A new airline has been launched in Malaysia and to succeed it will need to be on top of its game. Called Rayani Air it’s based out of Langkawi and it started operations on 20th December 2015. According to the new managing director Jaafar Zamhari, Rayani Air is not a budget carrier but it flies into the budget terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the homepage of the Rayani Air website says it is a low cost carrier.
Most intriguing of all, the carrier is being touted as a Syariah compliant airline, the first in Asia although others are classed as Syariah friendly none has used it as a key differentiator. Now I’m no expert on syariah compliance but I was under the impression that Syariah compliance is related to the financial services industry and funds that must be structured in accordance with Syariah law.
But that doesn’t mean the concept of a syariah compliant airline should be laughed at. The UK has a Muslim population of over 5% and London is pushing Dubai and Kuala Lumpur hard in an attempt to become the Islamic banking capital of the world. The country already has more syariah-compliant banks than any other country outside of the Muslim world and syariah-compliant finance funded the construction of the Shard and the London Gateway as well as much of the Olympic Village.
But creating and building a Syariah compliant airline brand is going to be a different challenge. To start with, what are the Syariah rules that Syariah compliant carriers must comply with? Who is responsible for developing those rules (the airline calls them ‘relevant authorities’ but doesn’t name them) and are they accepted universally? And will they make flyers switch brands? Who will enforce the Syariah guidelines? How will they enforce them? And what happens if they are breached? Is the carrier grounded? Or just the specific aircraft?
Remember Halal authentication differs around the world. Actually Halal certification differs in every country – in France there are 30 certification authorities. If the same happens with syariah compliant carriers, you could conceivably leave one country on a syariah compliant airline and arrive at your destination on a non syariah compliant airline. Litigation anyone?
Rayani Air claims it has 2 Boeing 737s that are 22 years old and ex Malaysia Airlines stock so you know they’ve been worked hard. 355 employees including 8 pilots and 50 crew. However interestingly, not all the flight crew are Muslim which surely makes Syariah compliance tough? Rayani intends to increase the size of its fleet in 2016 and start charter flights for Umrah and the Haj.
So it’s starting with an old fleet and limited routes and it intends to grow with routes that are traditionally flown once in a lifetime (Haj) and maybe a few times (Umrah). But the opportunities for growth for these religious flights are difficult because Saudi Arabia limits the number of arrivals from each country. Currently, Malaysia is only allowed 22,320 pilgrims to Mecca and travelling with the pilgrims fund is strongly recommended to avoid horrors such as trip cancellations and paying as much as 3.5 times more.
The reality is that with restrictions on the number of pigrims allowed to fly to Saudi, it will be tough for Rayani to break into the pilgrimage markets where relationships have been forged over many years.
Rayani currently has an English language only website which may make it difficult to attract passengers from the rural destinations it is intending to fly to. The site has very limited information and a reasonably easy to use booking engine. Social media icons at the bottom of the page link back to the top of the page, not the social media pages where most potential customers will look for real life experiences before trying the carrier.
As yet, there isn’t a Google company page but there is a wikipedia page that says the airline is a full service carrier and the tagline is ‘Let’s Fly’. The company was started by two non Muslims from Malaysia and then there is the name. Rayani Air. Is it a subsidiary of Ryan Air? Or is it suggesting it could be?
I get the impression that Rayani Air intends to grow organically and that it will address communications on the fly. It might want to review that approach. It’ll need to work hard to get passengers and even harder to keep the passengers it gets in the early days. One way of doing this is to have an exceptional frequent flyer programme but I don’t see a reference to one on the website. What it doesn’t want to do is presume cheap tickets will fill planes. It’s not enough.
Getting this new aviation brand off the ground and using Syariah compliance as a differentiator is going to be a challenge but it can be done. They need a robust brand strategy that understands its customers and knows what resonates with them. Messages must quickly be determined and clearly communicated in a synchronised manner. Experiences must be sensational, better than anything else on offer at the moment and the ongoing relationship development will need to be exemplary.
The early signs suggest Rayani Air needs to up its branding game.