A new airline is coming, Australia! Yes, the road to Aviation glory may be littered with the bodies of the brave souls who came before it – we are looking at you Tiger, Impulse, Australian, Compass and others but Bonza Airline think they have the special sauce to not only thrive but make a real difference to regional Australia and Australians.
Let’s be honest. Launching a new airline in Australia right now sounds just a little crazy. So when we awoke on the 12th October to the news that a new airline was coming, we were just a little surprised. Yet statistically, a business launched in the middle of a crisis is more likely to survive. (Everything is cheaper and there are more willing workers is the theory).
So now the hype has settled we grilled CEO and Founder Tim Jordan to get the real details on what travellers can expect from Bonza Airline. Here is everything we know so far, plus a few educated guesses from us.
When will Bonza flights take off?
Bonza is currently jumping through the relevant regulatory hurdles to be granted a licence to operate and Jordan expects the airline to take off in the second quarter of 2022.
What kind of aircraft will Bonza Airline fly?
At launch, Bonza will fly three new Boeing 737-8 aircraft, the first carrier to do so on domestic routes in Australia. The key take out is that they are new – so will be lower on the maintenance demands and more importantly, more efficient on the running costs. Lower maintenance and fuel bills mean they can operate at a lower cost.
Where will Bonza Airline fly to?
It is easier to say where Bonza probably won’t fly. In short, don’t expect to fly between capital cities on a Bonza flight. The airline’s stated strategy is to be a leisure regional airline.
By being exclusively leisure focused Jordan says they don’t have to be dogmatic about daily flights. This translates to three or four times a week services to regional airports. We expect them to be mostly Eastern Seaboard regional centres based on what we know so far. This infrequent schedule gives Bonza a more flexible cost base. And by ignoring the business market they avoid the need for a loyalty scheme that has expensive built-in start-up costs.
Exclusively regional means they will have very little competition.
“We are committed to the forgotten third of Australia that makes up regional Australia. If you are currently in one of the major regional centres you can fly to a capital city but to get anywhere else you need to fly from A to B to then get to C. We are going to connect regional centres from A directly to C,” Jordan says.
Jordan also dropped a few more hints on locations in our conversation.
“The sweet spot for LCCs (Low Cost Carriers) is two and half maybe three hours flying time maximum.”
So extrapolating that, two to three-hour flights from SE Qld (see below on where Bonza HQ will most likely be) would be most of the NSW coast and inland perhaps to Wagga and as far north as Cairns but would not reach Darwin. Although they could reach Darwin from Cairns if they were to operate multi-leg flight routes.
How much will Bonza flights cost?
Yes, we are all very keen to know this and Jordan cannot confirm anything however he did let slip one indication of pricing in our conversation.
“Two-hundred-dollar flights are just out of reach for most families and tradies in regional centres who have to fly via a capital city to reach their holiday destination. But at $75 direct to the destination, that’s a different proposition.” Jordan said.
Other media have been quoted as saying 30-40 per cent below current pricing but that seems like complete pie in the sky number generation when we don’t even have the routes.
Will I have to buy food, drinks and entertainment on a Bonza Airline flight?
True to the LCC model, yes. Although the entertainment question is still to be announced.
How expensive is food and drinks on Bonza Airline?
Well, we haven’t seen the menu yet but Jordan’s pitch is “LCC’s get a bad rap and in many cases deservedly so for their charging for services. Bonza is dedicated to charging fair and reasonable prices for all services.”
This sounds great but until we see how much a beer and cheese and biscuits cost then we don’t really know.
How about baggage on Bonza flights?
Again, true to the LCC business model, anything other than a seat and carry-on luggage will incur a fee. Jordan did not confirm a weight for carry-on so if we take the Jetstar / Tiger Air examples then anything more than 7kg is a bonus.
Jordan is at pains to assure travellers Bonza will be reasonable with its charges. “If we need to burn extra fuel for the weight of your baggage then you can expect a fair charge.”
Can I take a surfboard or gold clubs on a Bonza flight?
Not sure yet. We wait to see Bonza’s excess or oversized baggage terms and conditions.
Can I sit with my partner and family?
Bonza will operate assigned seating so as long as there are seats available in the format required to accommodate all passengers on a booking, then yes. If at the time of check-in that is not possible then you may not be able to sit together. This is no different to any airline operating in Australia today.
Can I choose my seats?
Yes for a fee… just like most airlines operating in Australia today.
Will Bonza sell more than just flights?
Like any LCC we expect there will be affiliate revenue shares with accommodation and hire car providers as a minimum. However, the bigger play Jordan hinted at will be packaged holidays.
“This is not new. Jet2 in Europe and Allegiant Airlines in North America have been very successful by offering holiday packages to customers.”
Can we expect Bonza to operate reliably?
Jordan is adamant that low cost does not translate to low quality or unreliable, despite Australian travellers experience with the now-defunct Tiger Airways who were always hindered by a reputation for unreliability. This was a millstone around their neck long after they became close to the most reliable airline in Australia.
Jordan has valid reasons to be confident about his claims, citing his time at FlyArystan, the LCC subsidiary of Kazakhstans’ Air Astana. Jordan launched the airline in May 2019 which is now carrying three million passengers per annum.
“We operated at 91 per cent on time in a country where it was minus 20 degrees four months of the year.”
Can I offset my flights?
Currently no but Jordan wants to reassure us that they will be operating as sustainably as possible.
“The 737-8’s are the most fuel-efficient and low emission aircraft carrying less than 200 passengers in Australia,” he says.
And just to make the point, he claims, “You would need to drive three passengers in a hybrid vehicle the same distance to travel at a lower emission outcome than flying with Bonza.”
Great claim and glad to see the emissions will be lower however the above claim seems to assume a full flight, or 100 per cent capacity, which seems unlikely. So not quite an apples with apples comparison, it would be ideal for Bonza to find an offset solution.
Can Bonza succeed where others have failed?
Well, Jordan has a few statistics he thinks are critical. According to Jordan, Australia is ranked 8th in the world for aviation by the number of passenger movements. Yet we only have one LCC (Jetstar) which, being owned by Qantas, makes it not truly independent. In most markets around the world of similar size, they have three or four independent LCCs according to Jordan.
Meanwhile, by avoiding the capital city hub and focussing on direct region to region flights, Bonza claims they can directly appeal to the one-third of Australians who live in regional Australia. In reality, their market will be less than a third owing to the fact they will not be in every regional centre.
However, Bonza claims the vast majority of launch routes are not currently being operated by any airline. They then have the advantage of no competitor on the bulk of their routes avoiding the potential of a costly price war.
What will be the critical factors for Bonza to succeed?
According to Jordan, the two major success factors are regional airport support and customer satisfaction.
“Our largest cost centre is not fuel or staff but airport charges. These will be 25 per cent of our costs,” he says.
Courting these regional centres with the promise of increased visitors from markets not currently directly serviced is an enticing carrot to most local governments. So there are plenty of reasons for the airports and local councils to come to the party by offering very competitive airport charges.
And Jordan is confident that they will see the benefits. “We sent letters to 45 regional airports asking if they would like to partner with us and grow the regional tourism pie for everyone. Thirty have replied positively already.”
However, some aviation experts have questioned exactly how many regional airports will be able to accommodate the 737-8s as they will require more runway space than currently available at most regional airports. Whether the interested airports can accommodate the 737-8s we are not privy to at this point in time.
Jordan swots this criticism away saying “many, many regional airports can already take the 737. We don’t want anyone spending money to accommodate us as eventually that cost passes to the airline and from the airline to the customer. Bonza is about utilising existing infrastructure in locations.”
As for customer satisfaction, it is self-evident in the smaller population base of regional Australia that you cannot afford to disappoint many people.
“A lot of people in regional Australia have not experienced or been exposed to LCC travel. We have to make sure the experience is a good one as the longevity of the business relies on it. If they have a good experience and they share it with friends and family then we will succeed.”
So customer service staff are critical. “If you are being served by a crew that visibly wants to be there and deliver a quality service then that translates into customer satisfaction.”
And with the current number of aviation staff looking to put their experience to work in the industry due to Covid, Jordan is confident it won’t be too hard to find great staff.
Where will Bonza Airlines be based?
There are three regional centres on the shortlist to be the home of Australia’s newest airline. Being firmly dedicated to regional centres it makes sense that the airline will be based in one. Jordan has admitted the leading candidates are Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and the Ballina/Byron Shire. But he has not ruled our Coffs Harbour or Toowoomba.
Who owns Bonza Airline?
The backers (suppliers of much of the money) of Bonza Airline is a company called 777 Capital. The USS $6 billion investment company are a major shareholder in another LCC – Flair Air in Canada.
But most importantly for Bonza Airline, amongst 777’s 50 companies, they happened to have an airline leasing company. Which is handy for anyone launching an airline.
Where does the name Bonza Airline come from?
Well, Jordan has a story for that as well. The airline was dreamt up over a table on the mid-coast of NSW where Jordan and his Aussie wife live (he is a Brit by birth and now an Aussie citizen).
“We wanted a name that was quintessentially and proudly Australian but also said we are different. Urban dictionary defines Bonza as great and well-executed. So that was it,” he says.
He trademarked the name in 2016 and watched as Virgin entered receivership in 2020 making the business case from his perspective even more compelling.
It is a compelling story and we recognise and want to support the potential growth for regional centres both as recipients of much-needed visitors and as a great service for the regional travellers themselves.
However, Aviation is a tricky business and there are many hurdles yet to come. Bonza will draw the attention of QANTAS and Jetstar specifically who may attempt to hobble potential competition before they can become real competition.
We certainly hope not for the sake of regional tourism operators and travellers alike.