After a summer of skyrocketing COVID-19 cases put domestic travel on hold, upcoming budget airline Bonza is still on track to take off later this year.
The airline announced on Tuesday that its main hub will be on the Sunshine Coast with a focus on serving the regions, while Melbourne will be a secondary hub.
“Since announcing Bonza to the world late last year, we’ve always said we wouldn’t just fly between Australia’s three largest cities and instead give people in the regions more choice,” the airline’s CEO Tim Jordan said.
“Today we deliver on that promise, with the largest launch announcement in Australian aviation history.”
Aviation commentator Geoffrey Thomas said Bonza is clearly targeting the leisure market, with 80 per cent of its routes not already covered by existing airlines.
But Sydney didn’t make the cut, and destinations in Western Australia are “on the radar” pending eased border restrictions, Mr Jordan added.
Instead, the airline will initially funnel domestic holidaymakers from regional centres to the Sunshine Coast and Far North Queensland.
“It’s been proven overseas by Ryanair, Jet2 and EasyJet in Europe, when you connect two destinations that were previously not connected with a direct flight, you triple the traffic between those two destinations,” Mr Thomas told The New Daily.
Think Newcastle to the Whitsunday Coast, Albury to the Sunshine Coast, or Rockhampton to Cairns.
Shorter trips such as Coffs Harbour to the Sunshine Coast are expected to cost about $50 one way, while longer fares departing from Melbourne will cost closer to $100.
Soon after the announcement, the airline’s social media posts were flooded with comments from people asking the airline to come to their town.
“I think we’re crying out for this,” Mr Thomas said.
The finishing touches
Bonza will be Australia’s first new domestic airline since the now-defunct Tiger Airways was launched 14 years ago.
The airline is backed by US investment firm 777 Partners, which has stakes in Canadian budget airline Flair and the Asian low-cost Value Alliance group of airlines, and has headhunted executives from the Australian aviation industry.
There’s still work to do, and Mr Thomas expects the first flights to take off around the middle of this year.
But unlike Tiger, Bonza’s regional focus means it won’t directly compete with Jetstar.
Its focus on holiday destinations means it won’t directly compete with Rex, either.
“In most cases, [flights will be] twice a week or three times a week,” Mr Thomas said.
“So it’s specifically targeting leisure travellers – not interested in business travellers, not interested in business contracts.”
Mr Thomas said the airline will almost certainly expand to Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and even Western Australia.