Niki Lauda, 1949-2019

Initially making his fame and fortune as a three time Formula One champion, Niki Lauda moved into the airline industry in 1979 when he founded Lauda Air. The airline started operations once his Formula One career was over in 1985 initially operating on a charter basis before starting scheduled operations in 1987. By 1989, the airline had gone global flying as far as Sydney and Melbourne via Bangkok. Further flights to Dubai, Cuba and Miami followed operated by a fleet of Boeing 767 aircraft. A fleet of Boeing 777 aircraft joined these in 1997 as well as Boeing 737NG’s and Airbus A320’s. At the turn of the century, Niki Lauda sold off the airline to Austrian Airlines, which over the following decade slowly wound down the airline over the following decade before officially merging them into Austrian Airlines on 1st July 2012.
 
After the sale of Lauda Air, Niki Lauda founded another airline branded Niki in 2003. This followed a different model to his previous airline, focusing on low cost, shorter range flights. Despite often being thought of as a low cost carrier, the airline differentiated themselves from the traditional LCC by offering food and drinks on all short haul flights and more substantial snacks on their longer range flights to the Canary Islands and Egypt. Just a few months after it had commenced operations, it was announced that it would partner with Air Berlin. The two airlines merged completely in 2011, however the name still remained on a few aircraft that were painted into the Air Berlin livery but with the Niki logo instead of having Air Berlin titles. In mid 2017, Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy, however this wouldn’t affect the Niki arm of the airline. It was initially announced that Lufthansa would buy the airline and merge it into its Eurowings brand, however shortly afterwards the European Commission didn’t approve the the merger and the deal collapsed. Further interest came from British Airways and Iberia owner IAG, who had intended to operate the airline under the Vueling brand. However in early 2018, Niki Lauda had beaten the IAG bid to purchase the airline. Just a few months later, Ryanair purchased a 25% stake in the airline and announced its intent to purchase a further 50% at a later date.
 
The latest airline can trace its history back to 2004. It was initially founded as Amira Air, operating business jets on executive routes. However Niki Lauda took over this smaller airline in 2018 and renamed it Laudamotion. Once Niki was put up for sale, the current executive operations of Laudamotion were moved to a new division to make way for the incoming commercial division. Rather than carry on the Niki brand, the new airline would be take on the previous name of Laudamotion and operate a fleet of fifteen aircraft transferred from the previous airline ready to begin operations for the summer 2018 season. By August 2018, Ryanair completed their previously intended acquisition and became the majority shareholder of the airline. By January 2019 Ryanair had purchased the remaining 25% of the airline from NL Holdings, and became the airlines sole owner.
 
Away from the airline industry, the Austrian was more famous for his Formula One career. Making his debut in 1971 for the March team, by 1974 he had moved to Ferrari, winning his first of three world championships in 1975. The following year, he was once again in contention for the World Championship until a fiery crash at the Nurburgring derailed his season and left him permanently disfigured. Despite this, he only missed two races and went head to head with Briton James Hunt for the championship, eventually losing by a single point. The intense rivalry of the season was highlighted in the 2013 film Rush. Lauda won his second Formula One championship in 1977, however after falling out with the Ferrari team, moved to the less competitive Brabham team for 1978. By mid 1979 he announced he informed team owner he “no longer wished to drive around in circles”, and retired from the sport to concentrate on his newly founded airline. However, this retirement was short lived and in 1982 was convinced to return to the sport with the McLaren team, winning his third and final World Championship in 1984 beating teammate Alain Prost by just half a point. After a poor 1985 season, the Austrian announced he was retiring from driving for good at the end of the season. In 1993, he took a consultancy role at his former team Ferrari which lasted until mid way through the 2001 season when he became team principal at the short lived Jaguar team. More recently, he became non-executive chairman at the Mercedes F1 team, and was instrumental in bringing Lewis Hamilton into the team. He continued in this role until mid 2018 when Ill health forced him to step away from the track.
 
Lauda passed away on 20th May 2019.
 
Cover image attribution: By Dijk, Hans van / Anefo / neg. stroken, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, item number 932-2315 – http://proxy.handle.net/10648/ad1a871c-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23275673

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