“Passengers are not mere numbers to us”: interview with Beond CEO Tero Taskila 

Tero Taskila Beond

On November 16, 2023, an Airbus A319, painted almost entirely in a distinctively elegant black livery dotted with little golden bubbles, took off from Munich (MUC) bound for the warm latitudes of the Indian Ocean.  

Beond, the world’s newest luxury airline, was finally a reality. 

Only 24 hours earlier, that same jet was part of the static display at the 2023 Dubai Air Show, where visitors were able to get a glimpse of the carefully crafted business-only cabin that would shuttle holidaymakers between Europe, the Middle East and the Maldives in utmost comfort. 

At the time, AeroTime had already been able to take a close look at this new product offering, which aims to extend the luxury resort experience vibes from the moment the passenger steps on onboard. However, we were eager to learn more about the genesis and development of this rather unique and ambitious project. 

For this instalment of our Executive Spotlight series, we sat down for an in-depth conversation with Beond’s co-founder and CEO, Tero Taskila, who shared some details about the vision behind the Beond project and its plans. 

Taskila, who over the last couple of decades has held executive positions at carriers such as Finnair, Gulf Air, airBaltic and Estonian Air, is not alone in this venture. 

A few years ago, while working for one of the major aircraft makers, Beond’s co-founder Max Nilov realized that the arrival of a new generation of longer-range narrow-body aircraft would open up opportunities for the development of new business models. Between them, Taskila and Nilov then started to brainstorm ideas.  

Familiar as they were with different airline business models, the pair quickly identified the premium segment of the market as offering the most promising opportunity. 

What soon became clear, though, was that they wouldn’t be able to compete in the traditional business class market. Having neither the scale nor the access into the corporate market to go up against the major network airlines, launching in locations like London and New York was out of the question. 

“From our time working in the consultancy business, we knew that the so-called experience travel or luxury travel was the fastest growing travel market segment in the world.” explained Taskila.  

“There was no airline that was purely focusing on that niche,” he said, reminiscing about the very early days of the project that would become Beond. “This is a type of market that doesn’t require the frequencies and corporate travel deals which you would need in the very competitive North Atlantic market. So, we looked at what we could call ‘bucket list destinations’, known for being premium travel destinations, which could be viable with this strategy. We identified a few of them and the Maldives turned out to be potentially the number one, particularly when taking into account that it bounced back from COVID particularly fast.”  

He added: “We then went to talk to the government [of the Maldives] to see whether there would be an appetite for a new private airline to come to the market and serve a very niche segment. That’s how the project came about.” 

But luxury can be a somewhat broad and subjective concept. How does Beond define it?   

“Luxury travel, for us, is everything which is not work-related travel,” Taskila said. “If you are seeking an experience, you travel to an event for fun, whether that’s a World Cup or some other major event, whether that’s your holiday or just visiting friends and relatives. But you do not want that to overlap with your work. So, that’s how luxury travel is defined. It is not that I’m working for Morgan Stanley and now I need to fly very fast from London to New York. That’s not luxury.”  

Starting a new airline can be complicated. It’s an unforgiving, capital-intensive business with lots of risk, but the founders of BeOnd reached into their own pockets to fund the project’s initial steps.  

“Obviously, at that point we still needed to do a little bit of more homework in terms of defining the product, what we really wanted to do out of Maldives, what capabilities we could count on and then, of course, creating the brand.” Taskila explained. 

The basis of the project was already laid out, though. Now it was time to find the money. 

Beond’s co-founders pitched the project to wealthy families and private funds in order to raise seed capital, get things started and start building a small team. 

They were soon faced with a choice: either getting a large sum of money upfront, but at a relatively low valuation, or getting a smaller amount at first and getting the rest at a later stage – at a relatively higher valuation, but conditional on hitting certain milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs). 

“We chose the latter option,” Taskila said, “which in hindsight was the smarter move and not only for financial reasons. It is a way to make sure that we remain always very cost-minded and focused on creating an efficient airline. Swimming in cash can lead to taking potentially stupid decisions.” 

As of May 2024, Beond has raised US$33 million, and it is aiming to raise an additional US$25 million through a Series A round. This money facilitated the launch of the airline in November 2023 and should enable its growth over the next three years.  

Creating the Beond experience 

In recent years, airlines have been investing a significant amount of money in revamping their premium cabins. We asked Taskila how is Beond going to differentiate itself in this respect. 

“We wanted to create a concept which is mostly about the experience and how it makes you feel. The old texture, the tactile elements of the seed and the seed thrust, everything else, it just feels different. It has sort of a private jet feeling. We also wanted to keep the monuments [the different elements, such as seats, that furnish the cabin – Ed. Note] quite low so the design has a more airy feel – so that it creates an atmosphere where you can converse with your loved ones, with your family, when you’re traveling. It’s not like in a traditional business class, where the focus is on your own personal privacy.” he said, in reference to Beond’s classy cabin interior, which has been fitted with seats designed by Italian manufacturer Optimares

“Those were the key elements of what we wanted to achieve. Also, when we talk about experiences, people want to pamper themselves, but not by having a big TV screen [Beond offers inflight entertainment by streaming it to the passengers’ own electronic devices rather than through seatback screens – Ed. Note], but rather through the food and other service elements. In fact, I would say one of things we take the greatest pride from, based on the feedback we are getting, is the food.” 

He added a personal anecdote in this regard: “I recently got a lengthy email from a person I didn’t know, and he basically said that in the past 18 months he had traveled over a million miles and this had been the best food he’d ever had anywhere on the planet. So, people are noticing that. We take a lot of pride in it.”  

Taskila enumerates the three element that he reckons make this possible: 

The first is selecting the right people to design the inflight eating experience. In this regard, Beond is collaborating with chefs from some of the best resorts in the Maldives.  

The second element is the choice of suppliers and catering companies in each of the markets in which the airline operates. Taskila avoided naming them, but highlighted that quality, rather than quantity, has been the primary factor in their selection. 

The third element is the related service element. In Taskila’s own words: “Although it doesn’t necessarily have so much of a direct link on the taste of the food, it is essential to the experience of enjoying that food: how we lay it out on the plate, for example. Our food doesn’t come on those trays which are already prepared by the caterer. It is plated by our crew, and we do a lot of emphasis on the training, on how to serve it.” 

Taskila didn’t miss the chance to highlight other boutique-like elements of the Beond experience, turning the carrier’s small size into one of its sources of strength. 

“The other thing we have is our cabin crew. We always emphasize that the passenger for us is not a number, and the same is true of our employees. For us, they are not a number. We need to do things differently from the big boys, because if you are an airline with 300 aircraft, 400 destinations and 6,000 team members, you cannot avoid it – you will be a number. We wanted to have this sort of boutique, family element where people know each other by their names. At this moment, I still know – I promise – all our crew by name. I don’t know if I will still know them when we have 32 aircraft, but at least I will try to get as far as I can!”  

“That sort of a family culture would be what we want to create,” Taskila said. “There’s a creative side, too. Even if we are quite good on social media, we don’t publish everything. Our cabin crew is creating memorable events for our passengers – for example, presenting a birthday cake when they realize that that person has a birthday. This always puts a smile on people’s face.” 

The challenges of being a small, independent carrier 

Even if Beond operates a low-density fleet and doesn’t have that many seats to fill, operating without a feeder network has traditionally proven to be a major challenge for independent long-haul carriers. What are Taskila’s feelings about this? 

“We are operating quite small aircraft, just 44 seats. So, in that sense we do not need that much of a feeder. So far, we haven’t been considering coaches or interlining, although there have been some requests. At this point it’s more about making sure that our value chain is intact. It would be more of a hassle than a complement to our business model. I’m not saying that this may or may not change in the future, but at the moment we are not putting a focus on it.” 

Beond does have partners, though, and these operate within the Maldivian luxury tourism ecosystem. 

“We are working with luxury travel agencies who have clients from different socio-economic segments. They really focus on creating experiences for travelers. We are collaborating already with the best results in the Maldives, so we are part of those offerings. In addition, we are also getting more and more hotel partners in the Maldives that are using us. If a customer calls them and wants to come to the resort, they’re basically saying ‘you can come to the resort and please check out Beond’. They are then building the packages.” 

Although luxury travel agencies, tour operators and hotels are key distribution channels for BeOnd, Taskila doesn’t dismiss the direct distribution channel either. 

“The business plan was always calculated in a way that estimated 65% of traffic coming from travel agencies, but now we are actually at 50-50. BeOnd has got an amount of publicity, which was – pun intended – beyond expectations, and this has driven a lot of direct sales as well!” 

Beond flies to Male (MLE), the capital of the Maldives and its main international gateway, but from there, holidaymakers still need to get to their island resorts. Taskila explained how Beond has facilitated this, too. 

“We are doing a collaboration with all the resorts, because it’s the resorts that are the final destinations. So, we have been teaming up with them to make sure that when the customer arrives, they are greeted either by our personnel or by the resort staff and escorted to a seaplane, a ferry or a boat, since all the resorts have their own boats and some have seaplanes. They get that seamless experience. They don’t carry the bags to and from the airport. So basically, when you land, you go through fast-track immigration, you identify your bag on the belt and the next time you see your bag is in your room at the resort. It’s quite seamless!” 

Planning Beond’s future fleet 

Though Beond is admittedly a small operation at present, Taskila doesn’t shy away from sharing the airline’s ambitious growth plans.  

As of May 2024, Beond has two aircraft, the aforementioned 44-seater A319 and an A321 that it received back in February of this year, which at the time of this interview was still being fitted. If all goes according to plan, though, Taskila envisages a 32-aircraft fleet by 2035. 

“I think we are restricted by two things operationally. One is the availability of aircraft, and the second is the availability of pilots and cabin crew. When we look at the market, we believe that it is realistic to assume that we can grow by eight aircraft per year. We are going to have four aircraft in 2025, eight aircraft in 2026, and then grow further. Even if there were aircraft available, we wouldn’t be able to move faster, because introducing new aircraft, getting the crews and everything else would then be a bit of a challenge.”  

Although Beond plans to stick to A320-family aircraft for the foreseeable future, the exact composition of the fleet is yet to be defined, and it will depend to a large degree on the procurement and leasing opportunities that arise.  

“We are looking at all the A320 family, so A319, A320 and A321s. We are in a situation in which the supply of aircraft is quite constrained, and this is something we cannot fix. It is also quite good for us to have a little bit of variety in terms of the aircraft size, as long as we have commonality. Strategically, obviously you would like to be in a driving seat and say, ‘okay, this is exactly the aircraft I want all the time’. But in real life, given the current constraints, you need to be a little bit opportunistic and say ‘okay, rather than getting the A321, I’m happy with A320s as well, provided that it gives me the range and conditions that I need’. So that’s how we are going to build it. But the plan is that, as we go along, the A319s will be route openers for the future, which makes sense from the risk management perspective as well.” 

Taskila elaborated further on this idea of simply scooping up the aircraft that become available at each stage of its growth. 

“Our first two aircraft are Airbus ceos, the next two are likely going to be ceos as well. And I’ll say likely, because we are now campaigning on the neos as well and it might be that the neos come faster than the ceos. So, we are likely to have four to five Airbus ceo aircraft and the rest of the aircraft would be neos. Then, the neos we will split between (A321)LRs and XLRs.” 

The current and future network

Where would all these aircraft fly to, though? Beond has a map of potential destinations on its website, including cities in Central Europe, across Asia and even Australia. 

For the time being, as of May 2024 Beond’s operations are somehow more limited. The airline flies nonstop between Male (MLE) and Riyadh (RUH) and Dubai Al-Maktoum (DWC). Services to Munich (MUC) and Zurich (ZRH) are being operated with a technical stop in Dubai. So too will the Milan (MXP) route, which is launching on July 3, 2024. 

On its Zurich route, Beond also enjoys Fifth Freedom rights, meaning it can also fly passengers between Dubai and the Swiss city. 

For further network expansion, Beond is looking east, to Bangkok (BKK). “There is a lot of travel from the Maldives to Thailand as well.” explained Taskila, without revealing exactly when this new route is to be launched.  

Overall, Taskila appeared satisfied with the performance of Beond so far. 

“The market reaction has been very positive,” he said. “As can be seen on social media, we are attracting quite a visible clientele, as well as a less visible one, but the reaction is on the bar. Markets are behaving exactly like we planned. We are not disclosing any load factors at the moment, but they are exactly where we wanted them to be at this point.” 

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