Canada Air set to fly
Charter operator plans launch of carrier catering to ethnic groups
NICOLAS VAN PRAET
Saturday, April 13, 2002
On May 10, during an inaugural flight for Quebec's business and political elite embellished by the presence of Miss Global beauty-pageant queens - colourful Montreal businessman Steve Nasra plans to launch his dream: to provide cheap flights to Montreal's ethnic communities.
Nasra, a charter operator and travel-agency owner who has for years offered airline service from Montreal to Port-au-Prince for the city's Haitian population, with his company, Multivoyages-Haiti Air Charter, said he is ready to launch a new carrier called Canada Air Charter. The airline would target specific cultural communities in the city as well as business travelers, offering them cut-rate ticket prices, free booze and fancy meals. It plans to fly to Rome, Tunis, Lisbon, Madrid, Dakar and Abidjan, as well as to cities in Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador and Peru.
Nasra admitted it's an ambitious plan, but said he's got the key to airline success: a proven track record in knowing how to price tickets -and a captive market.
"The thing about ethnic communities and business people is this: good economy or bad economy, they have to fly," he said in an interview.
"People from Haiti or Tunisia or Italy, they have to go back to where they come from every once in a while. And businessmen, they have to do business."
Nasra said he has wooed former executives from well-known carriers Iberia and Alitalia to work for him.
Aéroports de Montréal, which runs the city's two airports, confirms it has
received a request from Nasra to operate an airline from Mirabel.
Nasra, 53, has no shortage of critics and fans. Everybody who knows him seems to have an opinion on the man who has a black belt in tae kwon do and flies fighter jets. He constantly refers to himself as a scrapper. He likes to punctuate the end of his sentences with "you understand?"
But it's his plans and not his character that is generating the buzz. The airline would fly with one leased DC10-15 and one DC10-30 to start. An Airbus 310-300 would serve as a backup jet. Nasra would rent out the planes in turn to groups who need them for their own charters. He provided documents showing he's lined up $73 million in contracts from clients. And he claims to have deposits for 4,000 bookings of his own so far. The businessman would not say how much money he has secured to finance his operation. But he said he has no outside investors. André Arcelin, a physician and a leader in Montreal's Haitian community, has flown on Haiti Air Charter, and said Nasra's new venture would provide a much-needed service for the cities' cultural communities. He said Air Canada is not the first choice for many Haitians because it is too expensive. "It's clear that if he has good prices, the people will come. If it works for Haiti, it's got to work for other communities just as attached to their home countries."
But the plan is not without its pitfalls, warned George Hamlin, vice-president of Global Aviation Associates, a Washington-based consulting firm that provides financial-advisory services to commercial-aviation companies. Hamlin said there have been several proposals by U.S. businessmen to start airlines targeting ethnic communities. Only one, Tower Air, had some modest success, he said. "This all revolves around an ability to count. In other words, can you find enough people to fill up one of these large airplanes on a fairly regular basis? There's a big risk here."
Nasra also has a long-term plan for a luxury regularly scheduled airline called