Intrigued about the virtual airline model, I speak with Denim Air
I mentioned the concept of "virtual airline" in my article about Norwegian carrier FlyNonstop and I was intrigued by this business model.
So I set to learn a bit more about it and contacted Ted van Zundert, Sales and Marketing Director at Air Denim, the company that actually does all the flying on behalf of Flynonstop, who, very kindly, explained to me how a "virtual airline" operates.
Denim Air represents a type of airline that most travellers have never heard about, yet, it fulfils a very useful role in the airline industry, by providing flexibility to established carriers and lowering the capital investment requirements of would-be airline entrepreneurs.
Aviation is a complex and capital intensive business and companies like Denim Air provide a sort of "off the shelf" solution for airlines that are starting up by allowing them to concentrate on the commercial side of business (marketing and sales) while they take care of the actual flying (in the case of FlyNonstop they even provide the Air Operator Certificate).
This is also an option for established airlines that wish to expand capacity quickly or lower the risks associated to this expansion, complementing a fleet that might partly owned or dry-leased.
Denim Air operates under ACMI contracts, "ACMI" standing for "Aircraft, Complete Crew, Maintenance and Insurance". Essentially, an ACMI operator makes the aircraft available (generally) to an airline, that pays according to the number of hours of flight and takes care of marketing, fuel and airport fees and other costs.
Air Denim itself has an interesting history, as it has gone through several ups and downs over the past few years. At present, Netherlands-based Denim Air has a fleet of 4 Fokker 50, 2 Fokker 100 and 3 Embraer E190 (that are operated in contracts with Royal Air Maroc and the aforementioned FlyNonstop of Norway).
At some point Denim Air had up to 14 Bombardier DAsh 8 Q300 regional jets operating on behalf of Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum (Denim Air was even briefly owned by Air Nostrum before being sold again shortly after). In fact, Denim Air has changed hands several times until 2006 when it was acquired by Panta Holdings. The company underwent bankruptcy procedures in 2010 but has since recovered and is back in business. At present Denim Air remains a reference in Europe in what comes to wet lease ACMI operations.
By the way, if you are interested in the topic of virtual airlines and ACMI operators, another successful case you should check out is Sverigeflyg of Sweden!