Airline start-up bucks trend in Maldives: New York Times

At a time when many airlines are filing for bankruptcy or consolidating routes, George Weinmann is jumping into the industry with a start-up, writes Ron Gluckman for the New York Times.

Mr Weinmann, the chief executive of Mega Maldives Airlines, is going after a growing niche, linking increasingly affluent China with the Maldives, a tiny island nation. The American entrepreneur says he has the right ingredients to make it a success: lucrative landing rights in an expanding market, an international network of contacts and crucial government approvals.

“Over the next 10 years, the Maldives can become the playground in the backyard of India and China, similar to the way the Caribbean is to the U.S.A. and Canada,” Mr Weinmann said.

Still in its second year, the start-up recently added Chongqing to its network of flights between the Maldivian capital of Malé and Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Selling mainly to group tours organised by travel agents, Mega Maldives has grown to about 180 employees, twice the number when flights started in January 2011.

His start-up is all the more ambitious given that the airline industry is hammered by rising fuel prices and cutthroat competition.

“This is an industry where, even if you make $1 billion one year, you can lose $1 billion another year,” noted Martin Craigs, who spent most of his career in aviation, but now is chief executive of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

Mega Maldives has faced its own challenges, particularly after street protests in February, when President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives stepped down — or was forced out in a coup, as he says. China reacted nervously; many carriers canceled flights.

“We’ll keep flying,” Mr. Weinmann said in February, soon after the unrest hit the islands. “But for how long, it’s hard to say. Right now the planes are still full, but people just aren’t booking” in advance.

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