Australian startup Bonza plans on launching next year, flying a handful of Boeing 737 MAXs. Bonza will be the first Australian airline to operate the aircraft type and one of the few airlines to fly the plane to the country.
Bonza the first Australian MAX operator
Australia remains relatively uncharted territory for the MAX. Before the pandemic, Fiji Airways and SilkAir flew the plane to some of their Australian destinations. Virgin Australia has an order in for 25 MAX 10s due to start landing in mid-2023, and the plane is a contender at Qantas as that airline contemplates an aircraft order to replace some of their aging narrowbody jets.
But Bonza, who launched recently with widespread publicity, looks set to become the first airline to base a 737 MAX in Australia and fly it on domestic routes. The future airline is eyeing 737 MAX 8s. Low operating costs equal low fares and Bonza’s founder thinks there is space in the Australian market for another low-cost domestic airline.
“Bonza’s mission is to encourage more travel by providing more choices and ultra-low fares, particularly into leisure destinations where travel is now often limited to connections via major cities,” founder and CEO Tim Jordan has said.
“Bonza will deliver enormous benefits to all Australians, but particularly to regional communities by providing new routes and greater travel opportunities.”
Is the MAX the best fit?
Bonza says it plans to mostly bypass the well-serviced Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne triangle, instead focusing on underserved regional and leisure destinations. That opens up a raft of potential city pairs for a canny airline, but the MAX may not be the best aircraft for the job.
It could be argued Airbus narrowbodies with their higher engine mounts are a better match for many of Australia’s regional airports. Plus, there are plenty of pilots in Australia with Airbus ratings.
Another plane yet to see service in Australia, the Airbus A220, only needs about 1,500 meters of runway. Using the A220 would open up even more airports.
However, Bonza has settled on the MAX, a popular choice for LCCs. As a low-cost airline, Bonza will go head-to-head with the Jetstar juggernaut. Jetstar enjoys sole operator status on a lot of skinny routes to leisure and regional destinations. You might think Jetstar has already picked up most of the market opportunities, not leaving much to Bonza. However, there are airports around with significant local population catchments which remain unserved or underserved.
Opportunities for Bonza
Wollongong, one hour’s drive south of Sydney’s main airport, is New South Wales’ third-largest urban center with a population exceeding 300,000. Aside from some commuter flights provided by Link Airways, Wollongong’s Shellharbour Airport is underserved and is potentially the type of airport Bonza could target.
To the west of Melbourne is Avalon Airport, home to some Jetstar flights. Avalon is handy to Victoria’s second-biggest city, Geelong, and there are dozens of potentially viable unserved routes from that airport.
On the other side of Melbourne is Latrobe Regional Airport, which services the Latrobe Valley area. That airport is unserved by any commercial airline and is another opportunity for an enterprising airline.
But Latrobe Regional Airport also exposes the limitations of the MAX in Australia – Latrobe’s runways are too short to handle the aircraft type.
The people behind Bonza are smart operators with significant industry experience, leading to this startup airline being taken more seriously than many other potential startups. You can debate the merits of any aircraft type for any new airline, but there are some good reasons why Bonza is targeting the MAX.