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Taking Off During a Pandemic: Nolinor President Discusses New Airline
North America currently has the highest death toll of airlines lost to the pandemic. U.S. regional carriers Compass Airlines and Trans States Airlines have both shut down as a result of weakened demand caused by COVID-19. On the other hand, the continent is also home to the world’s newest airline brand and the first to debut during the pandemic.
Nolinor Aviation, a Canadian airline specializing in charter operations, recently unveiled a new brand within its company called OWG. Unlike Nolinor, which specializes in charter services mainly to the Far North of Canada, OWG will be a regularly scheduled airline with flights to Southern tourist destinations in the Americas.
Poised to begin flying on Aug. 31, OWG will commence operations to four Cuban destinations from Montreal and Toronto through a partnership it has formed with Hola Sun Holidays. Following the unveiling of the brand on July 7, Nolinor Aviation and OWG President Marco Prud’Homme spoke to AirlineGeeks about the new venture and the ambitions to become the go-to airline for Canadians flying to tourist destinations.
Positioning Itself As a Service-Oriented Carrier
“We’re not a low-cost airline, we are a high-love airline who wants to give back love to the passengers. Over the past few years, passengers have been taken for granted by airlines, and we want to give back to the passengers and show them love,” Prud’Homme said.
The idea of love is centered around the branding of the new airline as well, which features a red and blue fuselage with the outline of a heart on the tail — a marketing tactic reminiscent of a certain large U.S. carrier with stock ticker LUV. This is, however, a refreshing look in an industry that has seen airlines revise iconic liveries for less expensive Euro-white liveries.
Prod’Homme says the airline plans to position itself ahead of competitors by being service-oriented.
“You would be surprised. The easiest way to give back is by smiling. Our team has been working for the past several years in very harsh conditions, and our customers have been impressed by the service that they have been delivering,” Prud’Homme said.
OWG is a new brand under Nolinor Aviation’s operating certificate, and flights will be staffed by Nolinor Aviation pilots and flight attendants who have proven experience in the industry. Prod’Homme believes that OWG can use the recipe Nolinor has used since 1992 to offer on-time and reliable service to its destinations in northern Canada. This will allow the airline to offer a well-rounded and polished service in an easier operating environment that will see the company’s 737s flying to much warmer destinations.
When asked why Noliner needed a new brand to operate regularly-scheduled flights, Prud’Homme emphasized that Nolinor is associated with flights to cold, northern destinations.
“The Nolinor brand is mostly known for doing flights up North, so it’s hard to ask folks to be in a vacation mindset when you are boarding an aircraft that is used to go to the North, so we needed something fresh and dynamic for the new market, ” Prud’Homme said.
Despite its desire to be a service-oriented airline, OWG has no plans to offer power outlets or WiFi to its passengers in the near future.
“We are not aiming to have funky-gadgets onboard the aircraft, we are aiming to offer a great service. We don’t believe that the technical features will be the color of our service. Technical items change pretty quickly, and I am not sure we want to invest in those types of things,” Prud’Homme said.
OWG will inaugurate service with a fleet of three Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The jets will feature the TiSeat E2 by Expliseat, the lightest aircraft seat in the world. The seat is a popular choice in Canada with over 3,000 TiSeat E2s already installed onboard ATR, Dash 8 and 737 aircraft across the country. The first OWG aircraft will be fitted with these seats at the end of the month.
The airline is taking a similar approach to other start-up carriers in North America such as Eastern Airlines and opting to purchase used aircraft instead of leasing newer jets. OWG makes it clear on its website that it operates the 737-400, a model from the Classic series, not the grounded 737 MAX.
Taking Flight During a Pandemic
While the airline may be taking off for the first time in the middle of a pandemic, Prod’Homme and his team have been working on this new venture since summer 2018.
“We started a think tank with five people in 2018. We traveled around the world to test many different airlines to get a sense of the service we would give and we began purchasing the aircraft last fall with the third aircraft joining our fleet a month ago,” Prud’Homme said.
Prod’Homme told AirlineGeeks that the COVID-19 crisis has, if anything, made it easier for the airline to buy its aircraft because the interest rates are now especially low. While explaining the non-traditional business model the carrier is taking, Prod’Homme described why it makes sense for them to stick with an older, less fuel-efficient fleet.
“Our business model is quite different. When you actually purchase the aircraft, the interest rates are actually much lower so the fuel-savings is not as important of an item,” he said. “Another thing, when purchasing an aircraft there are many advantages, if the market is down, the aircraft is yours. When leasing an aircraft, you have to keep paying that lease.”
OWG is planning to slowly establish itself in the market and hopes to win over customers with its straightforward schedule which includes morning departures from Canada and evening arrivals. While airlines and airports across the globe recover from the worst crisis they have ever faced, it is refreshing to see a new player joining the field at such a pivotal time for the industry.
“It takes more time to scale because buying your own aircraft takes time, but the upside of that is that when there is a crisis you know that you will still be around on the other side when the crisis ends,” Prud’Homme said.
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