VIENNA – Racing legend and aviator Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70 on May 20, 2019. The race driver was a prominent figure in motorsport for decades, but also had a very successful career in commercial aviation. “With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday,” his family said in a statement to the Austrian Press Agency.
Niki Lauda’s aviation adventure began with Lauda Air, which operated its first flights in 1985. The company would become a popular charter airline, offering a worldwide network, with flight destinations to countries such as Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cuba and the U.S. In 2000, Lauda Air was sold to Austrian Airlines, which eventually merged the company into its own fleet.
In 2003, Lauda re-entered commercial aviation by establishing a low-cost carrier called NIKI. NIKI was a successful airline, but was taken over in 2011 by Air Berlin. Due to financial problems at Air Berlin, NIKI would later become part of a fierce takeover battle. Initially, the plan was to partly transfer NIKI to Etihad Airways, which wanted to merge NIKI with TUI fly to turn it into a pan-European holiday company. That deal broke off.
After the bankruptcy of Air Berlin, both Lufthansa and IAG (International Airlines Group) were very close to take over NIKI, but at the last moment Niki Lauda prevented the takeover of his airline. He renamed the airline Laudamotion and shortly afterwards sold the shares to Ryanair.
During his aviation years, Niki Lauda was regularly to be found in the cockpit himself as a Captain. He also owned a number of private aircraft, including a Bombardier Global 7500 that he received this year.
Various current/former drivers and teams paid tributes on social media and there will be a special tribute to Niki Lauda during the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix this next weekend.
On May 20, 2019 Lauda died in his sleep at the age of 70, at the University Hospital of Zürich in Austria. He had been undergoing dialysis treatment for kidney problems, following a period of healthproblems. A statement issued on behalf of his family reported that he had died peacefully, surrounded by them.
(Top photo: Laudamotion)