- Startup to be “Australia’s only independent low-cost airline”
- Network will focus on regional leisure destinations
- Bonza will fly Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets with all-economy seating
Starting an airline is a risky business decision at the best of times, and even more questionable while the world remains in the shadow of Covid-19.
But Australian startup Bonza intends to ride a post-pandemic wave and soar into the skies as the country’s only independent low-cost airline by the middle of 2022.
And they’re crowded skies – Bonza will not only be taking on Jetstar, and by extension its muscular parent Qantas, but it could also draw the ire and fire of both Rex and Virgin Australia.
However, Bonza founder and CEO Tim Jordan tells Executive Traveller the airline will focus on a network of regional leisure destinations rather that the east coast ‘triangle’ of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, including point-to-point routes “where travel is now often limited to connections via major cities.”
It’s a different way of thinking about the Australian market, and one which could bring welcome competition to regional routes, including to cities and towns where business travellers must often choose the lowest fare of the day.
“When you look at the largest 15 domestic aviation markets in the world, Australia is the only one that has no independent low-cost operator,” says Jordan, a low-cost alumn whose career has included operational and management stings at Virgin Blue, Cebu Pacific and FlyArystan.
“We’ve seen an opportunity in the marketplace, and one which is very complementary to existing operators.”
Blue skies ahead for Bonza?
“As for why now? The light shines brighter every single day in terms of heading out of this revolting pandemic, and the opportunities in terms of executing Bonza with appropriate cost levels is now.”
Jordan plans to tap staff made redundant by domestic and international carriers, and woo airports and towns “who will hopefully see that we can develop brand new markets for them and allow the tourism industry and the aviation industry to recover a lot quicker than otherwise would be the case.”
It’s also the best time to be shopping for aircraft, Jordan believes, with Bonza’s deep-pocketed backers – Miami-based investment firm 777 Partners – “able to acquire aircraft at rates probably not previously seen, or at least not seen in a very long time.”
Bonza’s fledgling fleet will be a handful of new fuel-efficient Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, fitted with economy seats from tip to tail.
So, about that name… Bonza was chosen for its Aussie resonance in signifying something which is simply yet unquestionably great. The Urban Dictionary goes as far as to assign it a meaning of “good and well executed”, a definition which Jordan fully embraces.
“That for me is exactly what we want to be. We want to be good, in fact we want to be great, and well executed. I'm a firm believer that whether you pay $10 or $1,000 (for an airfare) you deserve a great product.”
To Jordan, who is an unabashed champion of the LCC model, low-cost doesn’t mean – in fact should never mean – low quality.
“It upsets me when certain low-cost carriers don't deliver a quality product. You deserve on-time performance, and safety always goes without question.”
“So yeah, low-cost is my thing and there’s no hiding it,” he laughs candidly. “That's who I am and that's a natural extension of everything that I've been doing over the last 20 years.”
“I love the leisure traveller., and I love what we (low-cost carriers) do, taking people on holidays and to new places they haven't been, getting families back together more often… and that's exactly what we plan to do with Bonza.”
“Australia has some wonderful airlines that are very focused on the business traveller, and they execute wonderfully.”
“But we will be for all Australian travellers, whether it's for teachers, tradies, kids or carers – that's our market.”
And those travellers will pay only for their seat and a single carry-on bag – in keeping with the LCC religion of ancillary revenue, everything else will be come with an additional price tag.
“I'm a massive advocate of choice, and I don't believe in people subsidising the person sitting next to them,” Jordan elaborates.
“If someone wants to choose and buy something to eat in the airport, that's up to them – if someone wants to buy something on board from us, then that's absolutely fantastic as well.”
“We're about personal choice and people putting together their own product, which suits them and their family.”
And it should go without saying that Bonza won’t indulge in frequent flyer programs, airport lounges or anything that’s a distraction from the core mission of “having the lowest cost we possibly can for our operations, because those low costs will allow us to deliver the lowest fares.”
Regional destinations with a leisure focus
Jordan doesn’t see Bonza as going toe-to-toe with Jetstar, or any other airline for that matter, “because our focus will absolutely be on routes which currently today are not operated by any incumbent airline.”
“This is about opening up new routes and new markets, so the majority of the routes that we serve will not be operated by existing carriers.”
While there will inevitably be some duplication with other airlines, Jordan believes that will pit them against “business-focused carriers that are offering high frequency and all of the necessary bells and whistles for business travellers. We will offer a low-cost alternative which will stimulate a new market.”
Bonza’s playbook will be about coupling its lower fares with fewer flights, given that leisure travellers have a more flexible timetable and want to spend at least several days at their getaway destination.
“We will be about offering a generally low-frequency service – maybe two or three times a week – at a very low price. That's our mode of operation.”
To build put that network, Jordan will this week begin approaching “about 45 airports across Australia” – and saying, ‘Hey, would you like Bonza service to your airport?’”
“Clearly we've got some ideas of our own, but we want to hear the airports’ ideas, and based on that response, our network will take more of a firm shape.”
“A quarter of our costs are actually airport costs and that's just too much, especially when we're talking about trying to stimulate brand new markets for these airports and to support economies in a post-pandemic recovery situation.”
Bonza won’t be Virgin Blue 2.0 (or Ryanair Australia)
Despite his roots at Virgin Blue, Jordan says Bonza won’t set out to replicate the Branson-backed airline which let went full-service as Virgin Australia before settling into its latest mid-market hybrid incarnation.
“Virgin Blue was a fantastic place to be when Virgin Blue was Virgin Blue, but there’s no intention to recreate that in any shape or form.”
“I think what we will do is build our own Bonza brand and culture. Will there be similarities? Possibly, over time, but if people see any hint of that, it's an unintended consequence and maybe it's just part of the Australian culture which is coming through.”
Nor will Bonza be an Aussie take on Ryanair, perhaps the world’s most famous – or perhaps infamous – ultra-low cost carrier.
Jordan sees more similarities with North American’s Allegiant Airlines, Europe’s Jet2 and especially Flair, a Canadian ‘ultra low-cost carrier’ also backed by 777 Partners.
Like Bonza, Flair – whose slogan is ‘Plane and Simple’ – flies only Boeing 737s, and mostly the MAX 8, launched in 2017, all-economy class, promotes itself as “the pioneers of ultra-low fare travel in Canada” and “an airline for everyone.”
Bonza will fly the Boeing 737 MAX 8
Those factory fresh Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, leased through 777 Partners, will be another element of Bonza’s fresh approach – and it’ll make them Australia’s first airline to fly the 737 MAX, a full year ahead of Virgin’s planned mid-2023 delivery of the MAX 10.
The MAX 8s will arrive in an all-economy configuration that’s expected to be 186 seats – a dozen more than Qantas’ two-class Boeing 737-800s – although Jordan confirmed this isn’t the high-capacity ‘737-8200’ model which Boeing developed for low-cost carriers such as Ryanair.
And Jordan doesn’t believe that extensive media coverage of the MAX’s two fatal crashes and 20-month worldwide grounding could deter passengers from flying on the troubled aircraft.
“There are hundreds of MAXs flying around this world at this very minute. The aircraft is approved by Australia’s authorities for airlines currently operating into Australia and regulators around the world have certified that the aircraft is absolutely very safe to fly.”
By the time of Bonza’s launch in the second quarter of 2022, Jordan expects to have “only two or three” jets in the hangar, “but depending on how we execute and regulator permitting, we’d expect to grow quite quickly thereafter.”
But even with only three jets at launch, Jordan believes Bonza could offer a relatively large network due to the lower frequency of flights.
“I would see us having quite a broad route coverage on a low frequency basis. We will probably fly more routes (per aircraft) to more destinations than would normally be the case.”