture their own corner of the skies…

1) Bamboo Airways

This Vietnamese airline, which started operations in January, wants to be a “five-star airline operating both domestic and international routes”. This year it will have 20 A320s – next year these will be joined by 20 A321 Neos and 20 B787-9s. Three fare classes – Eco, Plus and Business – offer varying degrees of generosity in regard to luggage allowance, seat selection and booking changes. Initially it is flying domestic routes, connecting Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang with other leisure destinations in the country, but from 2021 Bamboo hopes to add flights to the US and Europe.

2) Air Italy

Founded in February last year, this private Italian airline is owned by AQA Holding, in which Qatar Airways recently bought a 49 per cent stake. Formerly known as Meridiana, of which the original Air Italy was a subsidiary (the two merged in 2013), it was rebranded as Air Italy last year, debuting new domestic routes from Milan to Rome and Naples, as well as long-haul services to New York and Miami. From next month it will serve Los Angeles and San Francisco, and from May Toronto. Its fleet features three B737 MAXs, seven B737 NGs and five A330-200s. Travellers will find 24 angled lie-flat business class seats on board.

3) French Bee

Based at Paris Orly, this low-cost long-haul carrier takes passengers to Réunion island, Tahiti, San Francisco and the Dominican Republic. It offers economy and Premium classes, the latter of which is essentially an economy seat with lumbar support, two extra inches of width and four extra inches of legroom. One for holidaymakers rather than business travellers.

4) Swoop

A low-cost subsidiary of Canada’s Westjet, Swoop began flying last year out of cities such as Winnipeg, Halifax and Edmonton to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Oakland. Swoop operates on the build-your-own-flight model so starting fares can be very low but quickly add up once hold luggage and so on are added. Services are operated by 189-seat B737-800s.

5) Air Senegal

Less than a year old, the new national airline of Senegal is based out of Blaise Diagne International, and flies from Dakar to African cities such as Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Banjul (Gambia). Paris and Sao Paulo will come soon. This year it will receive a new A330-900 that it wants to deploy on routes to Brazil and North America. Tickets cannot be purchased online – only at sales agencies. Cash is accepted.

6) Swiss Skies

Tipped to make its debut this year (although the website is very minimal as we go to press), Swiss Skies will be a low-cost start-up based out of Basel, with routes to the US planned for its fleet of A321 Neo aircraft. Last autumn it announced that it was seeking to fundraise US$100 million to get the project off the ground. According to the Financial Times, the business plan foresees the need for 16 aircraft by the second year of operations, and 38 by the fourth.

7) Fly Arystan

Kazakhstan’s Air Astana is planning to launch Fly Arystan as a new low-cost subsidiary by this summer, with plans to have 15 aircraft flying by 2022. It will begin with four A320s that will initially fly domestically. There is a possibility that it will also start flights to Russia, the Caucasus and Ukraine.

8) Genghis Khan Airlines

This Chinese start-up is owned by government enterprise Inner Mongolia Aviation Tourism Investment, and will begin domestic services out of Hohhot Baita International airport in Inner Mongolia over the coming months. It has been given approval for the purchase of three Comac ARJ21 regional jets but hopes to have 25 aircraft by 2024.

9) World Airways

Originally an airline that flew from 1948 to 2014, World Airways is being reborn this year as “the only low-cost long-haul carrier based in the US”. According to the website, it will serve “under-penetrated routes between the US and far-off destinations around the world”. The endeavour is being spearheaded by airline executive Ed Wegel, who plans to use a fleet of up to ten B787s.

10) Starlux Airlines

Headquartered in Taipei, this new full-service carrier is to start flights in January 2020, and has orders for ten A321 Neos (due for delivery in October this year), five A350-900s and 12 A350-1000s. At the moment it is awaiting an operator certificate from Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration. Reports suggest that it intends to be flying to Japan, Hong Kong and North America by 2024.

11) Aura

This ambitious all-business class start-up wants to introduce a fleet of futuristic CRJ700s this year, configured with just 29 deep reclining seats (normally this aircraft type would be fitted with 75 seats), with pre-ordered meals cooked on board, a full bar and wifi. City pairs connected by this private jet-style service will include Atlanta-Miami and Los Angeles-Chicago.

12) Moxy

From the founder of Jetblue, David Neeleman, US low-cost airline Moxy (this name will likely change and it has no connection to Marriott International’s Moxy hotel brand) will arrive in 2021. The airline has ordered a fleet of 60 A220s, chosen for their flexibility, and aims to fly routes on which it will be the only carrier to fly nonstop, and thus face zero competition. Possible routes would be from Florida to northern Brazil.