Starting an airline requires more than a love for flying or experience in the travel industry. As writer Massoud A. Derhally explains in a 2012 article in ArabianBusiness.com, only 5 percent of the business is about getting planes and filling seats, while 95 percent is about the operations and technical side of the business. This includes completing a time-intensive process to receive FAA certification.
Finding a Niche
Finding a niche that other airlines are not providing is critical when entering this industry. For one thing, established airlines are firmly entrenched at major airports, making it difficult to obtain a gate, writes airline correspondent Jad Mouawad in a New York Times article. Look for opportunities to provide service where none is available to find a niche. For example, a regional airport that needs an airline to provide point to point service to smaller cities with enough people to fill each flight is a possibility worth exploring.
Starting an airline requires a sizable investment for completing the certification process, leasing or purchasing planes, recruiting, training and paying personnel and paying for gate space at various airports. You also need to promote flights and set up a reservation system. To get an idea of the investment required, Skybus Airlines, gathered $160 million in 2007 to open its doors in Columbus, Ohio, notes Mouawad. In another example, Adel Ali, CEO of Air Arabia Maroc, says it takes from $50 million to $200 million to start an airline, depending on the size and where you operate, writes Derhally.
Part 121 Certification Process
An airline with plans to carry more than nine passengers per plane must contact the Flight Standards District Office to obtain a FAA Form 8400-6, Pre-Application Statement of Intent. This is the first of several steps that culminates in obtaining Part 121 Air Carrier Certification, required to officially open an airline. The FSDO helps you complete the forms and explains the many documentation requirements. For instance, you must provide documentation for:
- Size and scope of your proposed airline
- Equipment and operations systems
- System safety
- Lease or purchase agreement and model/make for the planes you plan to use
- Management personnel resumes and qualification summary
- Training and maintenance manuals and programs
Once the training and maintenance manuals are approved, you can begin pilot, flight attendant, dispatcher and maintenance training. After all training is complete and documentation provided, performance assessment and proving tests are conducted by the FAA to determine if your airline is qualified to receive final Part 121 Certification.
The FAA provides Safety Attribute Inspection tools to help you audit your safety systems, manuals and other systems so you can go through the certification process more quickly.
If you plan to start an airline that carries less than nine passengers per plane, you may qualify for FAA Certification Part 135 instead of the more intensive Part 121 Air Carrier Certification. Safety requirements for Part 135 certification are less stringent, including pilot requirements and maintenance standards, says writer John Goglia in a 2013 Forbes article. No dispatch system requirements are necessary, although the crew must be qualified and the plane deemed airworthy, according to the FAA. The National Aviation Business Association offers a guide on the training, operations and maintenance requirements for Part 135 certification.
Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist and speaker who started writing in 1998. She writes business plans for startups and established companies and teaches marketing and promotional tactics at local workshops. Wagner's business and marketing articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business" and "The Mortgage Press," among others. She holds a B.S. from Eastern Illinois University.