Niki Lauda, three times Formula One world champion and founder of several airlines, has died at the age of 70, following a period of ill health.
Lauda, who underwent a lung transplant in August, “passed away peacefully” on Monday 20 May, his family said.
After entering Formula One in 1971, he became world champion for Ferrari in 1975 and 1977 and for McLaren in 1984; he retired the following year.
In 1979, the racing star and commercial pilot founded Lauda Air, as a charter and leisure carrier. Within a few years, in 1985, Lauda Air began scheduled operations with two BAC 1-11s. The carrier later added Boeing 737, 767-300ER, 777-200ER, CRJ-100 and A320 aircraft to its fleet. Niki was known to captain some of these flights himself. He left his first airline in 2000, and three years later Lauda Air became part of the Austrian Airlines Group.
In 2003, Niki acquired Aero Lloyd Austria and with it created Niki Luftfahrt, later branded ‘NIKI’. The airline operated to and from airports in Austria for several years before being acquired by Air Berlin in November 2011.
Five years later, Niki took over Amira Air and turned it into a business-charter airline, Laudamotion Executive, which is still flying routes today with its business jets.
Following the collapse of Air Berlin, Niki continued to carry out operations independently while negotiating with the Lufthansa Group, until Niki operations ceased in December 2017.
Placing a bid for what now remained of the Austrian leisure airline, he was awarded the ownership of the carrier’s assets, which included aircraft, employees and landing slots leased from the Lufthansa Group. The new Austria-based low-cost leisure airline was established under the name Laudamotion. The new carrier started operations on 25 March 2018, with aircraft based at several airports in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. On 20 March 2018, even before launching flight operations, Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair announced that it was to take over 24.9% of the airline, and by late December it had taken full control of Niki Lauda’s last airline.