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Last Updated : May 22, 2019 04:22 PM IST | Source:

In Niki Lauda's aviation career, Indian carriers can learn a lesson of survival

Lauda, more famous for being a Formula 1 champion, founded three airlines in his career.

Prince Mathews Thomas @prince0879
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At a time when the Indian aviation industry is in danger of losing one of its biggest brand Jet Airways, the life of Niki Lauda, the former Formula 1 champion who was also a successful aviation entrepreneur, could be a lesson in not just surviving, but thriving in the grueling sector.

Lauda, who made a dramatic comeback to racing just six weeks after a near-fatal crash, died in his sleep on May 20 in Zurich. He was 70, and was suffering from a kidney ailment.

Lauda founded not one, but three airlines in an aviation career that spanned four decades.


He founded the first one, Lauda Air, in 1979, after retiring from racing in the middle of the season. Headquartered in Vienna, Lauda Air started off as a chartered service provider. Niki would go back to Formula 1, winning the championship in 1984.

It is not known if that was a reason for Lauda Air's long wait to start its first long haul flights. But when it finally did, in 1989, Niki managed to see off competition from  Austria's flag carrier Austrian Airlines, which was not amused that it now had to compete with a start-up airline for traffic.

But trouble ensued when Lauda Air failed to make a profit for the first time in 10 years. And it happened just after one of its aircraft crashed, killing 223 passengers and crew. The airline was forced to merge with Austrian Airline, which took a 36 percent stake in Lauda Air.

Two years later, Niki himself made an unceremonious exit from the airline he founded. "Why should I stay there? They have brutally driven me out like a dog, just because I wouldn't let myself be trained to stay to heel," he said.

Second flight

But that was not the end of Niki the aviator, who was also a trained pilot and would often fly his airline's aircraft. Showing similar gumption that had seen him come back to the race track after the infamous accident in 1976, the entrepreneur founded Niki, a low-cost carrier (LCC), in 2003.

In 2011, the businessman sold the low cost airline to Air Berlin.

After Air Berlin got into trouble, despite an investment from Etihad Airways, Niki, the LCC, was courted by Lufthansa and later by IAG, which owned British Airways. But both the deals went awry.

In a twist of fate, Niki once again checked into his namesake airline, but through the third airline he founded - Laudamotion.

The final take off

Niki had bought Amira Air, a chartered service provier, in 2018, and renamed it Laudamotion. Within a month, the businessman used Laudamotion to take control of his erstwhile low cost airline, Niki.

The deal frenzy wasn't over. In March, Ryanair, the Irish low-cost, announced that it was taking a stake in Laudamotion. And by January 2019, the carrier had become a wholly owned unit of Ryanair. Later in March this year, Laudamotion was renamed Lauda.

Perhaps it was fitting that Niki's career had come a full circle - his first airline was Lauda Air, and the last was renamed Lauda - before his demise.

Something that he said of Formula 1, may also fit his aviation career:

"A lot of people criticise Formula 1 as an unnecessary risk. But what would life be like if we only did what is necessary?"
First Published on May 22, 2019 04:22 pm
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