Germany-based Hahn Air just might be the biggest airline
that barely flies. Or, depending on one's perspective, the smallest foreign
carrier widely known among U.S. travel agents.
"Our service is to enable travel agencies to sell what
they usually would not be able to sell," said Jorg Troester, Hahn's head
of corporate strategy, industry and government affairs.
Now in its 20th year, Hahn owns just three aircraft, all
Cessna business jets with capacities of no more than eight passengers. This
summer, the tiny carrier is using those planes for luxury charter operations
and to fly twice weekly between Dusseldorf and Luxembourg and weekly
between Dusseldorf and Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
But flight operations aren't really why Hahn Air has those
aircraft. Instead, the company has used its status as a tiny carrier to acquire
memberships in IATA, ARC and other business and settlement plan (BSP)
organizations around the world.
Those memberships, in turn, enable Hahn Air to operate in
its unique market niche of connecting travel agencies in various regions of the
world, through their GDSs, with small, far-flung airlines elsewhere.
For the U.S. market, that means connecting agencies with
airlines that don't have the resources to develop their own distribution
network in North America. Such airlines often either aren't in a GDS at all or
aren't in the full suite of the three GDSs used by U.S. agencies. They also are
sometimes not members of ARC.
"If you are an agent, you should love this," said
Brett Snyder, an aviation analyst and owner of the air travel service Cranky
Concierge. "It allows you to find and book places that are halfway around
the world really easily."
So, how does Hahn connect agencies with obscure airlines
such as, for example, Air Tanzania, Lao Airlines or Cambodia's Lanmai? The
answer is through interline agreements. Hahn said it has more than 350
interline deals, mostly with airlines but also with train and shuttle services
as well as the ferry line Buquebus, which operates between Buenos Aires and
Unlike the standard conception of an interline ticket,
however, Hahn doesn't operate any portion of the itineraries it sells. Instead,
it sells flights operated solely by interline partners, but on Hahn Air ticket
stock. Then, Hahn, as the ticketing airline of record, handles settlement with
ARC or a relevant BSP elsewhere in the world.
Later in the process, Hahn remits payment directly to the
operating carrier for the ticketed flight, taking a fee per the terms of that
particular interline agreement. As such, travel advisors' clients don't
shoulder extra costs.
Troester cited South African discount carrier FlySafair as
an example of an airline for which U.S. agencies might use Hahn ticket stock.
FlySafair has 74 daily flights and services between seven South African
airports with a base in Johannesburg, but it's not an ARC member.
For travel advisors and clients who might be concerned about
doing business with little-known carriers, including ones that aren't among ARC's
240 member airlines, all ticket sales on Hahn Air stock come with free
insolvency insurance. Hahn Air also supports Electronic Miscellaneous Documents
(EMDs), enabling its interline partners to sell ancillaries through the GDSs.
According to ARC, Hahn's unusual business model has been
successful. The company joined ARC in 2002, and since 2007 it has seen steady
year-over-year growth, though numbers so far this year are slightly down. That
growth has come even as ARC's membership has grown to its current 240 airlines
from 169 in 2007, in the process limiting the use case for the Hahn model.
Hahn has also attracted competitors in the U.S. and other
markets. Denmark-based Flexflight joined ARC in 2012, offering a similar
ticketing model. France-based APG Airlines joined ARC in 2016.
ARC senior airline participation manager Gena Crowe said
APG, especially, is making in-roads in the market, though Hahn remains the
"Hahn is kind of the mother of this business model,"
Troester said Hahn has issued more than 35 million tickets
since 2010. But it's not resting on its laurels. This year the company has thus
far added 21 interline partners.
"We are very close with our airlines, we are very close
with our markets," Troester said. "We are looking very closely at
what is happening out there. We always try to find new solutions to help travel