Niki Lauda, left, celebrated with Peter Likoray, senior vice president of Bombardier Business Aircraft, after placing his order for a Global 7000.

Niki Lauda Flies West

Formula 1 racing legend and aviation entrepreneur Niki Lauda “passed away peacefully” on May 20, said his family. He had undergone a lung transplant last August and had spent time in the hospital with influenza in January.

Lauda is perhaps best known for his near-miraculous recovery from horrific burns and lung damage sustained during a crash in his Ferrari at the Nürburgring during the German Grand Prix on Aug. 1, 1976. He recovered to regain the world championship in the following season, having first taken the crown in 1975. He became champion again in 1984, driving for McLaren. Lauda remained a well-known figure on the F1 scene, latterly becoming a non-executive director of the dominant Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team.

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Lauda’s major contribution to aviation began with the creation of Lauda Air, which started operations in 1985 as a charter and air-taxi service and grew into a major airline, which was bought by Austrian Airlines in 2000. In late 2003, Lauda launched the Niki airline, which merged with Air Berlin in 2011.

In 2018 he launched his third airline, LaudaMotion, taking over business jet operator Amira Air and assuming the operations of Niki following Air Berlin’s collapse. He sold his minority stake to Ryanair in December. In March, the airline was rebranded simply as Lauda, and it continues to fly low-cost services throughout Europe with a fleet of Airbus A320/321s.

Lauda himself was a popular character on the business aviation scene, notably in his role as a brand ambassador for Bombardier Business Aircraft. A rated commercial pilot with more than 18,000 hours’ experience, Lauda acquired a Learjet 36 in 1979 and owned a series of Bombardier Global products, including the 7500, which he took delivery of in March.

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Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda tested himself as few have. On the racetrack. In the boardroom. In the sky. His was a will literally forged by fire. He knew what he wanted and usually got it. Whatever the obstacle. When our agency profiled Lauda in spring 2000 he shared many of his lessons learned. Allow me to repeat some of them here: “Racing teaches you very quickly what it takes to be successful, because you see the results each week. You go out there every Sunday, and there’s no question about the judging. The first is the first, the second is the second. There is nothing to discuss. You have to adapt to a very simple, non-excuse lifestyle. If you do not win, first you must look to yourself. Then if you can’t find a solution, you work with your car or crew. When you start doing this at age 18, it becomes ingrained. Racing taught me discipline. When things go wrong, I work hard. If I’m convinced that I’m on the right road, I fight problems through to the end. In racing, you’re not always winning. Sometimes you’re losing, crashing, ending up in the hospital. Racing shaped my personality…. Through racing, I learned how to accomplish things quicker. Whenever someone says, ‘Let’s do this,’ I say, ‘Fine, but tell me how long it will take you.’ Many people have the same idea, but success goes to the one who can accomplish it first. Many people have ideas, but they struggle because, until that last detail is finished, their idea will not work 100 percent. Success starts with creativity, but it is realized by taking care of every little detail.”