LONDON – Airways got the opportunity to speak with CEO Nino Singh Judge, who is in charge of the UK’s newest start-up carrier, flyPOP. Earlier this month, we reported that this new airline announced plans to launch in 2021 with routes to India.
The format of the interview revolves around discussing the airline’s plans, as well as how it will get through the initial period of downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
JF: Nino, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. For the record, if you could state your name and who you are please.
NSJ: Hi, I am Nino Singh Judge and I am the CEO and founder of flyPOP, which is a UK-based low-cost international airline, with offices based at Stansted.
We are catering to the Asian Diaspora who wants to fly as regularly as possible from the UK to the South Asian cities and hubs. Where they want to go to all over South Asia, but more importantly on several cities would be.
JF: AIRLINES NOWADAYS ARE KIND OF LACKING IN CHARACTER AND IDENTITY. HOW IS FLYING GOING TO MAKE THE DIFFERENCE AND HOW IS THE AIRLINE GOING TO PRODUCE, SAY, A LAYER OF CHARACTER AND IDENTITY TO THE INDUSTRY?
NSJ: We are firmly in the low-cost bracket, but because we are hosting people on a long-haul journey between 7 and a half and 10 hours.
Obviously, we must treat them properly, so we are hoping to be a low-cost airline where we treat customers. Well, because if we do not treat them well, unlike some other low-cost carriers, over one or two of them never come back.
That is the basic model layered on top of that.
That is the profit-making part of the airline. We are going to be ruthlessly low-cost selling ancillary that is to be profitable to that effect.
The soul of the company is not just a low-cost model. The soul of the company is will be fully carbon offset, so we will voluntarily offset every passenger.
Initially, by buying carbon offsetting credits, but eventually by planting one tree per passenger, you’ll find that a 10-hour return trip is about one tonne of carbon dioxide and one tree captures a tone of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
Thus, we’ll be carbon offsetting with every passenger with a tree eventually. That’s one fully carbon neutral. If we ever go down the biofuels route, that will end up being carbon negative. That is number one.
Number two, for every meal sold onboard, for every ancillary main course meal sold onboard will be, to say: we are a low-cost airline.
If we have 400 aboard and every one of those passengers buys a meal, 200 of those bills will provide meals for the homeless in the UK. The next 200 meals sold on board will provide a thousand meals in South Asia.
So, on every flight we sell 400 meals, we will be providing 1.200 meals to the homeless widows and orphans where it’s needed at both ends of our destinations. That is the soul of the airline.
To be honest, that was a good question, because what is the difference? Differentiators in the future are based on a very robust long low-cost model and they have been perfected in the short-haul market, obviously, by the likes of Southwest and Ryanair and AirAsia.
But then, when you add in the soul of flyPOP that is for me the truly disruptive part that we are bringing to aviation because we don’t want to pollute the atmosphere anymore.
We could do that right from the start-up and we are contributing to society wherever we take off, wherever we land.
Obviously, you can see a huge homelessness problem, which we would like to make a serious dent in. Obviously, the hunger problem is a much larger problem, but we will do whatever we can.
I want people to support flyPOP by buying a meal, a good Aunty Curry if they want to chow down on the way there, knowing that they’ve actually fed people of disadvantage. It’ll help us make more money, anyway. I’m hoping everybody buys a meal.
JF: LIKE I MENTIONED, ABOUT YOUR FUTURE DESTINATIONS, INCLUDING IN ISLAMABAD, BRITISH AIRWAYS (BA) AND VIRGIN ATLANTIC (VS), JUST PLACING IT, I DON’T THINK THAT THEY WILL BE ABLE TO ATTRACT THAT CUSTOMER BASED ON THE FOOD, THE LOW-COST MODEL.
THIS WILL GET BA AND VS IN SOME KIND OF DISADVANTAGE BECAUSE, LIKE YOU SAY, YOU’RE OPERATING SYSTEM THAT THEY OPERATE FROM LONDON. DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE THE ADVANTAGE THAT SEEING WHAT THE INDUSTRY WOULD CONSIDER SOME LIKE THIS WITH AN AIRLINE IN THOSE MARKETS?
NSJ: Yeah, so I will. Our absolute product differentiator is the low-cost of free-flying eastward, which nobody has offered before. You can believe that there’s never been a low-cost offer in South Asia?
I mean, the only low-cost and I kind of went from west to east, the first one for a few days was WOW, I think; and then, that stopped. But there is no other offering and that’s the gap that we are going to fill.
We’re very happy to compete against Virgin Atlantic, Air India, Vistara for premium products. We will be the low-cost alternative. I know prices will reflect that. You know, we aim to be substantially lower than that.
We don’t give anything. We don’t give anything to you on the plane. But I say, if you want to get there really cheap, you come to us. If you want to get there with any kind of fanfare, please go to the opposition.
Six months ago, we could not even get a phone call into Heathrow Airport.
Now they are offering free slots. The world just changed, so we are talking to everyone. We are talking to Stansted now, Birmingham, Heathrow, Luton, wherever we can get the best deal because we need to pass that on to our customers.
JF: WITH THAT IN MIND, ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTS, ON YOUR WEBSITE SAYS THAT YOU WILL START WITH AN A330…
NSJ: We are talking to Airbus. We love the A330neos. Six months ago, our business model was based upon a five-year-old A330. Now we are getting offered Airbus NEOs, Boeing 787-9, A350, all about the same flights.
The world has changed our ability to negotiate where we take off from where we land. That is completely different. We are in an extremely fortunate position to be able to do these deals and lock in the lowest rates almost recorded in history.
Where we fly to is because the UK and India serve bilateral agreement that has been set since 2017, with a little bit of wiggle to sign that would be equivalent DGCA.
We know that we could get slots which are not been served. That is our target to start with.
Then, once we are placing ourselves into the second cities of India, we will start negotiating with the second cities of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal. We will do all that because of the bilateral agreements made between the UK and India.
However, there is a huge demand in Pakistan. I mean, there is a demand that has to be filled. We’ll be doing exactly the same thing, we’ll have a low-cost offering, which I think will sit very well with the diaspora.
If you could say a British product, which is what we aim to give them, but they want to see some really good value.
That is what we’ll be implementing as a product to get to that area. We hope will really resonate with the diaspora as I am one of them. I know my father. You know, we will always go for the best fares. He’ll fly in the months to come.
The low-cost product is where we think low-cost product to the second cities, which are obviously now safer than flying through hubs. This is what we are building our business plan on. Obviously, the British government thought the same, which is why they awarded us with this funding.
JF: IN A SENSE, THEN, YOU KNOW THAT IS THE SOLID RATIONALE FOR LAUNCHING THE AIRLINE NOW. WITH THE LONG-HAUL, LOW-COST MARKET COLLAPSING DURING THE PANDEMIC WITH IAG SHELVING GLOBAL EXPANSION AND OBVIOUSLY THIS WHOLE SITUATION FOR NORWEGIAN’S AT THE MOMENT. I WOULD ASSUME THAT, WHAT YOU’VE JUST SAID IS, THE RATIONALE FOR LAUNCHING DUE TO EVERYTHING THAT’S GOING ON IN THE MARKET.
NSJ: Yeah, exactly. Obviously, we are not launching now, where we are launching six to nine months forward and even then, we’ll be launching if the conditions are right where we can fill planes.
There is going to be a free pre-boarding test, which is robust. Or there will be a vaccine solution which is being turned over the last couple of days. We want to be ready to come to the pent-up demand. It is going to be huge.
The first segment that’s going to bounce back, the strongest will be the fares because of people that need to go and see their relatives back home, whether it’s thanking God they’re alive or unfortunately, they go out and they were buried.
JF: IN TERMS OF WHAT DO YOU SAY IS A FOCUS ON SOUTH ASIA, IT IS MAYBE TOO EARLY TO SPECULATE ABOUT THIS. IS THE AIRLINE FOCUSING ON OTHER AREAS AROUND THE WORLD, OR IS IT JUST GOING TO PREDOMINANTLY THE AREAS OF SOUTH ASIA?
NSJ: I think we are really going to nail our success to serving South Asia from the UK. Plus, also we are hoping European destinations move over from Europe to the UK to catch all local flights over South Asia.
Based on that, there are enough destinations. There is enough potential to have a 10 to 20 aircraft fleet and make some good investor returns for us, for our investors.
Then, once we have that nailed, we really want to start looking at joining up all who want to join up on. There is a huge chunk of Diaspora in the New York, New Jersey, and Toronto areas. Thus, I want to create our own feet without taking on the big boys.
But we want people to be able to go to the South Asians, the Indians who live in the New York area, for example, to support us. New York perhaps goes through Stansted, Ahmedabad, Abbottabad, or Calcutta.
I mean, they can sit on the plane and they go on to the asked non-stop flights. There is no direct flight, it’s not nonstop.
But the Diaspora is like migrating birds. They go back and forth all year round, just sometimes more and more than others. That is what we are catering for. If we get tourism, fantastic. That is the icing on the cake.
It is capturing this Diaspora that flows all the way from North America. Vancouver is another great one. If we can get from Vancouver to Stansted, Abbottabad, and the second cities, but to capture a huge chunk of Diaspora as well for America, it’s in our face to target; without endangering the company taking on Delta.
JF: IN TERMS OF THE HIGH, YOU MENTIONED ON THE WEBSITE THAT YOU HAVE TO SAY THE A330 IS GOING TO BE THE AIRCRAFT THAT THE AIRLINE WILL BEGIN WITH. WHAT SORT OF CONFIGURATION WILL YOU OFFER?
NSJ: As I said earlier, were not now to fix the Airbus A330. We are considering any aircraft that can take around four hundred people and it is all economy.
But I can fly 10 hours easily with a huge amount of cargo because cargo is obviously at a Premium. The cargo hold actually is going to produce some great dividends for us because this thing is perishable: goods people will want to acquire.
But to the aircraft that we are going to go for is going to be a modern wide body, so it basically comes down to the Dreamliner, the A330neo or the A350neo.
We’re trying to see where we can get the best deals and have the configuration that we want. It is all about an all-economy product with only extra legroom being sold at the thirty-eight-inch pitch.
31-inch pitch will be offered for standard economy and it will be like a nine abreast configuration. 31 is not bad, compared to our competitors.
We will stick to that, but we’re looking for about 400 all economy. Then, maybe have 14 extra legroom at the front where we sell extra leg legroom.
So, you can effectively pick and mix, probably get yourself a Premium product, but we are selling as an all Economy.
JF: YOU MENTIONED VERY BRIEFLY ABOUT LAUNCH DAY. WERE THERE ANY KEY DATES TO FLY THAT PASSENGERS MAY TO LOOK FOR?
NSJ: Yeah, absolutely. It is determined by festival weekends, and the big one for the Sikh community is April. We would love to launch for the Sikh festivals; however, it all depends on how quickly international travel can bounce back.
The unique thing in our business model is that we have an exceptionally low burn rate to launch. So, we can wait until the conditions are right before we go wheels on.
We’ve planned for Q4 2021. If there is any good news, we’ll be ready to go by the end of Q1 2022.
JF: YOU MENTIONED EARLIER ABOUT THE UK GOVERNMENT FUNDS. THOSE IN THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY AT THE MOMENT ARE CRITICIZING THE GOVERNMENT FOR NOT DOING ENOUGH ON THE INDUSTRY DURING THE PANDEMIC, DO YOU AGREE WITH SUCH CRITICISM? OR DO YOU THINK SOME BENEFIT THE COUNTRY?
It is sad what’s happened to the aviation industry. But government loans are available for everyone. Yeah, so if you need to borrow money, you can. What they have given us actually is a convertible loan.
Those terms are available to anyone. So, the industry has a lifeline, they just must ask the government for it. EasyJet already have borrowed 600 million that is available.
But what the industry cannot do is to expect a bailout from the government. I just do not think that will be tolerated by the public, especially, not in these days of climate change, but the taxpayers’ money is going towards bailing out industries and so the aviation industry, especially.
I think if you are going to bail them out; then, you have to get everyone equally. You must ask your shareholders for funds first, if not, then, the government will give you money.
It is all a bit of cry wolf. I’m afraid of the moment for the aviation industry. If they want to talk to the government or to the Treasury about a loan, they are very happy to scoff the industry.
JF: SO WOULD YOU SAY THAT CEASING THE JOBS, FOR EXAMPLE, OFFSETTING JOB CUTS IN THE JOB RETENTION SCHEME COULD HAVE HAPPENED. DO YOU THINK THAT THE UK GOVERNMENT SHOULD HAVE ADOPTED IT SOMETHING SIMILAR TO THAT OF THE CARES ACT IN THE US?
NSJ: To be honest, I don’t know too much in detail on that, other than I thought the scheme was an excellent scheme by the industry and it applied to everyone, and the benefit applies to the whole country including aviation industry.
I don’t understand why anybody in the aviation industry asked to be an exception. The whole country is in it together, which applies to everyone.
JF: IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SAY TO OUR READERS?
NSJ: No, it’s just that we are extremely sad about what happened to the aviation industry. We are really hoping that we could be a small bright light.
We want to be that glimmer of hope and like that new businesses can start. We are hoping to employ as many as many Brits of the aviation industry.
On these great applications we have had since last Monday, about 400 applications have been received by candidates and we aim to employ as many as possible going forward. So, we will prevail. The aviation industry will return to normal. Hopefully, it will return to normal in a better way.
Featured Image: flyPOP Airbus A330. Photo Credit: flyPOP.