Airline to ban booze and skimpy clothes
FLYING without alcohol may sound like a non-starter for most of us, but one bold entrepreneur is hoping that a total booze ban won't stop his brand-new airline from taking off.
Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, 32, who calls himself the "halal Richard Branson", also wants modest dress for his female staff and Islamic in-flight meals as part of a bid to launch Britain's first "sharia-compliant" airline, The Sun reports.
"Sharia compliance" means following a set of traditional Islamic rules for how to live your life, and it forbids Muslims from eating and drinking certain things or dressing provocatively.
There are a handful of sharia compliant airlines elsewhere in the world, but Mr Rahman's Firnas Airways will be the first in Britain.
His story will be told in the UK documentary How To Start An Airline, which follows the Bangladeshi-born entrepreneur as he tries to get his small-fry company off the ground.
"There's a huge communication issue when it comes to Islam, sharia, halal and things like this," Mr Rahman, a practising Muslim and a dad of one, told Sun Online.
"But as an entrepreneur I feel passionate about it and it's also my faith.
"If I was going to do something then why would I do something I don't agree with or believe in?"
FROM LOO CLEANER TO PERFUME GURU
Mr Rahman, a loveable if wide-eyed man from London's East End, came to Britain with his family in 1997, when he was just 11.
After leaving school with one GCSE - a British high school qualification - his first job was as a toilet cleaner at London City airport, and he's had his head in the clouds ever since.
"On the interview I turned up wearing a suit," he said in the documentary. "That's how serious I was about getting that job."
Mr Rahman then found business success after launching perfume company Sunnamusk, but for the past two and a half years, he's been focused on his real dream: starting an airline.
Breaking into the airline business is a monumental challenge for anyone, but Mr Rahman has no industry experience at all - and he's deadset on keeping to his religious morals.
GETTING A SHARIA AIRLINE OFF THE GROUND
Mr Rahman's chief adviser, veteran aviation consultant John Brayford, has been concerned about the feasibility of Mr Rahman's sharia business plan from the start.
"If you look at the airlines around the world that don't serve alcohol, there's not one of them which can be considered successful," Mr Brayford said.
But Mr Rahman was always reluctant to budge on his principles, even when he attracted a barrage of hateful online comments from Islamophobic trolls who made jibes about "kamikaze pilots" and making stopovers in Islamic State territory.
However, he recently decided his controversial sharia angle turned into a PR headache - so he started to tone it down a bit while courting passengers and investors.
The entrepreneur told Sun Online: "When you say sharia compliance, people will take it as sharia enforcement, which isn't the case.
"But we're trying to position ourselves to Islamic investors. There's obviously the halal food and then modest dressing - I don't believe in exploiting women to get more business.
"There will be no alcohol but we will try to use substitutes."
A TURBULENT START
The under-experienced and over-enthusiastic businessman dreamt of flying long-haul to the Middle East, but first he needed to establish some short-haul routes to make a name for his airline and earn some money.
The documentary followed Mr Rahman as he opened negotiations to fly out of London's Ashford Airport and Waterford Airport in Ireland.
Normally, airlines paid airports a fee in return for being allowed to fly from them, but wheeler-dealer Mr Rahman was audacious enough to demand that the airports should be paying Firnas.
With this unorthodox request, Mr Rahman got a firm "no" and negotiations collapsed, forcing his ego to make an emergency landing.
But it turns out Mr Rahman, banking on his negotiations going well, had already signed a $106,000-a-month lease on a 72-seater turboprop plane, egged on by business partner and fellow Bangladeshi Abdul Roqueb.
MONEY DOWN THE TOILET
He may be used to cleaning toilets, but Mr Rahman had never been in it that deep before.
The would-be airline boss was paying thousands for his plane to sit on the tarmac, with nowhere to fly it and his credibility in tatters.
Still haemorrhaging money, Mr Rahman cancelled the lease on his pricey 72-seater and returned to the drawing board, where he decided flying short commuter hops were his only hope if he wanted to break into the notoriously change-averse airline business.
With nothing to show for two years' work, it was time to go plane shopping again - but this time Mr Rahman had to dial down his enthusiasm, and act a bit less like a kid in a sweet shop.
On the show, he poked around a much smaller 19-seater Jetstream plane - a sturdy little craft but a world away from the long-haul Dreamliner Mr Rahman wanted to see in Firnas colours.
He was clearly underwhelmed by the tired-looking upholstery and creaking seats, and he knew his hopes of flying to the Middle East couldn't be further away.
"That hole there," Mr Rahman said to the plane's pilot and owner as he inspected the wing. "Is that meant to be there?"
Raging at his team, Mr Rahman added: "This is not the plan. Every decision we make we have to go right back to the bottom. It's going on and on and costing me money every day."
But he had no choice. If he wanted to start an airline, he had to start small - and in this business, the Jetstream, at a cost of $15,000 a month, was as small as it got.
READY FOR TAKE-OFF
Now it looks like Firnas' first aircraft is ready to fly - and Mr Rahman's journey from plane cleaner to plane owner is complete.
He has raised around $880,000 - money that will be used to lease planes and cover the many costs of getting set up.
His nifty little Jetstream plane has been painted in a fetching shade of Firnas purple, and is ready to be sent on short commuter runs between UK cities.
And despite the online backlash, Mr Rahman is still committed to filling the gap in the market for an Islamic airline.
"It's about brand positioning - it's about being different and sticking out from the crowd," a chirpy Mr Rahman told The Sun.
"We want to be a premium airline. Not your low-cost Easyjet or Ryanair."
Firnas is now just months away from operating its first commercial charter flights, as soon as all the regulatory hurdles have been cleared.
From then, Mr Rahman estimated long-haul flights should be just two or three years down the line.
"What we're doing will be a game changer," he said.
It may well be, but don't hold your breath for that celebratory glass of bubbly when Firnas Airways finally does take off - you won't be allowed to drink it anyway.
WHAT DOES A 'SHARIA-COMPLIANT' AIRLINE LOOK LIKE?
"Sharia compliant" businesses like Firnas Airways are run in accordance with Islamic principles.
This means the airline will follow Islamic guidelines which say it's sinful to drink alcohol and eat food which isn't halal.
Pork isn't halal - so it's off the menu in all forms - and other meats have to be blessed and slaughtered in line with Islamic rules if Mr Rahman is to serve them on-board.
Mr Rahman also believes women should dress "modestly", so don't expect to see much flesh in the Firnas cabin.
It's a similar premise to that of Rayani Air - a now-defunct Malaysian carrier which followed full sharia compliance.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission.