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Cheap Used Planes and Deep Pockets Help Airline Startups Take Flight

The pandemic devastated industry earnings but created opportunities for rich entrepreneurs.

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Illustration: Jack Taylor for Bloomberg Businessweek

It’s difficult to think of an industry that’s been slammed harder by the pandemic than aviation. Losses are set to hit $201 billion from 2020 to 2022, erasing almost nine years of earnings. Dozens of carriers have bowed out, and millions of jobs don’t exist anymore. But that hasn’t been enough to stop some entrepreneurs from creating airlines in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.

In Hong Kong, property tycoon Bill Wong is starting a carrier, hoping to take on flagship Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., which got caught up in political fallout from 2019’s anti-China protests even before the pandemic. In India, one of the world’s most cutthroat aviation markets, billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is pumping money into newly formed Akasa Air. In the U.K., a former JPMorgan trader is starting an airline called Flypop in a bid to fly expatriate Indians to their homeland and link London to India’s secondary cities. And in the U.S., David Neeleman—who earlier founded JetBlue Airways, Azul Brazilian Airlines, and Canada’s WestJet—took to the skies in May with his newest venture, Utah-based Breeze Air, which provides nonstop service between smaller American cities such as Louisville, Tampa, and Tulsa.