Startup airlines to spread their wings in 2021

Shutterstock / aapsky

While some airlines ceased operating, others are planning to kick start in 2021. 

South America

In March 2021, Brazil’s largest bus company Itapemirim is launching a new airline Ita Linhas Aereas (ITA). Tiago Senna, Ita’s CEO, announced that the airline would operate from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Vitória. The airline has already defined 17 initial destinations hoping to carry out an average of 3,000 flights per month. 

In the first six months of 2021, we might see the rise of another Brazilian airline – Nella Linhas Aéreas. Just like ITA, it aims at serving the regional travel market and has plans to operate to 78 airports. In November 2020, Brazil’s Central Bank approved the registration of Nella, which is fully owned by foreign investors.

Likewise, Colombia is also in line to get a new airline. With 29 domestic routes and 15 international, new low-cost carrier Ultra Air is ready to get a good share of the country’s domestic flight market. The founder of Ultra Air, William Shaw, said that the airline would offer airfares 20% lower than other carriers in Colombia. The airline reportedly plans to use a fleet of Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 MAX 8, which would make it the first Colombian Airline to use the Boeing MAX aircraft. 

Ecuatoriana Airlines reported to have obtained its operating permit for domestic flights in Ecuador. The carrier is planning to launch operations in the first quarter of 2021. Launched by a group of investors in the US and Ecuador, it received the permit for the provision of regular domestic air transport service in the country in November, 2020. The carrier intends to launch services from the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador.


Vietnam is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. According to the International Trade Administration (ITA) in the United States Department of Commerce, for the period of 2016 to 2021, Vietnam is expected to have the highest average growth rate in Southeast Asia at 17.4%. With 22 airports, of which 11 are international and 11 domestic, the country has a capacity to welcome 96 million passengers per year. 

Vietnam Airlines and VietJet are the two airlines that make up 75% of the market in the country. However, several start up airlines have started to emerge. 

Vietravel Airlines received the aircraft operator certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) in December 2020 and plans to begin flying in mid-January 2021. Vietravel Airlines has taken delivery of its first 220-seat Airbus A321 plane with two more on the way and hired around 200 pilots and flight attendants. With a hub in Phu Bai International Airport, the airline plans to mainly fly to Southeast and Northeast Asia as well as the Middle East. 

Possibly one of the most ambitious of Vietnam’s startup airlines is Bamboo Airways. The airline received its Aircraft Operator Certificate (AOC) from Vietnam’s Aviation Administration in January 2019. In November 2020, it was granted a permission from the United States Department of Transport (DOT) to launch non-stop flights to the US and plans to launch the operations to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in the beginning of 2021. Bamboo Airways currently operates a fleet of 22 Airbus single-aisle airliners and three Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. 

Until the aviation industry recovers from the pandemic, the Vietnam government has banned any new Vietnamese startup airlines until at least 2022. 


While Norwegian Air Shuttle is facing serious financial troubles, new startup airlines are popping up in northern Europe.

In Denmark, the new airline Airseven will fly charter contracts and lease planes to individual flights instead of establishing scheduled routes. It will be a so-called virtual airline, outsourcing most of its functions. The airline’s fleet consists of two Boeing 737-400s with 168 seats in each. In December 2020, the two Boeings were delivered to Airseven’s operator, Copenhagen AirTaxi.

Likewise, the new Norwegian airline Flyr has entered the competition for Norwegian market with plans to start operating flights in early 2021. On December 5, 2020, the company, owned by former CEO of Braathens SAFE and board member of Norwegian Erik G. Braathen, announced its name and launched the website. Braathen first revealed his plans for the new airline in October 2020. The airline currently has investment for the planning stages and is looking for further funding to launch next year. Braathen told CNN that the company was choosing between the Boeing 737-800 or the Airbus A320.

Icelandic start-up airline PLAY initially planned to start operations by winter 2019 but due to the COVID-19 air travel restrictions, rescheduled the launch of operations for the second quarter of 2021. PLAY Airlines was founded by two former WOW air executives Arnar Mar Magnusson and Sveinn Ingi Steinporsson. The company plans to operate six jets for 14 European and the United States destinations and should fill the market gap left after WOW air bankruptcy in March 2019. 

Around the world

On December 10, 2020, South African start up airline LIFT operated its maiden flight. LIFT enters the market with three Airbus A320 Family aircraft in its fleet. Things are looking up for the airline, led by former Uber executive Jonathan Ayache and founder Gidon Novick, as it has sold over 30,000 tickets already for South Africa’s summer season. Cape Town to Johannesburg and Johannesburg to George for now will be the main LIFT routes. 

Meanwhile, in June 2021, Pacifika Air hopes to launch direct services between the cities of Wellington and Christchurch in New Zealand to the Cook Islands, following the announcement of a travel bubble between the destinations. With two Boeing 737-800 aircraft, the airline is expected to receive the approval for operations in May 2021. 

Based at Cheongju International Airport (CJJ) in Cheongwon-gu, South Korea, start up airline Aero K also received the official Air Operator Certificate (AOC) for international and domestic air travel services on December 28, 2020. Aero K plans to operate domestic and international flights to Japan, China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

On December 24, 2020, the government of Burundi unveiled plans to launch a new national carrier in 2021 named Burundi Airlines. The new airline would be a merger between the predecessor airline Air Burundi, which ceased operating in 2007, and ground-handler SOBUGEA. The state of Burundi would control 92% of Burundi Airlines.

Why now? 

Coronavirus crisis hit especially hard the carriers operating on the long-haul international flights and it will take time for them to return. The start up airlines are using smaller, narrow-body aircraft and are primarily targeting the quickly recovering domestic market. 

“Itapemirim will enter the market appropriate to the size of the demand. Today, even in the middle of COVID-19, with the number of flights that the counterparts are offering, the flight occupancy is around 85%, 90%,” said ITA’s CEO Tiago Senna. 

Smaller airlines might have an advantage as charter routes could become more popular due to border restrictions and on-going lockdowns across Europe. Flyr’s CEO Braathen told CNN that he was confident that when Flyr launched the aviation landscape would be quite different.

“How passenger flow will look is obviously uncertain, but we are starting relatively modestly,” Braathen said. “And then we plan to scale the airline as we go over the next two, three years.”


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