UK startup flypop intends to launch services with Airbus A330 widebodies. Long-haul low-cost services have historically been difficult to make work, and with a lower operating cost, wouldn’t a long-range narrowbody have made more sense? CEO Nino Judge says those planes are yet to prove themselves, and believes his choice of A330 ‘workhorses’ will be beneficial to both the airline and its passengers.
Cracking the long-haul, low-cost market
Operating at a lower cost often means operating smaller aircraft. We’ve seen airlines like Europe’s Wizz and America’s JetBlue growing exponentially with fleets of single-aisle aircraft, using the long-range capabilities of these jets to launch mid- to long-haul services.
Conversely, moving away from single-aisle service to widebody service was considered to be a contributing factor in the failure of WOW Air. The long routing of these aircraft combined with the additional operating costs ate into the profitability of the airline. Similar difficulties were experienced by Norwegian.
Now another airline is seeking to crack the long-haul, low-cost marketplace. But rather than adding widebodies to an existing fleet of single-aisle aircraft, it’s starting its story with a widebody-only fleet.
UK-based flypop is set to launch in October; Simple Flying asked its CEO, Nino Judge, if long-range narrowbodies were ever a consideration, given their lower operating costs compared to the A330s he intends to start with. Judge explained,
“The single aisle long-haul still needs to prove itself. I need to go with what’s absolutely proven and rock solid and a workhorse and that’s what the A330 CEOs are.”
It’s interesting that the CEO chose A330 CEOs for his launch fleet. That, he said, was a conscious decision, led by the bulletproof reliability of these older aircraft. He said,
“I can’t have outages like some NEOs do or some 787 Dreamliners do. These things are going to work every day on a huge utilisation of over 16 hours a day. They need to be workhorses.”
It’s a mentality that will resonate with owners of older cars. Sometimes, an older vehicle with fewer computers and electronics to go wrong is simply more reliable than one with all the bells and whistles of a modern alternative.
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But what about cost?
Flying a large A330 is always going to be more expensive than flying an A321LR or 737 MAX on the same route. But how does that cost look when taking into account the many more seats onboard?
Interesting analysis by Leeham News showed that, although the fuel, maintenance and crew costs were about double for a widebody over a narrowbody, when broken down to a cost per seat, the two were within a few dollars of each other.
More importantly, around a third of that cost was related to the capital costs of acquiring the plane. For flypop, the present situation has led to historically low leasing rates, which has further engineered an attractive situation for the airline, and for its passengers. Judge noted,
“The cost that we’ve got our widebodies at, I don’t need to worry. I got four for the price of one. And I’ve got two aisles. So, I’ll give my passenger two aisles and I’ll give them a really good product.”
On the other side of the equation is the load factor. Filling a 190-seat narrowbody is always going to be easier than getting a 350-seat widebody filled. Aggressive marketing and low pricing are key here, but Mr Judge does not believe that will be a problem. He’s promising fares between the UK and India starting from £99 ($137), and that alone, he believes, will ensure his planes always fly full.