On Monday, Formula 1 racing legend and aviation entrepreneur Niki Lauda “passed away peacefully,” said his family. He had undergone a lung transplant in August, and had spent a period in 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.
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 was 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 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 products, including a Global 5000 and 6000. In March, he took delivery of a Global 7500.