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What’s going on at Global Airlines, the new UK airline which has bought four used A380s?

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Last Thursday was the official launch party for the UK’s newest airline, Global Airlines.

You may already have heard of them: they caused a splash a few weeks ago when they announced they had purchased (yes, bought outright) four A380 aircraft. The first has already been delivered.

It’s not everyday that a start-up airline buys aircraft, let alone the world’s largest passenger plane, which many airlines have already written off. It was the first suggestion that this is more than a paper airline. It also suggests that whoever is behind Global Airlines has deep pockets.

I had hoped that Thursday’s event would have pulled back the curtain a little more on the airline’s progress and plans, but unfortunately there were virtually no new announcements, apart from that “we are a lot further along than people think”.

Global Airlines, the new airline hoping to fly A380s to New York

But let’s start at the beginning ….

Who is behind Global Airlines?

Global Airlines was founded by James Asquith. I think it’s fair to describe James as one of the original travel influencers: he became the youngest person to visit all 196 countries around the world a decade ago and now has more than one million followers on Instagram.

Since then, James has set up a holiday home-swapping website Holiday Swap.

In addition to James, Global Airlines has announced that Richard Stephenson has joined as COO. Richard started his career at British Airways in 1998 and more recently spent six years as communications director of the Civil Aviation Authority. Whilst he doesn’t have any recent airline experience, he should at least understand how difficult it is to launch a new airline and help Global pass the necessary hurdles.

Also joining Global is Liam McKay. Liam comes from London City Airport where he was Director of Corporate Affairs, dealing with PR, marketing and regulation.

Where is the money coming from?

Launching a brand new airline doesn’t come cheap. A few companies have tried it in recent years, including flyPop and Hans Airways, both of which wanted to launch UK – India flights. Neither has begun operations.

That said, there is clearly serious money behind Global Airlines; you don’t buy four A380s on a whim. In April, it was reported that Global Airlines had an in-principal investment of $60 million ready to go.

Whilst these aircraft come used (the A380 is no longer in production), you are still looking at tens of millions to buy and refurbish just one.

Where is the money coming from? At least some of it is coming from the Holiday Swap Group and other investors, including Sheikh Juma bin Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the Dubai ruling family.

It seems there is a fairly diverse group of investors behind this project, rather than a single person bank-rolling the whole thing.

Global Airlines, the new airline hoping to fly A380s to New York

What does Global Airlines hope to achieve?

In short, Global Airlines wants to disrupt the transatlantic aviation market by operating a fleet of premium-heavy A380s from Gatwick. The first flights are currently planned to take place to New York sometime in the summer of 2024.

Sound mad? That’s because it is!

A380s are gas guzzlers compared to next generation A350s and 787s. To achieve the same efficiency you need to fill the aircraft on virtually every flight.

Clearly it works for some airlines: Emirates continues to use it as the backbone of its fleet, delivering huge levels of capacity to and from slot-constrained airports.

Things are different in the transatlantic market. No US airlines operate A380s and in Europe only British Airways and Lufthansa do: Air France ditched its fleet during the pandemic.

If anything, the move in transatlantic flying has shifted to smaller aircraft: JetBlue now flies five times a day to London and Paris on its single-aisle A321LR, with an Amsterdam service following next month. Aer Lingus is following the same model and continues to open niche routes with its A321LR as they arrive.

Instead of using bigger aircraft, a lot of airlines are opting for long-range A321s. These are the same aircraft that you fly around Europe with, except Airbus has started improving the aircraft’s range thanks to fuel efficiency improvements. This will be extended even further with the launch of the Airbus A321XLR – or extra long range – which will open up even longer routes on these single-aisle planes.

These aircraft are far cheaper to fly, with lower operating costs thanks to their efficient size. Lifting the infrastructure for a second aisle is just weight, after all.

It is interesting to see Global Airlines head in the opposite direction and opt for the largest passenger aircraft available.

Another reason why transatlantic airlines tend to opt for medium or large aircraft, rather than very large aircraft, is that frequency is seen as key for important business routes.

Instead of flying just a handful of aircraft on a super-jumbo they want to offer business travellers a choice of flights. It’s one of the reasons why BA doesn’t operate a handful of A380s to New York but offers 12 daily flights on smaller aircraft instead (AA offer another four as part of their transatlantic joint venture.)

James clearly doesn’t agree and told City AM: “I think that too many incumbents still think it’s [about] frequency.”

Global Airlines, the new airline hoping to fly A380s to New York

What will it be like to fly Global Airlines?

Onboard, Global wants to offer a premium experience with First Class, Business Class and economy.

In fact, Global Airlines will fly aircraft with almost as many premium seats as BA has on its A380s.

The initial four A380s to arrive at Global are hand-me-downs from Singapore Airlines. These feature 471 seats with 12 in First, 60 in business class and the remaining 399 in economy.

It’s unlikely we will see Global introduce a brand-new cabin this late in the day: with flights currently due to start in Spring or Summer next year it’s more likely that the existing seats will be refurbished and reupholstered similar to how we’ve seen on other airlines recently such as Lufthansa and ITA.

This also helps Global avoid the scrum for new business class seats. Supply chain issues are causing real issues for airlines, as we heard from Malaysia Airlines CEO Datuk Captain Izham Ismail in our recent interview.

That means that Global Airlines will likely fly with Singapore’s previous cabins. Whilst not the latest or most modern, these are still excellent seats, with all-aisle access in business class and relatively modern in-flight entertainment.

It’s unclear what the rest of the experience will entail. No announcements have been made yet about onboard catering or airport services such as lounge access. Whilst the obvious thing to do would be to use a contract lounge, Gatwick has an abandoned lounge in its North Terminal which Global could, potentially, take over.

Global Airlines, the new airline hoping to fly A380s to New York
These are not, I’m told, the final cabin crew uniforms!

The road ahead

That said, there are a lot of hurdles standing in the way of Global Airlines taking off.

For a start, the airline doesn’t have an Operating Licence or Air Operator Certificate (AOC) which can take substantial time to develop. Assuming the cash keeps flowing, regulatory issues are most likely to prevent the airline from flying.

It took fellow transatlantic airline Norse Atlantic approximately two years to receive its UK AOC. It’s not clear how far along in this process Global may be, but Asquith did mention that he has been working on the project more seriously for the past two years.

It will also have to deal with:

  • obtaining take-off and landing slots
  • getting access to gates (A380 gates at JFK may not be easy to get, and I think Gatwick only has one gate which can take an A380)
  • achieving an operating licence and other permits in the US
  • applying for permission to sell tickets in the US
  • finding A380-suitable hangars and maintenance facilities in the UK, given that only British Airways currently bases A380 aircraft here and is unlikely to share

….. and so on. Aviation is a highly complex, highly regulated industry: never let it be said that launching an airline was easy. The difference between Global and other (failed) long-haul start-up carriers in the last 20 years is that they tended to buy or develop out of existing small airlines to short cut some of the licencing rules.

Global Airlines, the new airline hoping to fly A380s to New York

American Express is an early partner

Very little new information was announced at the launch party on Thursday night, bar that a partnership with American Express has been inked after a year-long negotiation process.

Whilst James didn’t reveal what this partnership entailed, a follow up press release offered clarification:

“Ahead of the first flight in 2024, American Express and Global will collaborate on bespoke offers for Amex Cardmembers on the inaugural services between London Gatwick and New York’s JFK. The agreement will also see a range of exclusive fly-drive offers, hotel stays, and restaurant bookings made available to Cardmembers …. American Express Cardmembers will be among the first to be able to purchase tickets across all three cabins onboard the Global Airlines A380 aircraft

From the sounds of it, that means that there will be some sort of offers on Amex cards (cashback or otherwise) and that you will be able to use your Amex to pay for the flights. Not exactly ground-breaking stuff. That said, the press release included quotes from American Express’s UK ‘Merchant Services’ head Dan Edelman, including:

“With our long history in travel, this new partnership is hugely exciting for us.”

There were no other announcements, although James did tease various potential partnerships. “Margaret Dabbs are a big part of what we’re doing for the amenity kits as well.”

Other brands, including Laurent Perrier Champagne, the Isle of Wight Distillery, Longbottom & Co bloody mary mix providers and Rova Madagascan Caviar were at the event as well, hinting at unconfirmed tie-ups.

What about a loyalty scheme?

Loyalty appears to be a big part of the Global Airlines offering and on display were several status cards for the upcoming loyalty programme which appears to be called ‘Global Aviator’. James said:

“There are people in this room that understand the loyalty platforms and how that works – better than me. And sometimes I lean on some of their advice as well. But I think that’s another area that we are really going to push strongly.”

For now, it appears there are five tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Titanium.

Global Airlines is on the defensive

There is a lot of scepticism in the aviation industry about whether Global Airlines will ever make it.

In part this is self-inflicted, with an early 2021 investor deck making the rounds and extolling plans for a ‘gamer class’ and naive (if not downright absurd) cost-estimates for refurbishing the aircraft and predicting a 100-strong fleet by 2025. It reads more like a school project than a genuine business case.

Based on my conversations with Global Airlines, the 2021 investor deck is no longer relevant and Global is pursuing a different strategy. “We’re trying to be realistic. And to be clear, there is no gamer class!”

Comparing the media negativity to the reception Richard Branson got with Virgin Atlantic in 1984, he said “it’s the same thing that happened, I guess, 39, 40 years ago for the airline. But it’s very well known today. All the naysayers said ‘this would not work’. And they push really hard for it.”

“There are people in this room that have said the transatlantic market is littered with failed carriers – and it absolutely is. Because they all do the same thing. Over the last three and a half decades they’ve competed on price, and it’s a race to the bottom largely. They either do that, or all-premium product across the Atlantic. We’re doing it very differently.”


A lot of questions clearly remain. On the face of it, Global Airlines is flying in the face of conventional aviation strategy, at least across the Atlantic. No airline start-up has ever launched with the A380 as its first aircraft.

That said …. whoever is backing Global Airlines clearly believes that it can work and has the money to throw money behind it.

My personal view is that it is always exciting to see new airlines launch, particularly in a market as crowded as the one between the UK and US, which now fields flights from six different airlines.

At the very least, it will be interesting to see how Global Airlines evolves over the coming years and I wish the team the best of luck. I am looking to seeing what they have to offer.

Will it fly? Let’s see.

Comments (210)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Vit says:

    As suggested by multiple comments here that we don’t need capacities between US and UK… Maybe they could read it off the hfp and launch a direct flight to from London to Bangkok and KL? 😋

    • Chris W says:

      Perhaps they don’t see the demand for 70+ premium seats a day to these destinations?

      • Bagoly says:

        But they could do once or twice a week – for holiday routes that is feasible.

  • Ruairi Cullinane says:

    Putting in 650 seats and doing Manchester London might be more commercial than suffering FirstGroup Avanti West Coast

  • Fred Mills says:

    Further to the single Singapore airframe whcich was used as a prop, the ex China Southern frames are likely acquitision targets (R-R engines), currently sitting in Mohave. Asquith Instagrammed a trip there some weeks ago. Again, nothing will come of this venture unless they complete on any purchase agreement.

  • Roger Grey says:

    Coming at this from a different angle, and apart from business travellers who have to go(?), can someone please explain why on Earth anyone would want to visit the United States? There is a one in two chance you will stand next to a supporter of the world’s current mad megalomaniac and who would want that? Yes there is some scenery, and yes, I have visited the country in the past, but even if BA gave me a free First Class return ticket, wild horses couldn’t drag me to Heathrow.
    As an aside, I do wish HfP would stop banging on about America. Me – I prefer Europe and Australia.

    • Hak says:

      Horses for courses I guess.

      But, first class at Heathrow is perfectly pleasant. I take the bus from Oxford and then just stroll through first class check in and then sit and have some decent food and champagne in Concord. Then off to somewhere like Colarado for hiking etc is very pleasurable.

      As for being next to a supporter of a meglomanic that can apply to many a country where the political choices of its leadership may not fit with my own.
      If I avoided places whereby my political views did not correlate to that country’s leadership I wouldn’t be visiting many places.

    • d-74 says:

      Who knows. A truly rapacious and backwards place.

  • ken McGavery says:

    Why not use a regional airport for some flights maybe just two per week, not every one that travels long-haul live in and around the London conurbation, though most airlines think they do!!

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