How This Airline With 3 Planes Sells $1bn Worth Of Flight Tickets Per Year

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Hahn Air is probably the biggest little airline you’ve never heard of. Flying a fleet of three Cessna business jets, this German airline has modest operations of its own. However, when you look at its turnover, you can see it’s selling around one billion dollars’ worth of tickets every year. How is this possible? Let’s take a look.

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How does Hahn Air sell $1bn of tickets a year? Photo: Hahn Air

Who is Hahn Air?

On paper, Hahn Air is a small German airline; nothing to write home about. It was founded in 1994 with a base at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, hence the name. Today, its bases are Dusseldorf and Egelsbach, near Frankfurt. It has a small fleet, and by small we’re talking size as well as number of aircraft.

In total, Hahn Air has just three aircraft; two Cessna Citation Sovereign – 12 seater business jet – and one Cessna CitationJet CJ4 – another business jet with room for just nine. This gives the airline a modest seat capacity of 33 across its fleet.

Hahn Air
Hahn Air flies a fleet of just three Cessna aircraft. Photo: Hahn Air

With these small, nimble aircraft, Hahn Air offers a mix of scheduled and charter flights within Europe. Its scheduled flight routes include Dusseldorf, Luxembourg and Mallorca, and since 2004 it has offered charter flights on demand. The 3,200 nmi of the Sovereigns puts some 1,500 airports within reach of Hahn’s operations.

So, how does a teeny tiny airline with some teeny tiny planes manage to sell more than a billion dollars’ worth of tickets each year? Well, it’s all thanks to a unique and highly interesting business model.

The Hahn Air HR-169 ticket

In 1999, Hahn Air took the bold step of starting to sell tickets on behalf of other airlines. The first tickets were part of an interlining agreement between Hahn and five airlines in Latin America. This saw the sale of the first HR-169 ticket and marked the start of Hahn Air’s incredible rise to glory

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By 2004, Hahn Air had signed its 100th interlining agreement. Travel agents and passengers all over the world are able to book flights on otherwise unreachable airlines. Then, in 2010, Hahn Air brought on board an insurance company to provide the world’s first (and only) ticket that offers free and comprehensive reimbursement in case of insolvency of the operating carrier.

In 2012, the airline went on to launch Hahn Air Systems, a consolidation service that connects airlines with all business models to major GDSs around the world. Its product, H1-Air, lets airlines with only limited or no GDS connections to be booked under the code H1 by more than 100,000 travel agencies in 190 markets.

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Hahn Air doesn’t need to fly its own planes to sell tickets. Photo: Hahn Air

More recently, in 2018, it launched Hahn Air Technologies, a sister company of Hahn Air Systems, all owned by the Group. This arm was designed specifically to look at innovations and new technologies such as NDC, blockchain and mobile solutions.

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Now, in 2019, Hahn Air has an airline ticketing network that consists of more than 350 airlines. They have more than  100,000 travel agency partners in 190 markets, and have sold more than 35m tickets worldwide.

The overall group now has offices in cities around the world, including Minneapolis, Montevideo, Casablanca, Johannesburg, New Delhi and Manila. Its annual global turnover is estimated to be $1bn.

An enlightening approach to retail

Listening to Hahn’s Head of Corporate Strategy, Jörg Troester, at the recent IATA Wings of Change conference, I was fascinated to learn how this modest airline had broken out of the confines of its niche and found a new way to make money.

Jörg Troester
Jörg Troester at IATA’s Wings of Change conference. Photo: IATA

Retail is increasingly important to airlines around the world, as bottom lines become squeezed by rising overheads and falling ticket prices. Troester commented on the importance of retail at the conference, saying,

“This is nowadays essential. It is about the additional revenue, not about taking away from the customer and then try to get it back. It is about incremental revenue at the very end. Indirect distribution is, for a lot of airlines, still very relevant today to get those resellers connected in a way that helps the airlines to [generate additional revenue].”

And Hahn Air continues to push the boundaries of what it’s doing, just last week becoming the first airline to operate a flight using blockchain-based tickets. That followed the announcement in August that Hahn Air was releasing its new NDC platform, powered by IATA’s NDC standard.

It’s a truly ‘outside the box’ way of doing business, and one which is working incredibly well for this German company. Have you come across Hahn Air before? Let us know in the comments.

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