LONDON – AviationSource got to sit down with Hans Airways’ CEO Satnam Saini, following its order announcement for one Airbus A330-200.
Satnam and AVS’ Editor-in-Chief James Field got to sit down together via Zoom to discuss the airline, its competitor of flyPOP, its approach to beginning operations, and more!
One thing Saini was keen to emphasize in this interview is the fact that flyPOP has until July 2022 to get its Air Operator’s Certificate approved as they won’t be able to operate flights to India under the bilateral agreements signed by the UK & India.
This is due to the cargo mandate expiring then, allowing airlines to carry cargo in the cabin.
So it may very well be the fact that when Hans Airways launches operations, they will be one step ahead, although Saini said that his airline “creates, not competes”.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
A Chat with CEO Satnam Saini
JF: Satnam, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Would you care to explain the ethos behind Hans Airways and why you decided to establish the carrier?
SS: I have been working on this project for a long time. I’ve been working on the Indian side of things for a long time, ever since I graduated and started working in travel in 2003. Secondary cities in India are not served enough but have a growing market. It used to handle around 300,000 passengers per year from the UK, now it has gone to over a million a year.
That is where we saw the gap, with the opportunity coming in at the right time with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as well. They didn’t want a third airline coming in due to British Airways and Virgin Atlantic handling these flights, but because have got a strong board with Dr. Barry Humphrey, the opportunity came up and the CAA gave us the go-ahead to set it up.
JF: You have mentioned that a lot of focus for the airline is surrounding the Indian diaspora. Is there a high demand for the sort of flights you wish to offer?
SS: The secondary cities have more VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic and most of the legacy carriers don’t sell many business class flights to those cities as VFR traffic opts for Economy or Premium Economy.
With such disposable income, they would be happy to go as far as paying for Premium Economy but not Business Class. So we saw a niche market and came up with the right aircraft in the right configuration, which is what I feel can make it work.
JF: I have noticed that in the airline’s plans for a frequent flyer program on top of obviously giving the typical benefits of such a program, you want to benefit charities within this as well. Can you expand on what Hans Airways plans to do with this?
SS: What we have come up with is quite a noble idea. We are thinking about establishing a lottery-kind-of setup whereby when they enter, this goes to supporting local education-based communities within India and other organizations as well. In return, the passenger will get the chance of winning a free ticket with us.
Fliers have the option of helping children with school, or they can contribute towards planting trees in their village as well as funding other carbon equipment as well. Our crews will be getting involved as well. Let me give you an example.
The CAA has approved our schedules for flights on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The crew that doesn’t return until the following Monday so with that gap, they will of course rest but they will also get involved with the communities by handing out the checks to the schools as well as taking part in the planting of trees and supporting the communities that way as well. We are talking with local NGOs as well to help us with this as well.
So that is the type of thing we are trying to bring in. With us wanting to be a community airline, this is how we aim to do so. The thing that is very close to my heart is children’s education and the environment.
JF: A while ago, I spoke to the CEO of your competitor, Nino Singh Judge of flyPOP. Whilst Hans Airways will operate out of Birmingham and flyPOP out of London Stansted, what differentiation does your airline offer compared to his?
SS: For us, starting an airline is like setting up a factory. With this, we aim to have the same machinery but with highly trained and highly paid staff. You need to have a very strong distribution network and a good experience with your base audience. That is what we bring to the table.
We have a very experienced board, including one of Dr. Barry Humphrey, who is one of the best minds surrounding regulation within the UK aviation industry. We at the moment are focusing on the regulatory work of getting the airline in the air. This is also something we can provide proof of.
With Hans Airways, you can find something substantial behind it, and you can confirm this by comparing the statements to that of flyPOP. For example, the current bilateral agreement between India and the UK, where the CAA would not designate another airline for these flights.
Now with the demise of Thomas Cook and Monarch, this has given us the opportunity to pitch for it, and with the correct credentials we have as an airline, we are able to make the regulatory process work far better, which is something that flyPOP doesn’t have. Regulatory approval.
We have got a corporate structure, a board, and everything we need to make this business work. If you look at that, then that is the difference between us and them.
JF: I couldn’t help but notice that with your previous experience at Monarch Airlines, you went for the Airbus A330-200 for when you launch operations. Is this a coincidence or are you basing the usage of this aircraft on other reasons?
SS: When we were looking at the aircraft choice, we were looking at plenty of elements with this.
You need to look at things like the range, the capacity, the configuration, and more. Narrow-body aircraft can’t really do what we want to do because of the range, and that is something the A330 does well with.
We believe that with the capacity offered on the A330, we can fill the aircraft, which will bring our operating costs down as we are making more money. We think that 299 seats work very well and are the happy medium in this.
JF: Coming back to flyPOP, we noticed that the CEO Nino Singh Judge via Twitter openly encouraged your airline to operate out of Birmingham. Is there a sense of rapport there between the two airlines and do you consider flyPOP competitors based on what you have said earlier as well?
SS: We don’t compete, we create. You look at the market, we do what we set out to do and we don’t compete with them. They compete with us. On publicity and everything. Whatever we say has some substance behind this. Let me tell you why people come to us.
We treat them as we would every guest. They are in our care, and we will do everything we can to provide them the best service as possible. If it is an eight-hour flight, we will provide them with food and drink complimentary and we will keep them entertained. flyPOP on the other hand wants to sell everything, whereas with us, we have a stronger social responsibility and sacred duty to make sure our customers are happy.
JF: What are the next steps for Hans Airways currently?
SS: We are expecting the delivery of our A330 in the second week of March. From there, we will then be doing proving flights with the CAA and keeping the press informed of our every move, including operations, safety, and safety compliance. We place a huge emphasis on compliance, whether it is regulatory, whether it is legal, operational, we will never compromise.
So, simplicity, honesty, and integrity is the key to this process. But the work isn’t over after the UK CAA approval, however. We will then send these documents to India and get the relevant approvals on that side of the world as well. It is a huge amount of work but we are willing to do it. Once we have those approvals, then we will announce our destinations accordingly.
JF: With that in mind, what does Hans Airways look like for you in ten years’ time?
SS: I think the future will see us operate to around 11 destinations using mainly A330s to destinations across Europe, North America, India, and some Arab destinations as well. Of course, I am not going to tell you which ones yet, but we would look to incorporate some A321s into our fleet as well.
JF: With the A321s, you mentioned earlier that they don’t work with your business model based on the destinations you wish to serve. Does this mean that you would only consider the A321XLR variant instead as it can manage good capacity and range?
SS: Potentially, but at this stage, we don’t want to get too carried away with this. We want to ensure that what we offer is the best, and if something isn’t right, we want you to get in touch with us. Whether it is a flaw in the business plan, to any other form of constructive criticism, we want it to perfect our brand and provide the best to our customers.
For those that do provide this criticism, whether it be our employees or customers, we want to award them for their time with this.
JF: And what form would those incentives take?
SS: It can be anything from financial incentives to free flights. It can be absolutely anything, as long as we provide that acknowledgment that people want for their input, then we will give it to them. That is the type of culture we aim to create here at Hans Airways.
JF: Back in July 2021, Hans Airways signed a GSSA contract with Air Logistics Group. Do you anticipate cargo being a big part of the business when you launch?
SS: This deal is one of the best things to happen to the business so far. There has been a lot of skepticism behind GSSA deals, but when we met with Air Logistics, it was very refreshing. They are a huge company with a lot of experience, and with there being a lot of cargo demand between the UK and India, it seemed like a no-brainer to do when they pitched their deal to us.
JF: Coming back to the product Hans Airways wants to offer, it mentions on the website that you want to offer a high-quality in-flight entertainment system to your customers. What is this offering going to be like to your customers?
SS: We have everything lined up. There will be IFE on the seatbacks for both classes, being Economy and Premium Economy. On the Premium Economy side, they will be given an iPad as well. They will also be able to stream movies, tv shows, and more on there as well. We haven’t finalized this yet, but it is a strong idea of what we aim to provide. We also aim to provide USB ports on every seat as well.
JF: Our final question. Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers regarding the launch of the carrier going into the Summer?
SS: The message I would like to send out is that we are a company with a proper structure. We will deliver the real thing very soon and we are excited to do so.
JF: Satnam, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me!
What remains clear is that Hans Airways has big plans for this year.
Whilst this of course depends on the regulatory approval of the carrier by the UK CAA, Satnam Saini appears to be very confident in this and shows a lot of excitement about what the airline has to offer.
Saini has also been able to differentiate completely from flyPOP, and all eyes will be on the competitor to see whether that carrier can get the regulatory approval needed in time as well.
This comes especially with flyPOP using its Airbus A330 aircraft for cargo operations using the HiFly AOC too.
But for Hans, things are looking well and it shows that through careful and concise planning, this could be an airline that occupies the same space of Monarch and Thomas Cook within the Indian market.