EXCLUSIVE – There’s a new startup long-haul low-cost airline in town. flypop is eyeing launching direct services from London’s Stansted airport to two Indian destinations. Simple Flying sat down with the airline’s CEO, Nino Judge, to find out more.
The past year has proved particularly challenging for the long-haul low-cost market. However, flypop thinks they have the answer. According to their CEO, the other airlines are doing it wrong. So, what is flypop all about? In a nutshell, the airline wants to tap into an unserved market between the UK and India.
The responsible low-cost airline
When flypop was originally envisaged, Pop stood for People Over Profit. However, the airline’s CEO Nino Judge tells me that since then it has become so much more, now tending towards Planet Over Profit. He goes on to tell me that one of the airline’s USPs will be a mandatory carbon offset charge. That is to say, every ticket sold will see around £6 going to fund carbon offset projects.
However, flypop’s responsibilities don’t stop with the environment. The airline is aiming to launch with an initiative called ‘buy one give one’ meals. Judge tells me that for every hot meal sold onboard the aircraft, one meal will be donated to a homeless person in the UK. However, four to five meals will be donated to the needy in Asia too.
Two initial destinations
flypop will initially launch with two destinations being served. The startup airline will be based at London Stansted airport. From here, it will make 10-hour flights to Amritsar and Ahmedabad. Judge tells me that the airline should be fully funded at the end of August and that he hopes the airline will take its first flight within six months. Initially, flights will operate three times a week to each destination on alternate days. No flights will operate on Wednesdays.
The small problem with flypop is that they don’t have an air operators certificate, however, this is a problem that has already been solved. The airline is in talks with a UK wet-lease company to initially launch flights. But, for the time being, the airline is unable to elaborate on who they are working with.
Doing it properly
Simple Flying mentioned that the long-haul low-cost market has seen some difficulty recently. Lufthansa is cutting Eurowing’s long-haul arm, Air France has cut Joon, Primera and WOW have collapsed, and Norwegian has seen its fair share of difficulty.
Judge told me that the reason for this is that nobody is doing the low-cost model properly. He pointed to Norwegian and mentioned how they are buying brand new aircraft. Instead, flypop will start up with a used Airbus A330 aircraft.
The aircraft will be all economy. The first three rows will see passengers able to purchase extra legroom. The airline may also trial skycouch seats in these rows. Behind this, the aircraft will be laid out in a 9 abreast configuration, arranged in a 3-3-3 layout.
How much will it cost?
Judge has an incredibly transparent pricing policy for the new airline. He tells me that the cheapest price available on the two routes will be £350, and fares will never exceed £750. He adds that it is more important for the startup to fly aircraft that are full because that is how auxiliary sales are made.
Judge then jokes that he would charge people to sleep if he could because then they are not spending on services. It is clear to see that he takes a great deal of inspiration from Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary. To translate Ryanair’s all-economy ethos to long-haul, he has enlisted some help. Charlie Clifton joined Ryanair when it was a startup in 1986, and stayed with the company until 2002. He now acts as a senior advisor to flypop.
To keep fares low, the lowest fare will only include a seat on the aircraft. However, the default booking will include one checked bag and one meal, both of which are chargeable but can be removed. Judge tells me how often passengers on the routes they are targeting will fly out with one bag, and fly back with three.
With this in mind, he argues “why should they have to pay for two bags either way?”. Everything from meals to baggage will cost more. However, he feels that his target market will love the ability to choose exactly what they want. On the upside, the airline is promising to provide basic in-flight WiFi for free.
Who is the target market?
flypop has a very specific target market, and this is likely something that will help to succeed. The airline is targeting what it refers to as VFR passengers. However, this does not mean visual flight rules. In this instance, VFR stands for “visiting friends and relatives”.
Indeed, looking at the airline’s Amritsar route, Judge tells me that the route from London has approximately 200,000 passengers per year. However, there is no direct link between the two. With three flights a week to the destination, the carrier would have a capacity of 60,000 passengers per year. In fact, Judge believes there is enough demand for himself and an Indian competitor to comfortably cover the route seven days a week.
What about the future?
Despite having yet to take its first flight, Judge feels optimistic regarding the carrier’s future. He reels off a list of other destinations within India that the carrier could serve such as Calcutta. He then adds that the carrier would look to expand to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Key to the airline’s expansion is offering flights from point to point. Passengers can already fly direct from London to Delhi, however, flying to secondary airports will allow the carrier to tap into new demographics while making flights more convenient. O’Leary’s name pops up again here, as Judge describes himself as the Sikh O’Leary with a goatee.
In the future, flypop is eyeing transatlantic flights. However, the flights would continue on to the airline’s Indian destinations. Judge tells me that passengers would be able to board the aircraft in New York or Toronto. When the aircraft lands at London Stansted, they would remain on the aircraft which would continue on to Asia.
It appears clear from our conversation that Nino Judge is very serious about making flypop a reality. Just last month the airline set up an office at Stansted Airport. The airline hopes to be fully funded by the end of August while eyeing the start of services by the summer 2020 schedule at the latest.
What do you think of startup flypop? Do you think the airline will become a success? Let us know in the comments!