Someone first mentioned the Italian airline Ernest to me many months ago, and my initial response was… say what? I sat on this, expecting the airline to just quietly disappear. But nay. It has grown, and it’s a fascinating little operator. That is why this is a welcome addition to my ongoing series. Who the f*&@ is Ernest?
The Ernest brand may (really, not quite sure) have started flying as early as 2016, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the airline had its own operating certificate. Today it leases in four airplanes for its low-cost operation. (I just said it was growing, not growing fast.) The three A320s have 180 seats while the lone A319 has 141 onboard. These airplanes came from all over the place. The A319 was operated by Iberia in the Caribbean. The first A320 flew for TAME and LATAM. The second A320 looks like it was leased directly upon delivery while the third came from Scoot.
The name apparently comes from “a forefather of one of the shareholders,” and it is also meant to be a pun on the word “earnest.” Why that pun makes sense for an airline that doesn’t fly to an English-speaking country is entirely unclear.
Despite being Milan-based, Ernest strangely seems to have Swedish ties. It was started by David Girhammar who went to college in Stockholm. His background is most definitely not airlines. In fact, he came out of the fashion world. The airline’s most prominent financial backer is Jakob Porsér, one of the creators of Minecraft. I don’t know his nationality, but I assume he’s Swedish. At least, the company he built that developed Minecraft is Swedish. And as you can imagine, he has plenty of money to spend.
So, does the airline just shuttle people between Italy and Sweden? No, no it does not.
Ernest has found itself a niche in the world of ethnic travel. It serves several cities in Italy. With only four airplanes, it obviously does not fly on a business schedule. Those cities are linked, often less than daily, with cities in Ukraine and Albania.
Albania was the airline’s first focus. Today Ernest serves Albania’s capital, Tirana, from eight cities in Italy. It turns out that there is a huge ethnic Albanian population primarily in southern Italy. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people, and they all presumably want to see their families back in their ancestral homeland. So, cheap fares + short flight times means the airline can cheaply cater to a market that may not be on the radar for other airlines.
While Albania may have worked for a couple of airplanes, Ernest was already looking elsewhere. It quickly moved into the Ukrainian market. It now serves Kiev/Zhulyany from six cities, Lviv from four, Kharkiv from two, and Odessa just from Rome.
It looks like Ernest hasn’t been shy about going in and out of markets that don’t work. Even within the Italy to Albania/Ukraine markets, it has left individual routes. For example, I’ve seen mention of flights from Tirana to Florence, Ancona, Cuneo, and Rimini, but if those cities were served, they aren’t any longer. At least, they aren’t for sale on the airline’s website currently.
On the airline’s “About us” page, it notes that it also operates in the Italy- Romania and Italy-Spain markets. The latter says it is served “with flights from Milan to Ibiza during Summer Season.” Presumably that was last summer, because there is nothing showing for this summer.
Seeing a growing market in Ukraine, you might wonder… what’s next? Well you probably wouldn’t have guessed something involving Russia. But sure enough, there appears to be some sort of commercial cooperation between Ernest and Aeroflot’s low-cost carrier Pobeda.
This doesn’t even appear to be about feeding each other. Ernest is just selling a codeshare on Pobeda flights between Moscow/Vnukovo and Italian destinations directly on its website. For example:
According to an Italian filing, it looks like Ernest had plans to codeshare on routes to other Russian cities, but that’s not showing up on the airline’s website currently.
Is Ernest successful? I have no idea. It’s private, and it could be losing money like crazy or it could be wildly profitable. Only the creator of Minecraft knows for sure. Growth has been less than what I saw mentioned in some articles from earlier days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t doing well with what it has. If nothing else, it has found a fascinating little niche that others have yet to serve.