Everyone’s talking about Bonza now it’s finally received clearance to launch from CASA. But what’s all the fuss about? And how is it going to challenge the established trio of Rex, Qantas and Virgin? Australian Aviation presents a bluffer’s guide to everything you need to know.
Bonza will be Australia’s first airline to fly so-called ‘point-to-point’ leisure services not serviced by the capital city-focused Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin, and Rex.
Essentially, it will fly from smaller destination to smaller destination, cutting out the need to stop over in a larger city.
Bonza said 93 per cent of its network — 25 out of its 27 routes — are not currently flown by any other airline, while 96 per cent are not served by any other low-cost carrier. Flights are expected to cost around $50 for each hour of the flight.
These types of airlines are common globally, but no one has ever attempted it in the smaller Australian market.
Where will Bonza fly?
Destinations on Bonza’s initial route map include Melbourne, Avalon, Sunshine Coast, Mildura, Albury, Cairns, Coffs Harbour, Mackay, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Rockhampton, Tamworth, Townsville, Whitsunday Coast, Bundaberg, Gladstone, and Toowoomba.
How big is Bonza’s fleet?
Bonza initially planned to launch with a fleet of two to three 737 MAXs before increasing its ambitions to target eight.
Nonetheless, its current fleet of three is enough for it to begin operating some of its planned 27 routes in a staggered start.
Its first aircraft, VH-UJT, was named Shazza; its second, VH-UIK, Bazza; and its third, VH-UJK, Sheila.
Bonza has also quietly registered a fourth 737 MAX with CASA, VH-UJZ, likely to be based in Melbourne next year.
Bonza CEO Tim Jordan told the Australian Aviation Podcast the business got a “phenomenal” deal on the aircraft it will launch with.
Despite the MAX’s detractors, its supporters, including Jordan, point to it being far more fuel-efficient than current narrowbodies operating in Australia.
“We believe that the MAX, and its entrance to Australia is an absolute plus for us as we launch next year,” said Jordan in an interview you can listen to here.
“At this minute, there’s hundreds of MAX aircraft flying around the world. And in fact, before too long, obviously, Fiji, and also Singapore will be bringing it here. We just see it as a fantastic aircraft to deliver the low-cost product that we need.
“In terms of us and timing to the market, 777 Partners [its investors] have been able to acquire these aircraft, a good number of them, at prices that are just phenomenal. And that is almost unique.”
What does Qantas think?
The Flying Kangaroo’s CEO, Alan Joyce, said in 2011 his airline would “defend our turf” against Bonza.
Joyce said while the airline would operate within the ACCC’s framework, it didn’t mean his business wouldn’t actively take on Australia’s newest airline.
“This is the most competitive market in the world,” he said.
Joyce noted that Qantas has continued to expand its network into new markets, particularly new regional routes, and sees little profitable routes left that are currently untouched by existing carriers.
“We’ve started nearly 50 new domestic routes. So I would have thought we have most of them covered, but maybe we don’t. So that’s great if they find a unique value proposition that they can make money on. Fantastic, fill your boots up on it, and shame on us if we’ve missed it.”
And what about Virgin and Rex?
Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka was also sceptical about Bonza’s business model.
“If you’re connecting two cities that have never seen a connection before, if you’re flying it twice a week, it’s very hard to build an underlying presence in that marketplace,” Hrdlicka told The Australian.
“The way that’s done in Europe and in the US and Canada, it’s a huge market with millions and millions of people, and you can approach that with group tours and things like that which don’t really exist in the same way in Australia.”
Ultimately, Hrdlicka called Bonza’s strategy an “interesting idea” and “a different approach”.
Rex deputy chairman John Sharp similarly questioned which routes Bonza could introduce that would both be profitable and unserved by its rivals.
“That’s a mystery to us … what are those markets? If they are worth servicing, Qantas, Virgin or Rex would be in there doing it,” Sharp said.
Who is its CEO?
Tim Jordan is an industry veteran who has spent over three decades in the aviation business, working in everything from accounting, to sales and marketing, to network planning.
In 2002, Jordan was appointed head of commercial distribution at Virgin Blue, and later served as the airline’s chief commercial officer.
He went on to hold similar roles at other airlines throughout the Asia–Pacific region, including Cebu Airways and Go Air.
Before taking the helm of Bonza in mid-2020, Jordan was based in Kazakhstan.
He had just spent the better part of two years pitching, planning and launching the country’s first-ever low-cost carrier, FlyAyristan, as the airline’s managing director.
“FlyAyristan is a low-cost subsidiary of the Air Astana group, so it was like I was establishing the Jetstar equivalent in Kazakhstan,” Jordan told Australian Aviation last year.
It was at this point in his life, standing in his kitchen in Kazakhstan, and just months after the global pandemic decimated the global air travel industry overnight, Jordan turned to his wife and said, “It’s now or never for Bonza”.
Want to find out more? Australian Aviation Premium Content subscribers can read our long-form look inside the airline here.