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TexasAirCorp
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WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Mon May 10, 2021 7:50 pm

For those who are unaware, two years ago, WOW Air's assets were purchased by a group known as 'USAerospace Partners', lead by a woman called Michele Ballarin. She has an incredibly colourful past; she's apparently an arms dealer, who in 2008 was trying to negotiate with Somali pirates and is now close friends with former President Ahmed. At the time, Ballarin said that she intended to rebuild WOW and commence flights between IAD and KEF in October 2019. Since then, her plans have spiralled off the wall; on top of WOW's planned KEF operations, it will apparently also operate cargo flights from West Virginia, transport fish from Iceland to the US, open a cafe in Washington DC, have an Italian subsidiary, and will 'reinvent flying' by offering a lounge for all passengers, and have gourmet chefs on board its flights.

Recently, Ballarin (now calling herself 'Michele Roosevelt Edwards') did an interview with RUV (Iceland's public broadcaster). She showed the reporters around what is apparently her $25 million Virginia estate, and stated a number of interesting points regarding WOW:
-WOW will apparently launch daily flights from KEF to BOS, EWR, IAD and MIA in Q1 2021
-Its headquarters will be in the US, not Iceland
-There are currently no investors onboard, however she has invested $7.5 million of her own money into WOW, and will announce a 'strategic partnership with a publicly traded major company' soon
-She has signed an agreement for 10 Airbus A321s, two of which have already been delivered and are currently in Miami being refitted
-She claims Icelandair will eventually collapse, and that will allow her to merge Icelandair with WOW and create 'WOW-Icelandair'. She attempted to purchase a 25% stake in Icelandair, which was rejected because, in her words, 'management was scared of potential management change'. However, she is 'connected to entities which own shares' in Icelandair
-All middle seats will be blocked on WOW flights, instead being used to store 'food hampers' containing 'chef-prepared treats' in order to remove galleys and flight attendants
-She apparently has an 'innovation' that will allow the holds of her A321s to carry more luggage as well as cargo
-'WOW US' will launch US domestic operations from DFW in Q3 2021

Link to the interview: https://www.ruv.is/kveikur/waiting-game-or-game-over-the-story-of-new-wow/ (some of the interview is in Icelandic, however it is subtitled).

On the surface, it just looks like Ballarin is just another over-ambitious aviation fantasist desperately trying to get into the industry. However, based on the contents of the interview, and on some additional research, this could be a complete and total scam.

When she first announced she had purchased WOW, she claimed the venture was 'fully financed' and that USAerospace had committed $80 million of funding. She also claimed that she did have outside investors and 'partners', but refused to state who they were. However, in the interview, she said there were no outside investors. Perhaps the previously mentioned 'partners' pulled out, but she seemed to suggest that USAerospace had already committed funding to WOW, which could suggest that she never had enough capital and WOW was never 'fully financed'.

The idea she's got 10 A321s on the way also seems to be a fantasy; the reporters asked to see some evidence of the contract and for photos of the two aircraft in Miami, however were refused. If she's concerned about showing off her estate, she would definitely be showing off her two aircraft if she really had them.

Her claims about owning Icelandair shares also seem bizarre. It is true that she attempted to purchase a 25% stake in Icelandair (https://www.icelandreview.com/business/icelandair-rejected-isk-7-billion-offer-from-michelle-ballarin/), however, it seems to be because she didn't have the financing to complete the deal. Perhaps that's untrue, however considering the previously-stated issues surrounding WOW's financing, it seems unlikely that she'd be able to afford an Icelandair stake; if she could, surely she'd put that money into WOW?

In the initial 2019 purchase announcement, Ballarin stated that she'd 'made a request' regarding her planned lounge, however IAD (along with BOS, EWR, KEF and MIA) said they had no idea WOW was even planning to serve the airport and had heard nothing from Ballarin. The US FAA has also said it's met with WOW/USAerospace once, however it hasn't requested any certification. Since it seems like WOW is unable to afford to purchase another airline and use its certificate, the only real chance it has of gaining an AOC is by directly gaining one, however if that process hasn't even started, how will WOW commence operations any time soon?

On its website, WOW claims that it owns a '100,000 sq ft cargo hub' at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport (https://wowair.com/news/2020-06-05). There's an image of what is apparently this facility, however the image doesn't show any sign of this being on an airfield, and there's also no address. Satellite images show that there's nothing that looks even remotely like a 100,000 sq ft facility at the airport, and I'm not sure its runway could even handle large jets.

The report also interviews WOW's Icelandic lawyer, who states that consultants and staff were hired in 2019/2020, however *all* of them have since left the company, and have blasted Ballarin and WOW claiming her ideas are completely ridiculous (not sure it takes a consultant to work that out!), and that they were either never paid or had their salaries cut without prior warning. The report is somewhat vague on this, however it states that one former employee has taken the company to court. It also claims that in January, WOW was ordered to pay 40 million kronor ($322,000) to a technology company, who it had hired to build a ticketing system. In the interview, Ballarin claimed the system didn't work, however the court ruled that there was no evidence of an issue with the software. The fact that a ticketing system has been developed, regardless of whether it works or not, does suggest that WOW is a serious airline.

I'm also unable to find any evidence that USAerospace is even a registered company. The address on USAerospace's website (https://usaerospacepartners.com/) is that of a Washington DC condo complex. Its website is incredibly bare but claims it owns an MRO repair centre, an aircraft interior design firm, and a veneer manufacturer (because all good aviation holding companies go into the wood industry). All three of these subsidiaries have their own websites, however none of them make any mention of USAerospace (in contrast, WOW's website. The veneer manufacturer also has a bare website similar to USAerospace's own site, however doesn't mention an address, and is filled with stock images which it claims are examples of 'projects' it has completed.

On an even more interesting note, and perhaps this is a good indicator of Ballarin's personality, the '$25 million estate' she showed off and claimed was her home has been listed for sale for quite a while (https://www.mcleanfaulconer.com/listing/north-wales/), suggesting she doesn't even own the place. She claimed the property was a 'recent acquisition', so it can't be that she is trying to sell the property. The interview footage also doesn't show any sign of life in the house; she shows the cameras around what she described as 'the most personal space in the house' as well as her bedroom, however there are no personal items or anything on show. She also claimed that she had her own personal chef and three kitchens, however the reporter was only offered a box of Dunkin Donuts items and Dunkin coffee, which seems bizarre; if she's so proud of her chef, why would she ship in fast food and cheap coffee instead of having her chef prepare something? It's almost as if this 'personal chef' doesn't exist...

I don't think anyone seriously thought this WOW relaunch plan would ever go anywhere, however this seriously seems to cross the line between 'fantasy airline that will never happen' and 'outright scam'. It just seems so bizarre that someone like Ballarin could properly pull this off, considering her history, she's not exactly an unknown, and she has a somewhat positive reputation. She's definitely a bit over-ambitious, however considering she has been seriously involved in other ventures and even Somali pirate negotiations, how and why is she running this outfit? Her financing also seems to be a mystery; she has definitely purchased the WOW brand, and somehow was able to at least gain access to the estate for a few hours to film the interview, so she clearly is getting money from somewhere, but where exactly? Perhaps she has invested that $7.5 million, however considering what I've stated, I'd take that with a pinch of salt.

Does anyone have any more information on Ballarin or WOW/USAerospace? I'd love to gather some more evidence.
 
VSMUT
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Mon May 10, 2021 8:15 pm

TexasAirCorp wrote:
Does anyone have any more information on Ballarin or WOW/USAerospace? I'd love to gather some more evidence.


Wikipedia says they are still looking for funding. The US-Iceland mix up is bound to cause regulatory issues, so would require a US and an Icelandic/European AOC. I can just imagine the outrage from the US ALPA when the European side of the company starts using pay-to-fly pilots.

Worth noting that Play (another offshoot from the original WOW) recently secured leases on its first aircraft. Whatever void WOW 2.0 hope to fill is going to be filled out with the entry of Play.
 
TerminalD
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Mon May 10, 2021 11:57 pm

VSMUT wrote:
TexasAirCorp wrote:
Does anyone have any more information on Ballarin or WOW/USAerospace? I'd love to gather some more evidence.


Wikipedia says they are still looking for funding. The US-Iceland mix up is bound to cause regulatory issues, so would require a US and an Icelandic/European AOC. I can just imagine the outrage from the US ALPA when the European side of the company starts using pay-to-fly pilots.

Worth noting that Play (another offshoot from the original WOW) recently secured leases on its first aircraft. Whatever void WOW 2.0 hope to fill is going to be filled out with the entry of Play.

Play has many of the former WOW management. I think this USA version only has the name and a warehouse full of WOW branded junk leftovers. Seems unlikely.
 
acecrackshot
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Tue May 11, 2021 1:16 pm

“...another over-ambitious aviation fantasist...”

What’s her A-net screen name?
 
cschleic
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Tue May 11, 2021 1:47 pm

And the Virginia estate is for sale?
 
SwissCanuck
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Tue May 11, 2021 2:25 pm

TexasAirCorp wrote:
-All middle seats will be blocked on WOW flights, instead being used to store 'food hampers' containing 'chef-prepared treats' in order to remove galleys and flight attendants


Thats... not how that works. I'm sure there's some country out there that would allow that, but none she'd want to fly to. Completely bonkers.
 
zuckie13
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Tue May 11, 2021 2:32 pm

SwissCanuck wrote:
TexasAirCorp wrote:
-All middle seats will be blocked on WOW flights, instead being used to store 'food hampers' containing 'chef-prepared treats' in order to remove galleys and flight attendants


Thats... not how that works. I'm sure there's some country out there that would allow that, but none she'd want to fly to. Completely bonkers.


Well, to be fair, if you block the middle seats - you may be able remove the galleys and a flight attendant or two. You would still need the legal minimum number of attendants though.
 
Natflyer
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Tue May 11, 2021 10:26 pm

Great thread by Texasaircorp.

Here is a piece on Ballarin from 2013:
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2449177/Michele-Ballarin-claims-key-Somalias-prosperity.html

It ends on an appropriate note:

Geoff Whiting, a former naval intelligence officer who worked with both Ballarin and Hebert, admitted: ‘The problem with Michele is separating fact from fiction. What is real, and what is made up?'
 
eaa3
Posts: 961
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Tue May 11, 2021 11:37 pm

It’s almost certainly a scam. But the question is, who is being scammed? Is it her or is she scamming others?
 
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FiscAutTecGarte
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 2:50 am

acecrackshot wrote:
“...another over-ambitious aviation fantasist...”

What’s her A-net screen name?


Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! Absolute best comment on this thread! :rotfl:
 
txjim
Posts: 274
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 4:13 am

TexasAirCorp wrote:
transport fish from Iceland to the US

Where is she getting her 757? (Someone had to say it)
 
11C
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 11:03 am

[photoid][/photoid]
cschleic wrote:
And the Virginia estate is for sale?

And I found a real estate website that shows her as an agent. http://www.sagerrealestate.com She is listed in the “meet the team” section.
 
VSMUT
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 11:25 am

zuckie13 wrote:
SwissCanuck wrote:
TexasAirCorp wrote:
-All middle seats will be blocked on WOW flights, instead being used to store 'food hampers' containing 'chef-prepared treats' in order to remove galleys and flight attendants


Thats... not how that works. I'm sure there's some country out there that would allow that, but none she'd want to fly to. Completely bonkers.


Well, to be fair, if you block the middle seats - you may be able remove the galleys and a flight attendant or two. You would still need the legal minimum number of attendants though.


In a high-density Wizz Air config, an A320 would come down to 120 seats, so 3 cabin crew. But if she bases the company in Europe, that would not be relevant, since I believe EASA now requires a minimum of 4 cabin crew on the A320 regardless of number of passengers, rather than applying the one-per-fifty rule.

There's no point in removing the galley. The latest low-cost A320s have the "galley" fitted on the cockpit bulkhead. The passenger seats are already as far up front as they can come.
 
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Rossiya747
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 1:24 pm

Her life story would make for an interesting read. "How I went from Somalian arms dealer to Virginian real estate owner to Icelandic-American fish airline". When is it going to be out on Amazon?
 
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lesfalls
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 3:55 pm

VSMUT wrote:
zuckie13 wrote:
SwissCanuck wrote:

Thats... not how that works. I'm sure there's some country out there that would allow that, but none she'd want to fly to. Completely bonkers.


Well, to be fair, if you block the middle seats - you may be able remove the galleys and a flight attendant or two. You would still need the legal minimum number of attendants though.


In a high-density Wizz Air config, an A320 would come down to 120 seats, so 3 cabin crew. But if she bases the company in Europe, that would not be relevant, since I believe EASA now requires a minimum of 4 cabin crew on the A320 regardless of number of passengers, rather than applying the one-per-fifty rule.

There's no point in removing the galley. The latest low-cost A320s have the "galley" fitted on the cockpit bulkhead. The passenger seats are already as far up front as they can come.


Do you have a link to that rule from the FAA?
 
VSMUT
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 9:36 pm

lesfalls wrote:
VSMUT wrote:
zuckie13 wrote:

Well, to be fair, if you block the middle seats - you may be able remove the galleys and a flight attendant or two. You would still need the legal minimum number of attendants though.


In a high-density Wizz Air config, an A320 would come down to 120 seats, so 3 cabin crew. But if she bases the company in Europe, that would not be relevant, since I believe EASA now requires a minimum of 4 cabin crew on the A320 regardless of number of passengers, rather than applying the one-per-fifty rule.

There's no point in removing the galley. The latest low-cost A320s have the "galley" fitted on the cockpit bulkhead. The passenger seats are already as far up front as they can come.


Do you have a link to that rule from the FAA?


I wrote EASA, not FAA.
 
santi319
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 9:57 pm

To be honest if an investor believed this and wasted money, they deserved it..
 
PlymSpotter
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 10:01 pm

But, think of the fish!
 
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ryanflyer
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed May 12, 2021 10:09 pm

I live right next to the cafe In DC. Never seen anyone inside, but the lights are always on. Seems like a storefront so I guess I wasn’t far off...
 
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lesfalls
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Thu May 13, 2021 1:38 am

VSMUT wrote:
lesfalls wrote:
VSMUT wrote:

In a high-density Wizz Air config, an A320 would come down to 120 seats, so 3 cabin crew. But if she bases the company in Europe, that would not be relevant, since I believe EASA now requires a minimum of 4 cabin crew on the A320 regardless of number of passengers, rather than applying the one-per-fifty rule.

There's no point in removing the galley. The latest low-cost A320s have the "galley" fitted on the cockpit bulkhead. The passenger seats are already as far up front as they can come.


Do you have a link to that rule from the FAA?


I wrote EASA, not FAA.


My apologies. Do you have a link though?
 
TexasAirCorp
Topic Author
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed Sep 29, 2021 3:36 pm

Interesting to see that when you search 'USAerospace Partners' on Google, this thread appears on the first page.

Four months on, and there's still no sign of life at WOW or its parent company. There's been no official press releases or words from Michele Ballarin, no sign of these ten A321s, and no announcement of the supposed 'partnership with a major publically-traded company'.

I've done a little more digging, and according to OpenCorporates, 'USAerospace Partners Inc' is a Virginia-registered company, and its registered office is just outside Dulles Airport. However, I'm still unable to find any evidence of this on the State of Virginia Corporation Commission's own website. USAerospace's own website also makes no mention of this, and seems to have gotten rid of the DC condo building address and replaced it with the address of the WOW Air Cafe building. Seems a little odd that USAerospace is using the address of a 'cafe' (that isn't even open) as its public address.

OpenCorporates also shows Ballarin is linked to a string of WOW companies:
-WOW Air Incorporated
-WOW Air Inc (registered office is a Los Angeles residential property, apparently separate from WOW Air Incorporated)
-WOW Technologies Inc (apparently registered in November 2019, four months before the original WOW Air even went bust)
-WOW Gelato Inc (???)
-WOW World Air Cargo Inc
-WOW World Air Cargo Inc Limited (based in the UK)
-W Holding Inc

11C wrote:
And I found a real estate website that shows her as an agent. http://www.sagerrealestate.com She is listed in the “meet the team” section.

Good find. She's also listed on a number of realtor sites, one of which displays her details as being last updated in April 2021, suggesting she's still active as a realtor. https://www.zoominfo.com/p/Michele-Ballarin/-1955916952

ryanflyer wrote:
I live right next to the cafe In DC. Never seen anyone inside, but the lights are always on. Seems like a storefront so I guess I wasn’t far off...

Are there still opening soon signs and things in the window?
 
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ryanflyer
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Wed Sep 29, 2021 4:55 pm

ryanflyer wrote:
I live right next to the cafe In DC. Never seen anyone inside, but the lights are always on. Seems like a storefront so I guess I wasn’t far off...

Are there still opening soon signs and things in the window?[/quote]

Nope, those are gone. Nothing has happened in the year I have lived near by. A poster in a window fell down and no one has bothered to put it back up.
 
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ryanflyer
Posts: 84
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Sat Oct 30, 2021 2:29 am

WOW air cafe posters that were in the windows were taken down. Only the sign remains.
 
F27500
Posts: 1046
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Sat Oct 30, 2021 3:29 pm

Yea isnt it coming back with some other stupid new name .. like YIPPEE ... or YAY or BOOYAH or something equally dignified?
 
usflyer msp
Posts: 4352
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Sat Oct 30, 2021 10:52 pm

IMHO, it was pretty clear from the jump that this was some sort of money laundering scheme. It never made any sense.
 
TexasAirCorp
Topic Author
Posts: 133
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Re: WOW Air Relaunch & Michele Ballarin - Scam?

Sun Oct 31, 2021 8:25 am

F27500 wrote:
Yea isnt it coming back with some other stupid new name .. like YIPPEE ... or YAY or BOOYAH or something equally dignified?


I think you’re talking about PLAY. It’s been going for a few months now and apparently not doing too badly.

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